By Joel Hall
The Riverdale City Council has overturned a veto by Mayor Phaedra Graham that would have derailed the city's plan for the Riverdale Town Center, a tax allocation district (TAD).
With all four council members present for an emergency meeting on Friday, three voted to override Graham's Thursday veto of a measure that would have allowed the city to use the Georgia Redevelopment Powers Law to create a TAD that would fund the city's Town Center project. Councilman Rick Scoggins abstained.
The council also defeated a veto of a contract agreement with A&G Edwards and Sons Inc., the financial company, which would underwrite bonds for the development.
"Why would you be against something that can increase [the citizens'] property values, something that can give people a greater quality of life?" said Wanda Wallace, mayor pro tempore, who along with Councilmembers Michelle Bruce and Kenny Ruffin, voted to override the veto.
Although Scoggins abstained from both votes, he supported Graham's reasoning behind the veto. "I would rather have you all chew us out now, while the city is still functioning, than for you to come back to us when the city is bankrupt," he said.
Scoggins said he would not vote to pass the TAD, until "there was full disclosure," on "how it will be put together, from start to finish."
He added that his abstention follows advice from the city's attorney that he may be in a potential conflict of interest. Wallace pressed for an explanation, but Scoggins, a real estate agent, would not go into specifics.
Graham justified her vetoes, saying neither the school board, nor the county, has signed a consent agreement, agreeing to fixed shares of ad valorem tax revenue from the Town Center development.
The projected revenue is $2,906,118. The city is projected to receive $544,761, the county $921,009 and the school board $1,440,348.
"We need commitment letters from the Clayton County School System and the Board of Commissioners," said Graham. "I am for progression and making sure that the plan is airtight, so as not to place an unnecessary, financial burden on the city."
However, opponents of the veto see things differently.
"To me, [Graham] slapped the voters in the face when she did this," said Councilmember Bruce. "[The Town Center] creates jobs for our citizens, it creates tax base ... [the voters] wanted this and this hurts the taxpayers in the city."
"I have never been so disappointed in somebody in my life," said Jewell Lewis, who has announced that she will challenge Graham for mayor.
"The voters voted two-to-one for this," said Jessie Goree, a member of the Riverdale Downtown Development Authority. "We shouldn't even be here tonight. She's stifling development."
In a Sept. 18 special election, voters overwhelmingly approved the TAD, which will act as the primary funding source for the project. The Town Center plan calls for a multi-use development, featuring commercial, retail and residential components, as well as a new amphitheater, and city hall complex.
Another issue to surface in the meeting was a request by Mayor Graham for a forensic audit of the city's spending practices. She included the request as part of her veto."I want to be sure that we have covered everything," she said.
However, City Manager Iris Jessie said the forensic audit is "a ruse," and an attempt to scare voters from backing the TAD. "It's a relief," that the veto was overturned, said Jessie.
"There are many checks and balances in this process. It [overturning the veto] gives us an opportunity to continue the process," of completing the Town Center project, Jessie said.