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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 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."

Mike Kennedy July 25, 2012 at 03:10 AM
We are going to talk with Milton also, but the issues are different there. This story just involved Alpharetta and Johns Creek. Even if we can work something out on fees, I absolutely agree that Alpharetta residents should continue to have priority registration in Alpharetta parks and the same for Johns Creek residents in their parks. We'll work it out.
Smartie July 25, 2012 at 03:58 AM
Is it even verifiable - 100 residents you speak about? It seems like a waste of time to focus on this topic when there're more critical issues you could address - like how to find other way to create Alpharetta's tax base without harrassing motorists vis-a-vis absolutely ridiculous traffic ticket charges in Alpharetta!!! Extorting the public motorists in lieu of not getting a traffic record. The 100 Alpharetta residents you cited could easily enroll their kids in other facilities such as: East Roswell Park (near Newtown Park), YMCA Alpharetta/Wills Park (near 400), Webb Bridge Park (close to Ocee & Newtown), along with Alpharetta Recreation Center (west of 400) and many other "ALPHARETTA" facilities all offer a plethora of diverse programs that even JC doesn't have??? What's the big deal? If Alpharetta Municipal system [ie. Judges, Solicitor General, et al.] wasn't so biased, prejudiced and greedy to innocent motorists, maybe it would attract more residents that otherwise would have easily crossed over to your fence. I will continue to warn people about your city's rampant distortion of traffic laws to collect LOT$ of money from the public under Alpharetta jurisdiction. If your Municipal Court employees' conduct is symbolic of Alpharetta's political ecosystem, it seems there's a long way to go before Alpharetta can garner the kind of "best places to live" recognition at a national level that JC is already receiving < than 5 years of existence. Just sayin'.
Smartie July 25, 2012 at 04:09 AM
Unless there is an Official Survey conducted by a neutral 3rd-party that indicates that there is an "EQUAL DEMAND" from Johns Creek residents for Alpharetta recreational services as there is from Alpharetta residents, it is TOTALLY UNNECESSARY to change the fee policies. Why? Because the BENEFIT ratio would be lop-sided! If this whole thing is to appease the Alpharetta residents but not that many JC residents, then JC community loses out because the BENEFITS for the JC residents is minimal while the BENEFITS for the Alpharetta residents are greater. Meanwhile, JC tax division will be collecting a LOT LESS fees from "Non-Residents" surcharge that otherwise it would have had the opportunity to....... before all this time-wasting debate! So, if MANY, MANY Alpharetta residents cry out for the removal of the surcharge, MANY, MANY Johns Creek residents would be opposing it because JC residents will somehow will need to pick-up the differential in the tabs somehow, somewhere.... and, that somehow, somewhere will be reflected as an increase in the Johns Creek Municipal Tax line during tax filing season. So, your perfect count of "100" residents on both sides of the fence is not only interesting because it's such a poi-fect number but also because it makes a HUGE difference if it was incorrect.
Mike Kennedy July 25, 2012 at 04:02 PM
@ Smartie: 1) The 100 figure was simply an example. 2) It would have to benefit citizens of both cities equally. If not, we won't do it. 3) I have helped many citizens with traffic ticket/municipal court issues. If you have an issue, shoot me an email. We do work on more than one issue at a time.
Dance&SoccerMom July 25, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Might I suggest that the "gentlemen's agreement" you mention above extend across Alpharetta, Johns Creek and Milton? I know city officials want to make the most of $$ and reserve parks primarily for tax-paying citizens, but at one time, we all considered ourselves residents of Alpharetta (unincorporated or not). Currently, these "boundaries" impact how athletic teams are formed and maintained. We have tremendous talent and opportunities across North Fulton through our wonderful parks, but we seem to lose out to private athletic organizations, who don't restrict themselves to petty boundary issues. When our cities focus on ways to keep each other out vs. how we can work together, we lose options. In short, we all lose.
Mike Kennedy July 25, 2012 at 04:34 PM
@Dance&SoccerMom, You raise a lot of good points. I think there are ways the cities can work together on issues like this for the convenience of all our citizens in the area. We will never know if there are opportunities that can be uncovered unless we sit down and talk about and go from there.
Alpha Dude July 25, 2012 at 04:56 PM
My recollection, and what's been left out of this story, is that the gentlemen's agreement came about because Ocee park would naturally (geographically) be in Alpharetta. However, Johns Creek had a shortage of parks, so Alpharetta agreed to let Johns Creek include the park within their boundary. In return, Bodker agreed to give Alphretta residents the same deal as Johns Creek residents. (feel free to correct me if you know for sure I'm wrong about that) Is there some way to waive the fee just at Ocee park?
