Mableton finds its footing at inaugural council meeting

·7 min read

May 12—MABLETON — Less than a month after a runoff election decided its leadership, the new city of Mableton's mayor and City Council met for the first time Thursday night.

Before a packed room of residents and media, the council, despite a few hiccups along the way, passed several basic resolutions needed to get the city off the ground, and agreed to appoint several interim staff.

"We literally have to put this together from scratch," Mayor Michael Owens told the crowd. "We are diligently working on that."

The council appointed Emilia Walker-Ashby as interim city attorney, Susan Hiott as interim city clerk and Frank Milazi as interim financial consultant.

TJ Ferguson was elected as mayor pro tempore, to preside over meetings when Owens is absent.

The council also formally adopted the city charter — laid out in House Bill 839 — as its governing document, agreed on a website domain (, and approved a resolution authorizing discussions on collecting tax revenues with Cobb County and the Cobb tax commissioner.

All seven of the elected officials are new to public office. During the meeting they became familiar with Robert's Rules of Order and were counseled by their lawyer on how to make proper motions.

Procedures were sometimes confused and had to be explained, and the audience at times interjected.

Staffing up

The council approved the appointments of Walker-Ashby, Hiott and Milazi after they were nominated for their roles by the mayor.

All three are working without pay, with the understanding that they will be compensated later when the city begins generating revenue.

Walker-Ashby serves as attorney for the city of McDonough. She will bill the city $210 an hour for legal services.

The documents hiring Hiott and Milazi merely state they will be paid at a rate negotiated and approved by the mayor.

Hiott, the city clerk for Brookhaven, has also worked for the cities of Smyrna, Acworth and Roswell.

While those three appointments were unanimously approved, they didn't go off without a hitch.

As the council was preparing to approve Walker-Ashby's appointment, they were interrupted by someone in the audience.

Charles Ford, a defense attorney, asked how the position was advertised and decided upon, and said he would have liked to be considered.

"It's really simple," Owens said. "... This is an active appointee which I am nominating."

Owens had told the MDJ Wednesday that he planned to nominate Walker-Ashby and Hiott, but said at the time he had not figured out who the financial consultant would be.

At the meeting, Councilwoman Patricia Auch took issue with the speed the council was moving at, saying they were not notified of Milazi's nomination 24 hours before the meeting.

"I've yet to meet him," she said.

The city attorney pointed out Milazi's appointment could be discussed as a personnel matter in executive session, which is closed to the public. She added that the city will need someone, fairly quickly, to examine the city's anticipated revenue and allocate funds for its immediate needs.

"One of the immediate things ... that I perceive a need for is to collaborate with the county, as well as the tax commissioner, because you have an accrual date that's coming up of June 1 that the charter anticipates you'll start to receive tax collections," Walker-Ashby said.

The council decided to hold an executive session to discuss Milazi's appointment. His appointment was approved later in the evening.

Milazi is a certified plan fiduciary adviser, a certified public funds investment manager and a certified public manager. He has held jobs in local government finance in South Fulton, Georgia and Washington County, North Carolina, among other jurisdictions.

"He has transitioned a city previously, as far as being the financial head of the city," Walker-Ashby said.

Owens told the MDJ after the meeting that things had moved quickly — on Wednesday, he wasn't yet sure if Milazi would be able to accept the position.

"The situation we're in without a transition committee, and having no money to pay anyone, we had to find ... qualified people that were willing to come on board," the mayor said.

The council also approved hiring two interim executive assistants, one for the mayor and one for the council. Those staff have not been identified yet.

Council members Auch and Debora Herndon voted against that item, the only split vote of the night.

Auch pointed out Smyrna only has one executive assistant — Owens responded by pointing out Mableton is the county's largest city by population.

Herndon was worried about hiring too many people before establishing a budget.

"One should be sufficient," she said. "I can certainly make my own calls and send my own emails and respond to my constituents."

'A lot of work to do'

The meeting was held at the Riverside EpiCenter near Six Flags Over Georgia.

Owens said the EpiCenter has agreed to let the council host more meetings there in the future. The council has not scheduled its next meeting yet.

The meeting also included public comment and council member comments.

Resident Ron Hunt said he thinks the new city will mean his taxes go up, and seemed skeptical of the new government.

"My big question in all of this is, what is a city of Mableton going to do for us? ... So, I'm here to listen. But I would like some more specifics," Hunt said.

Monica DeLancy, a local tenant's rights activist, wasted no time in asking the council to enact an eviction moratorium and implement policies to crack down on corporate landlords.

Another resident, Corey Jiggetts, asked the council "to proceed with your job and your charge with informed intention, and guided by a strategic vision, and not by knee-jerk reactionary responses."

He called on the city to preserve the character of the community, use code enforcement to reduce blight, and support affordable housing development.

Resident Joyce Steele said she found out about the meeting while watching the news at 5 p.m., just 90 minutes before the meeting began. She asked for better communication going forward.

"As I was talking to other folks in the audience, they were articulating the same thing," Steele said.

During council member comments, Councilman Ferguson asked for residents to have patience.

"We needed to get this meeting out of the way, so that we could start doing all the things that you really are looking for us to do. ... We don't have a bank account. We've got a lot of work to do," he said.

Cobb school board member Leroy Tre' Hutchins and Cobb District Attorney Flynn Broady both spoke to congratulate the council. Cobb Commissioner Monique Sheffield and state Rep. Terry Cummings, D-Mableton, also spoke.

"I just want to publicly allow everyone to know that what we have here, with our City Council and me representing the county, it is my commitment to ensure that this process will be as seamless as possible," Sheffield said.

Cummings is in her first term in office, and had sympathy for the learning curve the council had. She asked people to "give them some grace."

"I've had to learn and I am still learning in my role, and I have made mistakes," Cummings said. "They are going to make mistakes. It happens."

Herndon said she was floored by the turnout.

"Standing room only, I mean, you all need to give yourself a hand," Herndon said.

William Wilson was chairman of the pro-cityhood MabletonYES! campaign, and made an unsuccessful bid for council. He told the MDJ that everything had come full circle for cityhood supporters. Thursday was a sentimental night for them.

"They're going to have some growing pains, that's to be expected," Wilson said. "... Things are looking good. It's a positive, over a six-year period, to see it get to this point."