Johns Creek, Alpharetta at Odds Over Ocee Park
Park fees, cross-swearing of police officers disputed.
UPDATED 1:35 p.m.: Alpharetta responds to Johns Creek in a quote added to this story.
Johns Creek and Alpharetta continue to disagree over Ocee Park polices.
Johns Creek City Council members discussed how to deal with requests from the city of Alpharetta regarding non-resident park fees and officer patrols at Monday's work session.
The park, which has been part of the city limits of Johns Creek since the city's inception some five years ago, lies on the border of the two cities and is surrounded by Alpharetta neighborhoods.
In February 2011, Johns Creek approved the implementation of non-resident program fees and priority registration for city parks. The measure came after Kirk Franz, Recreation and Parks director, recommended these changes due to high demand of the parks' programs and to give tax-paying Johns Creek citizens priority.
Arthur Letchas, who was Alpharetta's mayor at the time, asked the council to vote against the non-resident policy for Ocee Park. He referred to an informal "gentlemans' agreement" before the formation of Johns Creek in 2006 in which he and would-be Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker apparently agreed that Johns Creek and Alpharetta residents would be treated equally.
At a recent Alpharetta City Council meeting, the current mayor, David Belle Isle, and council agreed to move forward with plans to initiate talks with Johns Creek regarding fees.
At its Monday work session, the Johns Creek council stipulated that it would agree to talks as long as Alpharetta comes to the table with a cooperative plan. Alpharetta likewise charges non-resident fees to Johns Creek residents for Alpharetta park programs. The Johns Creek council also stipulated that talks must start with only staff members, citing concerns that the issue was becoming politicized.
Alpharetta sent a two-sentence response to Johns Creek officials' comments in this story:
“The City of Alpharetta has requested opportunities to meet with Johns Creek officials to explore opportunities for cross-governmental cooperation that serve the best interests of our respective citizens. We are awaiting a response to those invitations,” stated the city's official response, sent by Assistant City Administrator James Drinkard.
Also at issue in Ocee Park is the "cross-swearing" of police officers. The city of Alpharetta wishes to have Alpharetta police officers cross-sworn in order to have the authority to patrol the park along with Johns Creek officers.
The Johns Creek City Council says that cross-swearing is and always has been the police chief's call. Due to liability issues, the Johns Creek Police Department does not want to cross-swear Alpharetta officers for the park; i.e., Johns Creek could be held liable for an Alpharetta police officer's mistake.
The cross-swearing issue has now been tied to a Haz-Mat understanding between Johns Creek and Alpharetta.
Alpharetta has enough Haz-Mat equipment capable of aiding Johns Creek in such an emergency. In an internal memo addressed to Johns Creek's mayor and council (provided to Patch by the city of Johns Creek), Johns Creek City Manager John Kachmar wrote:
"Alpharetta's Mayor has specifically stated that his city will not sign [a Haz-Mat] agreement unless we (Johns Creek) cross-swear his police officers. He has stated that to the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem [councilmember Bev Miller]. It has also been stated as a condition to our Fire Chief."
The memo went on to read:
"Alpharetta is making a serious mistake by linking the cross-swearing and a Haz-Mat MOU [Memorandum of Understanding]. The equipment specific to the Haz Mat MOU may have been funded with Federal and State dollars. Holding the MOU hostage to a police powers issue (on their patrolling our park) could get them in trouble with a FEMA inspector general. The Haz-Mat MOU is about sharing resources in the event of an emergency. Linking that or 'extorting' an arrangement for political purposes could have serious consequences."