Dance&SoccerMom July 25, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Thanks for the response. BTW, I really appreciate your participation on this forum. I rarely (never) comment and it's refreshing to know someone's listening. I'm sure you and all the city officials have many important issues that you focus on in your roles -- things that we ordinary citizens probably haven't a clue about. However, I can't think of any issue that impacts our sense of connection and community more than the way we manage our parks (this includes the current approach to team residency requirements). If you stop and think about it, the parks are the backdrop for so many families and life lessons. For many families like mine, we spend nearly every weekend at our parks teaching/learning huge life lessons - hard work, fair play, teamwork, dedication, excellence. We form bonds with other families. We represent our communities and contribute to the positive quality of life that increases property values. The focus on Johns Creek vs. Alpharetta vs. Milton (protecting what's mine) represents old thinking. If you look at innovative approaches like TED and Kahn Academy for knowledge sharing, and schools like Duke/UNC that allow students to take classes at either university and share resources that the other might not offer is a good model that better reflects our local JC/A/M community. I'd love to see changes in our approach that builds our broader community up. Just my 2 cents.
Tony July 25, 2012 at 06:18 PM
The inter gov agreement between police has nothing to do with liability. All the police around Alpharetta have a distrust of the Chief of Alpharetta. Nothing more nothing less. The troops on the ground get along!
Mike Kennedy July 25, 2012 at 06:19 PM
I wasn't on council when all that happened. Maybe it's just time to look at the whole issue again and see if there is something that works for everyone.
Travis Allen July 25, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Agree...just remember that it wasn't his decision alone and there was quite a bit going during the first year or two of incorporation for both Johns Creek and Milton. I'm sure Mayor Bodker was a little busy dealing with the adult book store.
Travis Allen July 25, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Agree with Dance&SoccerMOM... When I was growing up, we ALL played baseball at Wills Park, it was owned by Fulton County at that time. My dad ran the baseball program for a few years, and he and others worked their tails off since Fulton County wasn't putting in much of an effort to maintain anything, including them not even mowing the fields. The people that put so much into that park in the 70's, 80's and 90's, most of them from outside the official city limits of Alpharetta shouldn't be forgotten.
Alpha Dude July 25, 2012 at 06:45 PM
There were definitely lots of things going on - this all happened before Johns Creek officially became a city. Ocee was gerrymandered into Johns Creek (check out their boundary line) so they wouldn't end up with just two parks (or one, if Roswell had been sucessfull in grabbing the Newtown area away from Johns Creek). I just think Mike Bodker should be a gentleman and remain true to his gentleman's agreement. No, it isn't just up to him, but he wields great power over there, and for that matter most of the people on the council were also around when that agreement was made.
Dance&SoccerMom July 25, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Thanks for sharing @Travis Allen. That's how I remember Alpharetta, too. -- People coming together to support their community. Not a focus on boundary lines.
Smartie July 25, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Your reference to "talent" infer highly competitive situations which aren't really healthy for young people. Perhpas the recent Penn State/NCAA debacle should be enough proof how SPORTS has really gotten out of hand from teaching young people about good sportsmanship and comraderie ... to full throttle "WIN, WIN!" culture in this country. It's this type of innuendo of recruiting top "talents" around the area to make up a team which is totally against the whole notion of having organized recreational leagues which is about being OPEN TO ALL SKILL LEVELS!!! NOT sectionalizing to "tremendous talent" from everywhere and anywhere where only a finite number of tax payers are funding for the facilities. Anyway, nobody's ever restricting anyone over your so-called "petty boundary issues", it's just that there's a different fee structure whether you're in or out. If you don't want to pay extra because you're not a contributor to the upkeep of these facilities, why should anyone else who's in that tax district have to pay? With your logic, nobody should pay for these facilities!!! If so, then where will JC government find the funds for the upkeep? At the end, somebody has to pay. And, you're saying JC residents should pay for the upkeep while everyone else who don't get the same privileges.??? Wow, is that really fair???
