A DeKalb County Superior Court judge has ruled against a Brookhaven resident’s challenge of the city’s $12.4 million bond validation for the Peachtree Creek Greenway. The July 31 ruling made way for the immediate sale of the bonds to be used for the construction of the linear park expected to break ground before the end of the year.
Terrell Carstens of Brookhaven Fields challenged the city’s bond validation last month as a private resident and with no attorney.
In her challenge, she claimed the intergovernmental agreement between the city and the newly formed Brookhaven Public Facilities Authority was actually a loan agreement and violated Georgia law because it did not provide a public service to the city. In an interview, Carstens said the city should have put the bond issue up to a public vote.
Judge Gregory Adams denied Carsten’s claim and said in his ruling that the state Supreme Court has ruled IGA contracts like that used in Brookhaven are valid.
One example was a Cobb County resident’s 2015 challenge of an IGA between the county and the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority to issue bonds to finance the construction of a new Atlanta Braves stadium. The state Supreme Court ruled that the IGA was valid because the city and the authority are authorized to build, construct and operate municipal assets, including parks. The same laws apply to the Peachtree Creek Greenway, according to Adams.
The justices also ruled that the new baseball park was a project that was for the benefit of the public and fulfilled the IGA contract. Adams ruled that the Peachtree Creek Greenway will be open to all residents of Brookhaven, making it a public benefit.
Carstens also stated in oral argument before the judge that the bond issue for the Greenway is “financially unsound.” Judge Adams said she offered no testimony to support this claim.
He added the city was able to establish the project, the bonds and security are “sound, feasible and reasonable.”
The judge also noted in his ruling that Carstens had no standing because she did not testify under oath her right to intervene because she provided no proof she was a Georgia resident and Brookhaven resident, necessary in such a challenge.
The debt will be paid by revenue created from the city’s hotel-motel tax. Last year the General Assembly approved the city’s request to raise the hotel-motel tax from 5 percent to 8 percent specifically to create a revenue stream for funding the Greenway.
“It is an inherently American process for citizens to have their voices heard in the court system, and intervene if they believe necessary,” said City Manager Christian Sigman in a prepared statement. “We are satisfied that the court took the time to weigh the considerations and decide accordingly in the city’s favor.”
Sigman noted that on July 24, both Standard & Poor’s (S&P) and Moody’s Investor Services (Moody’s) awarded triple A ratings to the city based on a review of its financial health, management and fiscal policies.
Carstens said in an email she had no regrets challenging the city.
“I was simply there to exercise my right to speak on concerns of mine and others and to bring them forward for Judge Adams to consider,” she said.
“It was indeed unfamiliar territory for me, but I learned a lot about the process and our city. The outcome though, is disappointing.”
She said she still has reservations the city is being transparent and accountable to taxpayers.
“Until our government actually shows that what they say is also what they do, I will continue to ask questions, fight to protect our communities, and hold them accountable to all of the citizens of Brookhaven,” she said.