Who Controls Consequential Decisions in Johns Creek?
Public Works Requests and Decisions Made Without Informing City Council
An interesting discussion unfolded at the Johns Creek City Council Meeting on Monday July 22, 2019. The topic of discussion was a Design Deviation Request submitted by Public Works, and a study by Wolverton & Associates supporting a recommendation to reduce lane width on Medlock Bridge Road from the current 12-feet to 11-feet. The study results were delivered to GDOT on May 3, 2019.
General awareness that Johns Creek’s Public Works Department was actively advocating for the change in lane width did not surface until a resident made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain a copy of the Wolverton memo. The topic of the request to reduce lane width did not come before City Council until Councilman John Bradberry made a request for a copy of the Wolverton memo, and questioned why a consequential and potentially controversial decision was proceeding without engaging the Council.
Why Is This Request and Decision Controversial?
It’s important to understand context to recognize why Public Works’ request may be considered controversial. Past efforts to increase Medlock Bridge Road capacity from two lanes to three lanes included plans to reduce lane width, and to utilize the currently paved shoulder to allow for three traffic lanes without additional asphalt being required. That proposal was met with widespread public opposition, and was subsequently withdrawn. The move by Public Works to request a design deviation to reduce lane width consistent with those proposed to increase lanes from two to three lanes without any public explanation or debate has raised community concerns that the foundation is being created to ease a move to three lanes in the future. Furthermore, it is raising concerns among at least some of our City Council that consequential decisions affecting the community are being taken without the due process of elected official involvement.
Is This How We Build Trust?
Actions similar to this instance reinforce the perception of behaviors meant to sidestep community residents. Examples include surveys structured to support a foregone conclusion, Community Input Meetings that have been held followed by recommendations that fail to incorporate participant requests and suggestions, campaigns in support of issuing bonds to fund Public Parks based on estimates that have proven to be wildly understated, and repeated public pronouncements regarding the degree of discretion the city would have over TSPLOST projects that we are now told are wrong. In other instances, “facts” are used to promote department positions that are later discredited. Examples of false “facts” include assertions that Peachtree Corners was planning to implement Michigan Thru-U turns (false), adjacent jurisdictions of Forsyth County and Peachtree Corners have definite plans to widen their portions of SR 141 (false), and that driveways must be treated as intersections for purposes of determining where lane transitions must occur (false).
In defense of Public Works’ Design Deviation Request, Director Lynette Baker stated that the request is meant to improve safety through traffic calming on Medlock Bridge Road, and is a precursor to a further request to reduce the speed limit from 55 MPH to 45 MPH along the corridor. She stated emphatically that the request was not meant to establish the foundation for an expansion to a third lane in each direction.
Promises Made, Promises Kept
One of the themes touted for this year’s City Council is “Promises Made, Promises Kept”. If the true intent of lane width reduction along Medlock Bridge Road is to improve safety, and is not an incremental move to a third lane, it would be helpful to get that commitment documented in writing - we already know that verbal commitments have had an “expiration date”.
Another level of trust should be addressed as well. A decision to reduce lane width and request a speed limit reduction along the entire corridor of our most heavily traveled road is consequential. At a minimum, the case for making the request should have been presented to City Council and open for public input.
Not every decision that a City department makes requires the involvement of City Council, but this is an example of confusion on where that line exists. A clear definition of those decisions that meet a certain level of impact should be identified in order to reduce the perception that actions are being taken outside proper levels of review and approval. Until we reach that level of clarity, the question will remain: does our input matter, or not?