Smartie July 25, 2012 at 07:51 PM
To Dance & Soccer Mom: Your Wed. posting in reference to "our local JC/A/M community"... you must be kidding me! Does your 'M' stand for Milton by any chance??? Milton is another town over west of Alpharetta and doesn't even touch JC! Unless you haven't kept abreast of what JC is even about, it is definitely about Milton as a sister community. If anything, you should have said 'local JC//Duluth/Suwanee/Norcross/A' community. Yes! Sorry to say but the new JC borders ALL of these communities but certainly NOT Milton. So, before making references to Duke or whatever which doesn't seem like the most effective analogy to drawing parallels to the local municipality recreational parks discussion, you might be interested in studying a little more about what community consistitues what and borders where. A great tax revenue and population density of JC truly comes from Duluth side of the equation not Alpharetta side. Even the new JC govt. building sits on former Duluth zip code as well as all the new sprawl of commercial activities which are the significant source of any municipalities' health. So, the 'A' part of the "local JC//Duluth/Suwanee/Norcross/A" is not that significant in light of the entire portfolio... if anything, "D" would be more critical than "A" but that's beside the point.
Smartie July 25, 2012 at 07:52 PM
...Typo on 2nd sentence... meant to say: 'it is denitely NOT about Milton as a sister community.'
Dance&SoccerMom July 25, 2012 at 07:55 PM
@Smartie: I don't appreciate your tone and assumptions at all. You're the reason why I will no longer comment on these issues moving forward in this forum. You have no idea where I stand on this issue and yet you compare my stance with the problems at Penn State? Ridiculous. You gather from my comments that JC residents should shoulder the burden? Wow. I don't have all the answers. Never said I did. Just wish we would look at issues differently. That's what it means to have a dialogue. But if you like your approach better, keep using your multiple exclamation points and all caps, hurl your insults and make your assumptions. You're not helping. You're just a part of the problem.
Truthseeker July 25, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Alpha Dude is correct. There was an agreement made and it should be honored. But once again the lack of gentlemen's honor is lacking in politicians. Alpharetta agreed to help John's Creek. The city lines would not have Ocee Park in JC. So after the fact amnesia sets in. Politicians should be held accountable for their promises/agreements.
Susan July 26, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Smartie, you must be a relatively new resident of the area?? We have been here for 20+ years and I think all of us in N. Fulton consider the Alpharetta/Milton/JC area as part of the same community. But definitely not Duluth and Norcross....different schools, different county, etc. The reason I have NO sympathy for Alpharetta is they laid down the gauntlet first by charging outrageous non-resident fees for any activity. We're not talking $25-$50, we're talking literally hundreds of dollars. So for your kid to play lacrosse at WB Park if you were an Alpharetta resident would be $150, but for a Johns Creek resident it was $300 or more. It was ridiculous and not a very neighborly move at all. And it's been going on for YEARS. Johns Creek initially allowed all to participate in their parks program for the same fees whether they lived in the city limits or not. Good for them.... I guess they got fed up.
Travis Allen July 26, 2012 at 11:15 AM
Agreed, I've lived here over 30 years, prior to incorporation of the new cities, the areas now within the boundaries of Milton and Johns Creek were referred to as Alpharetta.
DC July 30, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Smartie apparently believes in the trophies for all model of athletic participation. The fact is, that children have different levels of skills and will benefit from different participation models to further their individual development. Some children are best suited for recreation leagues and others are only held stagnant in those situations and will flourish in more competitive environments. One of the main issues with Ocee Park's governing body has been the absolute refusal to develop more competitive programs. The result is kids and their parents leave to seek out those options. These parents are not maniacal win at all cost individuals they simply do not want their children to be able to participate with others who have the similar levels of skill and devotion to their chosen game. The development process of many participants has become hampered by participating with children who in many cases do not always want to be there and their parents who too often treat these programs as babysitters actually leaving their kids at the park. I have seen this progression over the last few years. I believe that by allowing the children in this area to choose the park that is best for them without a financial repurcussion to their parents this will actually spur all of the programs to compete (a dirty word to some) to provide a variety of programs that will best serve all in the community.
