Stockbridge’s soap opera drama plays out

Channel 2's Berndt Petersen Reports

As the (Political) World Turns: STOCKBRIDGE SAGA TIMELINE

City politics are sometimes reminiscent of a soap opera. Here are highlights of three mayoral administrations:


Nov. 3, 2009: Retired Army officer Lee Stuart is elected mayor of Stockbridge, ending Rudy Kelley’s 30-year-plus reign.

January to July 2010: Stuart sues the city council over veto powers, runs off the longtime city clerk and locks horns with the city attorney.

July 12, 2012: Stockbridge City Council censures Stuart over accusations of harassing city workers and disrupting government functions.

September 2012: Stockbridge city councilwoman Robin Buschman files police report accusing Stuart of road rage. Stuart and Buschman were once romantically involved.

Dec. 10, 2012: Stockbridge City Council votes to remove Mayor Stuart from office, saying he was monitoring workers’ emails, creating a hostile workplace for city workers and compromising sensitive information about the municipal complex’s security system, among other charges.

Dec. 18, 2012: Stuart plead no contest in Fulton County Superior Court on a misdemeanor of unprofessional conduct by a public officer.


Dec. 12, 2012: Stockbridge City Council taps Mayor Pro Tem Mark Alarcon to replace Stuart as mayor.

Mid 2013: The city loans the Downtown Development Authority a total of about $6 million.

December 2013: In its last month in office, the administration holds transfers a number of city properties to the DDA and forgives the DDA’s $6 million loan.

Dec. 30, 2013: Stockbridge City Manager David Milliron resigns. Economic Development Director B.J. Mathis also exits.


Nov. 2013: Tim Thompson ousts Mark Alarcon in mayor’s race.

Jan 2. 2014: Thompson takes office. Thompson says he starts his administration with “no management team. zilch”

October 2014: Councilman Richard Steinberg resigns 15 minutes before he’s set to appear at an evidentiary hearing to describe his alleged breach of office. Steinberg was accused of passing executive session information to the DDA.

March 5: Thompson allegedly threatens councilman Alphonso Thomas during an executive session. Thomas subsequently files a police report.

March 18: City council requires Thompson to undergo anger management counseling for outburst.

Flying water bottles. Temper tantrums. Vengeful ex-lovers.

Tabloid talk show? Nope. Just a sampling of the political drama that has played out over the past five years in Stockbridge, a fast-growing bedroom community of 26,500 in Henry County.

In the latest installment of this long-running soap opera, the city council requested that the mayor undergo anger management counseling after he allegedly threatened to beat up the mayor pro tem.

While the antics have provided steady fodder for local gossip mills and the media, many Stockbridge residents are fed up with the fighting they say has taken precedence over governing.

“It’s The Jerry Springer show down here,” said local blogger and historian Mike Moon, who suggested yanking Stockbridge’s city charter. “You go to the meetings to see who’s gonna be fighting next. If they’re not going to stop fighting and bickering, they’re going to have to stop it, clean house and start over. I wish the legislature would step in, pull the charter and start over and make it into a viable community.”

A resident since 1976, Moon remembers when the city was a sleepy little outpost of about 1,500. He's watched it grow into a suburban enclave with a diverse population. But the squabbles are holding the city back, Moon said.

“They’re not getting a whole lot done with all the bickering,” Moon said.

“This is where Dr. King’s daddy’s from,” he said, referring to the father of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. “They want to name a street after him. But they can’t even agree on that.”

Recent political turmoil

Until the fall of 2009, politics in Stockbridge were pretty unremarkable. Then retired Army officer Lee Stuart challenged the status quo, unseating Mayor R.D. “Rudy” Kelley after a 30-year-plus reign.

“I upset the apple cart,” recalled Stuart, a retired Army officer. “I said ‘We’re going to go out and change the old guard.’”

Stockbridge has been in political turmoil ever since, through Mayor Mark Alarcon’s administration and into the current mayor’s stint.

Stuart didn’t waste time. In his first seven months in office, he sued the city council because members continually overrode his vetoes. He locked horns with the city attorney and ignited an uproar by ordering city workers and equipment be used to clean up a rundown cemetery. Overwhelmed, the long-time city clerk quit.

Stuart also put the kibosh on some development deals.

“They were taking everybody’s property by eminent domain,” Stuart said. “I’m not completely against development. But seeing as how I’m Native American, the words ‘imminent domain’ don’t sit well with me.”

Consider these highlights of the last five years:

  • City councilwoman Robin Buschman filed a police report in September 2012, saying a car driven by Stuart's wife almost hit her car. Buschman described it as a road rage incident. She told TV news reporters that Stuart, a man she'd once been involved with romantically, was out to get her. Stuart, who had gotten married earlier that year, denied the claim.
  • Stockbridge City Council votes to remove Mayor Stuart from office, saying he was creating a hostile workplace for city workers, improperly monitoring emails and compromising sensitive information.
  • At a mediation session with Stockbridge city officials over mayoral powers, Stuart secretly taped the mediator's private session with representatives from Stockbridge. He later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of unprofessional conduct.
  • In its last two months in office, the Alarcon administration transferred eight city-owned properties to the downtown development authority and forgave $6 million in loans to authority. Current Mayor Tim Thompson said he's spent his term in office trying to recoup the money and properties.
  • Last month, the city council required Thompson to get anger management counseling after he threatens to harm mayor pro tem Alphonso Thomas, the latest incident in what some council members said has been a string of abusive and intimidating behavior.

With more than 500 cities in Georgia, political dust-ups and ego clashes are bound to happen, said Amy Henderson of the Georgia Municipal Association, which stepped in to help Stockbridge mediate some past issues.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” said Kathryn Gilbert, a former city councilwoman. “I’m so angry, embarrassed and disgusted as a citizen. I wish we weren’t this caricature, which is based on petty personal agendas and a refusal to understand the laws.”

Long-time residents like Charles Thompson, no relation to the current mayor, are simply fed up.

“All this talk about the mayor’s so-called temper is just a diversion,” said Thompson, who supports the current mayor.

The bickering, he said, keeps city officials from dealing with financial problems.

Mayor Thompson said that when Mayor Kelley left office in 2009, Stockbridge had more than $20 million in reserves, though Stuart says it was less. Thompson estimated reserves had dwindled to about $2 million by the time he took office in January 2014.

He said he’s been dealing with ongoing tiffs and legal wranglings since his first day in office.

“It’s been quite a roller-coaster ride,” Thompson said of his 15 months in office.

Last month, a city council executive session became heated when talk turned to issues surrounding the downtown development authority.

“He said he would take me outside and beat my you-know-what,” said Thomas, a council member for four years, said of the mayor.“I have never seen an elected official have that kind of breakdown.” Thomas filed a police report, but a judge ruled the outburst did not warrant Thompson’s arrest.

“I am ashamed of my ungentlemanly conduct ,” Thompson said. “But I’m not ashamed of what I stand for. I inherited a mess, and I’ve worked diligently to clean the mess up.”

Still, last month’s outburst has brought the city’s problems and its leadership into full view.

“If we’re ever going to get anywhere, we’re going to have to have a group of people who can work with each other and that’s not happening right now,” Moon said “They’re throwing each other under the bus. People who used be friends have turned into enemies. It’s been sort of a stalemate. It’s over the top now.”