STOCKBRIDGE — A proposed change to how council initiatives get funding led to controversy between members of the Stockbridge City Council.
Under the new resolution, which was passed 3-2 at last Wednesday’s City Council meeting, council members are no longer allowed to solicit sponsorships from city vendors for council initiatives.
Sponsorships, however, can still be solicited for a number of the city’s more well-known events, such as Bridgefest, Food Truck Tasty Tuesday, the Stockbridge Christmas Festival and the Memorial Day March, among other events.
According to City Attorney Michael Williams, the resolution was presented to clear up any conflicts of interest that surrounded vendors sponsoring council initiatives, as well as a way to give relief for vendors who felt they had been repeatedly solicited for funds “over and over again.”
The regulation generated a considerable level of controversy, as one member of the City Council said she felt the proposed changes were directed toward her.
Councilwoman Neat Robinson, who spearheaded a new program in Stockbridge known as the Teen Ambassadors, viewed the proposed changes as a personal attack, and said she had not been aware of the proposed changes until Wednesday’s meeting.
“Every time I try to do stuff, even if it’s not in policy but practice, there’s always something to set me up for failure,” Robinson said. “Every turn you try to come at me, I haven’t failed.”
Robinson had been in charge of the Stockbridge Youth Council but stepped down earlier this year “to avoid political rhetoric,” she said, and soon started the Teen Ambassador program, which allows youth from both the incorporated and unincorporated areas of Stockbridge to join.
During the meeting, Robinson alleged that, in spite of having a budget of around $18,000, she was told by her “colleagues” that she was not to use that budget, so she got sponsorships to allow members of the Youth Council to attend the National League of Cities conference in Los Angeles.
After the meeting, Robinson told the Herald that the new regulation would make it more difficult for her to raise money for the Teen Ambassadors program.
In support of the resolution, Councilman John Blount said the City Council needs to look at who they solicit for funds.
“That’s a conflict of interest to solicit funds for who we set decisions for,” Blount said. “We can’t sit here as a council and ask them for money.”
Blount argued that no member of the Stockbridge City Council had seen any paperwork related to where the funds went for the trip to Los Angeles.
“Where’s the breakdown about how the funds were raised?” Blount said. “Not one time have we gotten it. We sit here and we have policies in place. When it comes to people working for the city and we pay them, it’s a conflict of interest to ask them for money. They’re the reason you’re making money.”
Blount said he had no issue with council members raising money for initiatives, but when it comes to those the city had a contract with and paid them money, “that’s the very definition of conflict of interest.”
Robinson later claimed that Blount’s statement concerning the statement of funds for the Los Angeles trip was a lie.
“When the checks came in, the city manager directed our finance department where the checks go,” Robinson said. “No funds went through Neat Robinson’s hands.”
Robinson said that checks were made out to the city of Stockbridge for the teen ambassadors and for the youth council, and none of those checks went through her hands.
Following the meeting, the Herald requested the fund statement from Robinson but had not received it as of press time.