Smartie July 30, 2012 at 05:28 PM
To ** SUSAN**: 20 years ago, Milton was a subset of Alpharetta while JC was not even an entity as it just celebrated 5 years of birth! Also, you may want to get your facts straight before you make comments about Duluth. Duluth has existed in 2 counties - Fulton and Gwinnett with 2 zip codes - 30097 and 30096, respectively. The 30097 was annexed to become a JC commnunity while a sliver of 30096 also became a JC community. The notable schools within 30097 Duluth such as Northview and River Trail are now all part of a JC portfolio of schools but were carrying Duluth address prior to JC incorporation. I never said Norcross is or was ever a part of JC but that JC bordered around Norcross on the southside as it borders Alpharetta on the west side only to point out that 'Alpharetta' is not the only bordering neighbor of JC but that JC has many other neighbors such as Norcross [Gwinnett County] and Suwanee [Forsyth County]. While I empathize your WB Park scenario, maybe to Alpharetta's defense they were trying to 'make up' for their budget los$ due to declining home values (real estate tax decline) and decreasing sale$ tax revenue... latter is probably due to their own abuse of excessive traffic tickets in various commercial areas where very wise drivers have been trained to avoid as they are well-known speed traps. We all know where they are... hmm,mm, which in effect make drivers/people not frequent those commercial establishments and go elsewhere to spend their $.
Travis Allen July 30, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Smartie, aside from being a total ass, you're incorrect. "20 years ago, Milton was a subset of Alpharetta"...what does that even mean? Nobody referred to what is now the CIty of Milton as "Milton" until it was nearing incorporation. Many areas of Johns Creek however were referred to as "Johns Creek" Milton and Johns Creek were incorporated on the same date, so they are both nearing 6 years in age. Milton as an entity hasn't existed for 20 years... Duluth never existed officially in two counties, just like Alpharetta doesn't really exist officially in Forsyth and Cherokee counties, although residents in Forsyth and Cherokee use an Alpharetta mailing address. It's a matter of post office location. The schools you mentioned might have used a Duluth address, but they are FULTON COUNTY SCHOOLS as are all other public schools within the borders of Johns Creek, Milton, Alpharetta, Roswell and other cities in FULTON COUNTY, not including the City of Atlanta.
Bob Pepalis (Editor) July 30, 2012 at 06:10 PM
The participation in the discussion on this topic has been great, but it has been heading progressively more personal as differences of opinion get more fleshed out. Please keep to a civil conversation. Passion is great on the issues, but not at the expense of at least a semblance of civility.
Smartie July 30, 2012 at 06:58 PM
To TRAVIS ALLEN on 7/31/12 post: Watch YOUR WORDS! Using words like "Ass" makes you look like one - totally!!! And, it's And, READ before your blast!!! I NEVER said Northview and River Trail were NOT Fulton schools but rather that they carried Duluth address. Of course, they were Fulton schools --- they were in 30097 zip code which was Fulton. But, a sliver of Duluth in 30096 zip code which was in Gwinnett boundary is now a part of JC!!! Also, who ever said Milton existed as an entity??? Where do you read that??? So, be careful to read carefully instead of carelessly before shouting your words!!! Milton was referenced simply to draw out that it used to be in the Alpharetta boundaries. Besides, it's not even the topic point! Who cares about who mowed the lawn for Wills Park in the past? How is that a relevant piece to this discussion board????? 20+years ago, Forsyth County didn't let African Americans into their county while 20+ years ago, 141 used to be a field of greens with romaing cows and the road didn't even exist. Is that relevant to local governments' means of drawing revenues which is the big picture to all this? 20+ years ago, Alpharetta was a horse community. So, should we now talk about who picked up horse manure from Wills Park as well??? Just thought of the horse since you cited the word "Ass" in your post.
Travis Allen July 30, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Just responding to your quote "20 years ago, Milton was a subset of Alpharetta while JC was not even an entity as it just celebrated 5 years of birth!" "Milton was referenced simply to draw out that it used to be in the Alpharetta boundaries." Again, Milton and Johns Creek were never part of Alpharetta. Your lack of full knowledge on the subject is laughable and you're obviously full of hate.
Smartie July 30, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Never said Milton and JC were ever a part of Alpharetta but that Milton's (geographical) area was a subset of Alpharetta until it became of its own. Again, it's besides the point in this discussion board. Milton's not even on the radar of this topic so don't bring it up over and over as if it had some significant contribution to the discussion because it ain't.
Travis Allen July 30, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Using your logic then, Johns Creek was a subset of Alpharetta and Duluth until it became of its own. I used North Park in Milton as a reverse example to what Alpharetta faces with Ocee Park. North Park is surrounded by Milton on all sides, and not really even close to the border between the two cities. So, it is certain significant to the discussion.
Bob Pepalis (Editor) July 30, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Actually, Milton is definitely a part of this topic, as Alpharetta's Recreation Commissioner resigned to become the interim director of Milton's Parks and Recreation Commission. And Alpharetta's stated goal is for more cooperation with both Milton and Johns Creek. http://patch.com/A-vW4k

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