A nonprofit that organized a recent arts event in Sandy Springs says the city plays favorites when issuing permits for events organized by members of City Council. Council members say they play by the rules and one of the council members called the allegations “hogwash.”
The Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces held its Artsapalooza event on April 20 and 21. The foundation applied for two permits to hold the event on Sandy Springs Circle. The city denied both because of concerns the event would affect traffic flow and access to businesses. The city granted the group a permit to hold the festival on Lake Forrest Drive.
The foundation appealed the denials for Sandy Springs Circle. City Council on May 7 rejected those appeals, finding the denials were proper. Council members also cited a report released by the city that alleges AFFPS Vice President Randall Fox mistreated city staff.
“I find it offensive that anybody that applies for permits in our community believes it’s appropriate to be verbally abusive to staff on two separate occasions,” Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny said during the May 7 hearing. “ … I hope in the future professionals such as this should act in a professional manner to our staff.”
Fox, who didn’t attend the May 7 hearing and claims he wasn’t notified of it, disputed the report and accused the city of giving another event — the Sandy Springs Cycling Challenge bicycle race — more leeway because City Councilwoman Dianne Fries is one of its organizers.
The Challenge course traditionally has been on Sandy Springs Circle and the event lasts one day. Two council members, Fries and Gabriel Sterling, serve on the nonprofit board for the Sandy Springs Cycling Challenge race. This year’s event took place May 5.
“I guess if I was a City Council member then I would have been ‘permitted for my event,’ much like Council Member Dianne Fries was,” Fox said in an email.
Fries called the allegation of preferential treatment “hogwash.”
“If anything, I go over and above because I think that it’s important that I follow our city guidelines,” Fries said.
Sterling also said the allegations are unfounded.
“We file all the exact same things. We have to go through all exactly the same hoops and ladders as anybody else does,” he said. “I like the work that the guys over there do and the event over there on Lake Forrest was a success, as I understand.”
In 2012, Artsapalooza took place on Johnson Ferry Road. AFFPS applied for an event permit at the same location on Johnson Ferry Road for 2013, but the city denied that application. AFFPS submitted four permit applications in all, including the one the city approved for Lake Forrest Drive.
The city’s report on the dispute shows that there have been ongoing discussions about the event since October. The report claims Fox filed 59 open records requests since February and sent city staff 500 emails. The report accuses Fox of being “verbally abusive” to city staff when he visited City Hall. According to a letter dated April 4, the city informed Fox it would not respond to any additional records requests until he paid $253.45 for records the city claims he didn’t pick up.
Fox disputed those numbers, saying he sent 60 emails and submitted 45 open records requests.
The problem with permitting events isn’t limited to Artsapalooza, Fox said. Fox said several events have left the city over its permitting practices.
City Spokeswoman Sharon Kraun said the city permitted 59 events in 2012 compared with 76 in 2011, 78 in 2010, and 54 in 2009. Kraun said there are a number of factors that affect event permitting, from the economy to the weather.
Fox said he intends to continue pressing the city on this issue, though it isn’t clear what options he has. In his letters to the city, Fox implied he was seeking an attorney.
“The difference between me and the other events: I’m willing to stand up to the city,” Fox said in his email.
Art Sandy Springs President Cheri Morris, who attended some of the meetings with Fox and the city, said the dispute stemmed from Artsapalooza’s permit applications conflicting with an event at Heritage Sandy Springs, located just off Sandy Springs Circle.
“My understanding it was a matter of timing that Heritage Sandy Springs already had booked something by the time Artsapalooza had requested a permit,” Morris said. “On the south end, in general, the tenants on the south side don’t want the roads closed. Lake Forrest, according to the Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces, ended up being an unqualified success.”