By John Schaffner
Joshua Pechter arrived at Atlanta Municipal Court at 8 a.m. May 6 expecting to be told the city was dismissing a citation he had received for stockpiling mulch during a community effort April 22 to spruce up Mayson Ravine Park near his home on East Club Lane in Brookhaven.
After all, Pechter had heard through Dist. 7 City Councilman Howard Shook’s office that the city’s Public Works Department, which issued the citation, didn’t intend to prosecute it and that the city’s parks commissioner and the mayor’s office were working to drop the case.
Instead that morning the city solicitor told the good-deed mulcher the case would be prosecuted to the fullest.
Pechter ended up pleading not guilty to the charge. He was told to return to court June 17 for a trial, at which he could face a fine of up to $1,000.
But around noon May 8, Pechter received a call from Atlanta Municipal Judge Gary E. Jackson with good news. The judge told Pechter the case had been dismissed, and he did not have to return to court.
“The mayor’s office had interceded, and the chief operating officer of the city contacted the city solicitor to get the charge dismissed,” Pechter said. “I don’t think the city wanted to go through another round of front-page news articles over this situation.”
Pechter said the city has even approached him about serving on one of its parks commissions. “I did the work at Mayson Ravine Park primarily to please my wife,” he said. “The park is right in front of my home. That is why I cared. I don’t care the same way about a park on the other side of the city. That just is not my thing.”
He added: “I think it is important that people do what they can to improve the parks in their own communities and neighborhoods.”
He said the city certainly does not have the money to keep its parks well maintained. “It is in our own best interest to keep these parks up,” said the entrepreneurial professional financial adviser. “It helps in improving the value of our properties.”
The saga began when Pechter, who said he tried to get the city and his neighborhood association to pay to spruce up Mayson Ravine, saw a notice that Park Pride had grants available to neighborhood groups for fixing up and maintaining parks and green spaces. He applied for one of the grants. He also talked to Shook’s office about getting the park area spruced up.
But Pechter likes to get things done quickly, so he decided not to wait for the Park Pride grant decision.
He rounded up support from his neighbors along East Club Lane for a total of $1,800 in cash and three days of sweat equity to pull from the ravine park 3,000 pounds of weeds and underbrush, two dozen dead and fallen trees, and such oddities as a sink. The neighbors’ donations were used to buy supplies and a landscaper for the project. They began their work at the start of April.
The Pechters — Joshua, 34, wife Meredith, twin 4-year-old sons Truen and Grayson, 2-year-old son Hollace and newborn daughter Rowan — have lived in the neighborhood for about three years. He felt that sprucing up the 3-acre park was important because 150 to 200 people a day run through it, and, at best, it only occasionally received “peripheral work and a trim and blow” from the city.
The reward for the effort by Pechter and his neighbors to maintain the city green space was a citation from Atlanta Public Works Department employee Arves Shields on the last day of the work for “stockpiling mulch in a right of way without a permit.”
Shields was driving through the neighborhood and spotted a pile of mulch at one corner of the park — one of three piles the tree company had left for the neighbors after grinding dead trees removed from the ravine.
Pechter tried to reason with Shields not to write the citation because what the neighbors were doing was good for the city, but Pechter said Shields told him: “I have cited many people. You are going to court.”
Before Pechter went to court, Shook reportedly got commitments that the city’s departments of Public Works and Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs would intercede on Pechter’s behalf to have the citation dropped at the May 6 court hearing.
But in court, Solicitor Erica Smith told the judge, “For the record, I have not heard from anybody from any other department.” According to Pechter, Smith told him, “You are clearly guilty.”
So the judge held the case over for trial.
At 4 p.m. that same day, city officials said the case would be dismissed by the June 17 court date.
Another city solicitor, Raines Carter, said there was a miscommunication between city departments as to whether to dismiss the case. Carter’s staff thought the city wanted to pursue the charges against Pechter.
On the afternoon of May 6, the Public Works Department, which had remained silent since April 22 when the citation was issued to Pechter, released a statement saying the entire matter was a misunderstanding.
“It is not the intent of the Public Works Department to pursue this matter any further,” the statement said.