The Hoschton City Council has officially called for a Jan. 14 recall vote on whether or not to remove Mayor Theresa Kenerly and mayor pro tem Jim Cleveland from office.
But according to a story in the Dec. 10 issue of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Cleveland plans to resign before that happens.
The council made the recall election official in a called meeting Dec. 5.
But the measure was hung in limbo for about 10 minutes during the meeting after council members realized they didn't have enough votes to move forward. Neither Kenerly nor Cleveland could vote on the measure, according to city attorney Thomas Mitchell, and council member Adam Ledbetter was absent.
A phone call was made to Ledbetter, who was at work, and he arrived at the meeting a few minutes later, making the quorum and allowing the call for the special election to move forward.
The election had earlier been certified by the Jackson County Board of Elections.
Voting timeline: Early voting for the special recall election will begin Dec. 23 and run through Jan. 3 at the Jackson County Elections Office in Jefferson.
Early voting will then move to the Braselton precinct location on Jan. 6-10. That precinct is closer to Hoschton than the Jefferson office.
Election day voting will be held on Jan. 14 at the Hoschton Depot.
The background: The recall move against Cleveland and Kenerly has been an on-going drama since May when one council member said that Kenerly had initially removed a job application for the city administrator position because he was a black man. Cleveland said he supported Kenerly and added that he didn't believe in interracial relationships.
That created a firestorm in the small town and when calls for the two to resign were rebuffed, a recall group began the lengthy process of gathering signatures for a recall vote. The issue wound up in court where a judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence to allow the recall to move forward. Kenerly appealed, but lost.
What's next: If either one, or both, are recalled in January, a special election will be held in early March to fill the vacant seats. There is some question as to how, or even if, the city council could function between January and March if both are recalled.
Political tensions in Hoschton boiled over at a Dec. 5 council meeting as one of the town's newest council members became embroiled in a heated discussion with embattled Mayor Theresa Kenerly over the form of the meeting's agenda.
At the beginning of the meeting, Kenerly announced that the agenda looked a little different because city officials had discovered that a town ordinance which outlines the order of city council meetings didn't allow for the council to do the pledge, a prayer or have time for citizens input.
Because the Dec. 5 council meeting was a non-voting work session, Kenerly said the ordinance would have to be amended when the council held its regular meeting Dec. 9.
But the council was unable to make that vote Dec. 9 after councilman Jim Cleveland left the meeting just before the item was to be voted on. Cleveland said it was his wife's birthday and they had dinner reservations. With that, he and his wife left the room.
The move left the council one member short and to amend a city ordinance, all council members have to be present.
A called meeting was scheduled for Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at city hall to again try and vote to change the town's meeting ordinance.
What happened: At the Dec. 5 meeting, Kenerly and councilman Shantwon Astin had a lengthy, and sometimes heated, discussion about changing the ordinance.
"Our ordinance told us how we were to have an agenda," Kenerly said. "It was very old, but it does not have the pledge in it, it does not have a prayer in it and it does not have citizen input. So the only way we can change this ordinance is to vote on it Monday night."
But Astin, who had discovered the old ordinance language while reading through the city's codes, wasn't happy about waiting until Dec. 9 to deal with the situation, or to allow citizen input.
Astin wanted to know if there needed to be a motion to amend the agenda that night so that the council could go ahead and have a citizen input session.
"We're going over the agenda now, so why do I have to wait until Monday night?" he said.
Kenerly said that the vote would have to be held Monday night since that was the voting meeting.
"Because it's an ordinance, I can't go against the ordinance," she said.
Astin pushed back.
"How long have you been going against the ordinance?" he said in reference to past meetings where the council had allowed citizens input at work sessions.
Kenerly said she realized she'd been going against the ordinance in past meetings, but had been unaware that the ordinance existed until Astin pointed it out to her.
"I have (not followed the old ordinance), you're exactly right, but I cannot (go against it) now that its been brought to my attention, I cannot," she said. "Monday night, we can vote on it and get back to the way it was."
Astin wasn't satisified.
"So that means we're going to miss that whole citizen input session because it's been overshadowed — for how many years now?" he said.
