A private lobbying group’s flyer publicizing the Nov. 8 Sandy Springs TSPLOST ballot question is drawing confusion and complaints from some residents who recently received it in the mail. The flyer cites the city’s website, but did not come from the city government, and its TSPLOST project list omits a controversial Hammond Drive widening study.
“Some of us wonder if our neighborhood mailer was tailored to omit this [Hammond Drive project] and influence votes,” said a Kayron Drive resident about the flyer, who thought the flyer came from the city. “All in all, these kind of things decrease trust of city government.” The flyer shows the Hammond project only as a line on a tiny map.
City spokesperson Sharon Kraun said the city has no connection to the mailing, which was done by a recently formed Atlanta-based nonprofit called Fulton Issues Education Forum. In fact, Kraun said she was one of the residents surprised to receive it.
“I got in the mail this weekend. I was like, ‘What is this?’” Kraun said. “They did this all on their own…We didn’t ask them. They didn’t ask us.”
Kraun noted that the flyer uses an outdated city website address that redirects to the current one.
Brian Robinson, a spokesperson for Fulton Issues Education Forum, said the group is mailing similar TSPLOST flyers to voters in all cities and unincorporated areas of Fulton outside of Atlanta, which has its own separate TSPLOST. The group is not doing any mailings within Atlanta, he said, and will do a second round of Fulton County mailings.
“There’s no partnership with any government” in the mailings, Robinson said.
Robinson said the Hammond Drive project description was inadvertently left off of the Sandy Springs flyer. “It really wasn’t intentional,” he said, adding that while the flyer directs voters to the full online list, “we agree [the Hammond project] should been on the list in the mailing and will be in any future mailings.”
According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s online files, Fulton Issues Education Forum’s CEO is Jeff Wansley, a lobbyist and public affairs specialist who is also executive director of the Georgia Construction Aggregate Association.
Wansley confirmed that the city was not involved in the flyer, but he said any further questions about “the campaign” would be answered by Seth Millican, who is executive director of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, a lobbying group whose leadership includes executives from such institutions as Georgia Power, UPS, Delta Airlines and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Millican could not immediately be reached for comment.
In a recent GCAA newsletter, Wansley wrote that “GCAA is playing an important role by supporting the Fulton County TSPLOST initiative. I will be serving as chairman of the Fulton County education initiative, which will be managed by the Georgia Transportation Alliance.” He wrote that the Fulton and city of Atlanta TSPLOSTs are “very important to our industry.”
Robinson hesitated when asked what people or groups are involved with Fulton Issues Education Forum, saying that under its nonprofit corporate structure, “We don’t disclose donors.”
“This group came together to educate voters…That is the sole purpose of it,” Robinson said. Asked whether the group is motivated by altruism or some interest in the TSPLOST’s projects, Robinson only repeated the educational intent. Under its nonprofit status, the group can only perform “educational” efforts, not directly advocate on how people should vote, he said.
Kraun said that the city of Sandy Springs will not do any TSPLOST mailing, partly because it is legally limited from advocating for a ballot question. The city is allowed to do “educational” publicity about TSPLOST, which has included a video and a city newsletter article from Mayor Rusty Paul as well as banners that are going up on city property to direct people to the city’s TSPLOST web page.