By Amy Wenk

Dist. 3 Councilman Chip Collins

Sandy Springs City Council tripped over policy and politics March 2 when a new councilman asked the city to fund some sidewalks in his neighborhood.

Dist. 3 Councilman Chip Collins proposed that just over 800 feet of sidewalks be built on the west side of Riverside Drive between Edgewater and old Riverside drives. He said the $17,700 project would provide 275 families a route to the swim and tennis facilities at The Riverside Club. Many members reside in the Riverside neighborhood within walking distance to the club.

“This is about getting 192 kids safely to the pool,” said Collins, an attorney who joined council two months ago. “People drive a tenth of a mile to go to this club. They don’t want to bike down this busy section of Riverside Drive.”

Plans already exist to add more than 3,000 feet of sidewalks along Riverside Drive from River Valley Road to Old Riverside Drive. What doesn’t exist is the $600,000 needed to build on the complex site.

City Council’s policy is to prioritize projects when developing the annual budget. Once they set the list, they don’t stray from it. Riverside Drive sidewalks are not at the top of the list for 2010.

Collins made his case for an exception.

“I’m not trying to leapfrog any projects here,” he said. But this sidewalk project “is the most bang for the buck.”

The stretch of sidewalk has few topography challenges and would serve a large population, Collins said.

Most council members liked the proposal.

“I’m completely in support of this,” said Dist. 4 Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins. “I think it’s an excellent idea.”

Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny saw it as an open door to advocate for improvements in her district.

“We all want sidewalks in our neighborhoods,” McEnerny said. “I will remind the council if I am shot down” when proposing projects for District 6.

But Dist. 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio criticized Collins for pushing a project that benefits his family.

“It’s your pool and your neighborhood,” DeJulio said.

Council members, he said, have “tried to take politics out of this and do what’s best for the city based on professional advice.”

Collins defended himself.

“This idea came to me from [members of the city] staff,” he said. “I can’t ignore an idea that came to me and a need that is in the neighborhood.”

Mayor Eva Galambos said policy was important.

“I think we ought to let this go forward,” she said.

But first a policy change needs be adopted that outlines funding exceptions, said Galambos.

Collins said he would have a draft of a proposed policy change completed by the next council meeting, March 16.