Kenerly said she didn't know how long the city had not been following the ordinance.
Astin then turned to city administrator Dale Hall and asked why he hadn't noticed the ordinance about the meeting order.
"How did you miss it?" Astin asked. "How did you allow the same thing to go on for this long, but now, today, when citizen input is needed, we decide we're not going to do it. We're going to enforce the ordinance at this moment."
Kenerly then pointed out it was Astin who had brought the old ordinance to the council's attention in the first place.
"I did that and I said it and if I found it, how did you miss it, how did you miss it..." Astin began.
"Because I didn't look it up," she said.
"It's your job," Astin shot back.
Kenerly said she'd "love" to have the pledge, a prayer and citizen input, but that given the information Astin had found, she couldn't do it until the ordinance was changed.
"You have brought it to my attention so therefore, I have to do what the ordinance says," she said.
Astin continued to press and the discussion got heated as the two went back-and-forth, talking over each other.
"I'm not going to do this with you," Kenerly said at one point.
"You don't have to do anything with me," Astin said loudly.
The two continued to argue as Astin pointed out that even if the ordinance was changed, there would not be any citizen input at the council meetings for December.
"I can't help it, you brought it to my attention," Kenerly said. "I have to do what you brought to me. I can't just make up and do what I want to."
"You've been doing it," Astin replied.
As Kenerly continued to say she couldn't change the agenda, Astin interrupted again, this time shouting loudly.
"You're worried because I'm doing the job that I was elected to do by the citizens who put me here!" he shouted.
"You better lower your voice," Kenerly said.
"I don't have to lower anything," Astin replied.
"Yes you do," Kenerly said.
As Kenerly attempted to change the subject to the night's agenda items, Astin interrupted and said he wouldn't approve the agenda.
"We don't need you to approve," Kenerly shot back.
The non-vote: Following the Dec. 5 debate, city attorney Thomas Mitchell drafted two documents for the council to approve that would amend the old ordinance and allow the council flexibility to set its agenda in any way it wanted to.
But after Cleveland exited the meeting Dec. 9, Mitchell said the vote would have to wait until next month.
"Which pushes off the time for the citizens to give input once again," Astin said.
Kenerly then attempted to call Cleveland to ask him to return to the meeting for the vote, but he didn't answer his phone.
"Very slick, very slick," said Astin to nobody in particular.
He then wanted to know the procedure to call a special meeting. Mitchell read him the requirements and the council decided to set a called meeting for Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. to again take up the ordinance change.
Not the first signs: While the Dec. 5 meeting's exchange between Astin and Kenerly was heated, it wasn't the first time there had been signs of tension at recent council meetings.
Astin was sworn into his seat in mid-November following regular town elections. That election, however, was largely overshadowed by the ongoing recall controversy in the town that revolves around allegations that Kenerly had removed a job application from a black candidate for city administrator. Kenerly and Cleveland are facing a Jan. 14 recall vote in the town (see other story.)
Astin and Adam Ledbetter were elected to the council largely as a backlash against Kenerly and Cleveland.
Since taking office, Astin and Kenerly have had several council discussions in which they were clearly not on the same page. On Dec. 9, Astin and Ledbetter voted against two items on the agenda forcing Kenerly to break a tie (see other story.)
Action on a controversial and legally contentious rezoning proposed for property across from Chateau Elan on Hwy. 211 was deferred by the Braselton Town Council on Dec. 9 until a called meeting on Dec. 18 at 5 p.m.
The plan for a massive housing and commercial development on 230 acres around the Publix shopping center was turned down by the council in August. A subsequent lawsuit against the town remanded the case back to the council for another hearing.
The council held that hearing Dec. 9 during its regular council meeting. An attorney for developer HECE, LLC, argued that the council should now go ahead and approve the rezoning with conditions that had been worked out between HECE and the city.
But one citizen who lives at Chateau Elan said that the project should now go back before the town's planning commission for more public input before the council takes any final action.
An attorney for the developers of the Publix shopping center also opposed plans by the Georgia Department of Transportation for a traffic signal design at the site.
RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT GETS NOD
Braselton council members also voted Monday, Dec. 9, to approve a large residential project on a former vineyard.
The council approved a master plan change for 57 acres off Hwy. 124 with a number of conditions.
Fountainhead Residential Development plans a mix of residential uses on the property, including 118 multi-family units, 24 townhouses and 114 detached single-family units.
In other business Dec. 9, the council approved:
•several 2020 alcohol license applications for Vincent Venturo Squillance with Gas Express for the Circle K convenience stores at 983 Hwy. 124 and 1975 Hwy. 211; and for Neville Erasmus with Merritt Hospitality for Paddy’s Pub, The Spa at Chateau Elan, Hampton Inn & Suites, Marc at Chateau Elan and The Inn at Chateau Elan.
•hazard mitigation plans with Jackson and Gwinnett counties.
•an easement request from Atlanta Gas Light as part of the town’s project to add a lane to Chardonnay Trace.
•a change to its alcoholic beverage license ordinance to streamline the process.
•a change to its floodplain management regulations to conform to state standards.
A second public hearing on a residential development in Braselton was deferred last week.
Meritage Homes of Georgia requested deferral of its request shortly before the Braselton Town Council was set to hear it on Dec. 5.
Meritage is requesting annexation, rezoning and a master plan change for a planned unit development off Duncan Creek Rd. Developers plan 326 detached single-family units on 141 acres.
The Braselton Planning Commission failed to make a recommendation on the request at its recent meeting. Planners ultimately decided to defer the request.
Hoschton adopted its FY2020 budget and decided on a waste disposal company at its meeting on Dec. 9, but both were contentious and required Mayor Theresa Kenerly to break a tie vote for the items to pass.
The town adopted a $1.4 million general fund budget for FY2020 after council member Hope Weeks made a motion to adopt the budget, but with several proposed items eliminated.
The motion carried 3-2 after Kenerly broke a council tie. Weeks and councilman Jim Cleveland voted in favor of the budget while council members Shantwon Astin and Adam Ledbetter voted against it.
Why the budget was cut: Weeks said that the cuts were designed to cover any shortfall if the town's growth faded next year.
"If some crazy thing happens, we would still be OK," she said of her budget proposal.
Weeks' motion removed creating a public works director position, a part-time receptionist, one-half year city clerk, a bike-hike trail, an open space plan for city hall, and a digital billboard. The five items cut $165,300 from the budget, she said.
Timing questioned: But Ledbetter said he didn't get the proposed changes until 11 a.m. that morning.
"I drive for a living, I can't read emails on my route," he said. "To make a decision on something this big that I've seen, I've not opened the email yet, is something I won't vote on."
Kenerly said the email was just about items being cut out, suggesting it wasn't a major change.
But Ledbetter was unmoved.
"Every email we get is last-minute," he said. "And I can't make decisions on stuff I can't read."
He also said the lack of public input at the previous Dec. 5 meeting left him unable to answer questions about the budget he had received from the public.
"I don't see why we need to pass this when we could have a special session now that we have the information and can go over it and answer the questions," he said.
Waste company hired: The council also voted 3-2 to hire Waste Pro as the town's waste disposal company for the next three years, with Kenerly again casting the tie-breaking vote.
Ledbetter was also upset that the council only got the final draft of the Waste Pro contract at 5 p.m. just before the council meeting.
"I can't vote on stuff that I don't have enough time to look at," he said.
The town had been using a temporary company for much of 2019 after it ended its contract with another firm. There had been criticism from some in the pubic that the council has been too slow in finding a long-term company.
The council held a meeting in November where it ranked four proposals in a "blind evaluation" where council members didn't know the names of the companies being considered.
Council member Weeks made the motion Dec. 9 to approve the contract with Waste Pro.
"I hate getting things this late, but I don't want to hold this up because I know this has been an inconvenience for everybody," she said.
In other action, the council approved:
• Phase 1 final plat for the Cresswind development.
• reappointing Justin Kilgore as public development director.
• a meeting schedule for 2020 with the time to change to 6:30 p.m. for city council meetings.
• a routine update to its audit standards.
• an update to its language access plan as required by the department of community affairs.