Connecting the Dots - Part 1

Is there a common thread between some of the more controversial efforts in Johns Creek? It would appear so - and it becomes apparent as you begin to connect the dots to get the full picture.

Part 1 - TSPLOST Projects and the Exercise of Discretion

Johns Creek has made very little progress against its list of TSPLOST (Transportation - Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funded projects. One reason for the lack of progress is associated with how TSPLOST was sold to the community, and the discrepancies that have surfaced after the referendum passed by narrow margins.

Why Do We Have Problems with TSPLOST?

A primary problem has been a lack of trust that developed due to promises made in the run-up to the referendum. Residents were treated to a “carrot-and-stick” approach. The carrot was dangled as the benefits of a new source of revenue to fund much needed transportation projects. The stick was applied as residents were told that a failure to approve the TSPLOST referendum would mean still being subjected to a sales tax increase, but being excluded from any allocation of funds for transportation improvements. Residents were consistently assured that the city would have flexibility in how TSPLOST projects would be executed, and that no project could move forward without the review and approval of the elected City Council.

Stories Change After the Fact

Soon after TSPLOST was narrowly approved, the narrative regarding transportation projects changed. Suddenly, residents and City Council were told that the approval of the TSPLOST referendum committed Johns Creek to detailed plans that the Public Works Department independently published on the city website, details and plans that were never presented or approved by the City Council. For example, the Council voted three times to approve the list of projects on which the extent of detail for the Medlock Bridge/SR141 141 was the description “Medlock Bridge Road Capacity Project from McGinnis Ferry Road to Chattahoochee River.” This kind of bait before the referendum and switch after the referendum has resulted in a lack of trust and support for several similarly presented projects. It has also been the repeated stumbling block on City Council for members who have refused the railroading of the projects without debate and consideration of other options.

Adjacent Cities Are Proceeding Differently

Our adjacent North Fulton cities are not operating under that same assumption that dictates a rigid interpretation of TSPLOST projects. Case in point: during a meeting on Monday August 26, 2019, Roswell City Council discussed their Tier 1 Big Creek Parkway project. During that discussion, Roswell City Councilman Zapata noted that the project plans for Big Creek Parkway differed from what had been “approved” in Roswell’s TSPLOST project list. Roswell City Attorney David Davidson stated that the city had discretion to make changes to the project as new information was introduced, and that project changes were very typical. As long as the project still meets the larger objective, the city could exercise its discretion by making changes to the original design.

As an interesting aside, Roswell Councilman Zapata expressed his concern for maintaining the trust of residents during this process. Given the promises that were communicated to Johns Creek residents that we are now being told were incorrect, it’s no wonder that Johns Creek residents have a lack of trust in the process.

Other North Fulton County Cities Are Exercising Discretion

Roswell is not the only North Fulton city that is taking wide latitude in their execution of TSPLOST projects. Alpharetta had a project titled, “Windward Parkway Business District/Union Hill Road Capacity Improvements”. Not only has the design of that project changed, but even it’s designated name has been updated to reflect the current plans.

Sandy Springs has adapted their Mount Vernon/Johnson Ferry Improvement project that originally contemplated three roundabouts, but is now working with a grid road design.

Given the actions being actively taken in surrounding cities, it’s time to question the notion that Johns Creek is bound by a rigid definition of TSPLOST projects. At a minimum, Roswell, Sandy Springs, and Alpharetta are showing that cities DO have discretion in how they conduct TSPLOST projects.

“Be The Exception” is manifesting itself in strange ways. TSPLOST is not a pair of handcuffs for any other Fulton County city. These handcuffs have been the excuse to force projects in a certain direction without debate. This has also been the cause for great resident fear and anxiety. These handcuffs have prevented the Council from exercising the flexibility and discretion necessary to determine how a project should be implemented for the benefit of our community. Other cities have debated the pluses and minuses of different concepts, arrived at a consensus of what is best, and moved forward. In contrast, Johns Creek remains stymied by imaginary handcuffs while real progress continues to elude us.