Avondale’s former mayor seeking city property to build a boardwalk
Ed Rieker, the former mayor of Avondale Estates, is asking for the city to grant him an easement or a quitclaim deed so he can build a boardwalk next to his commercial property on Center Street.
The city has tentatively agreed to explore the possibility with him and will consult with the city’s attorney. Under the law, Rieker would have to pay a fair market rate for the easement. Otherwise, it would be considered a gift and a violation of the state Constitution.
Commissioners sounded supportive of Rieker’s idea during their June 16 work session.
“The problem with Center Street is it’s really been kind of a backstreet cut through, no sidewalks on either side. The Aikido Center is here to the right,” Rieker told commissioners as he walked him through his plan. “Whenever it rains, this drain right here, this storm drain is really a dump from North Avondale, so it’s not really connected to anything, and that’s a 3 foot drop. If you’re a pedestrian, in order to get from anywhere Center Street, you have to hop on the street and walk on the street.”
He’s proposing a “seamless” board walk on the edge of Center Street next to his Tudor Square development. It would serve pedestrians and customers of businesses that rent space from Rieker. The boardwalk would go over the drain pipe, Rieker explained.
Rieker abruptly resigned in October to pursue a university teaching job. His resignation followed a contentious public meeting about how he had handled the city’s annexation plans. Rieker’s purchase of the Tudor Square property created concerns for some commissioners who worried that it posed a conflict of interest for the former mayor. Rieker has told Decaturish his purchase was transparent and didn’t violate the city’s ethics rules.
At one point during the June 16 meeting, Rieker suggested the city could legally give him the property to build his boardwalk.
He said, “I will remind you that a few years ago we signed deeds to that …remember behind, what’s that street back there?”
“Oh yeah,” City Manager Clai Brown said, without naming the street. “To all the property owners.”
“To all the property owners,” Rieker said. “I mean all that stuff went over there. I don’t think they paid anything for any of that. That was all city property.”
“They just paid whatever they recorded it for,” Brown said.
“The deed part has happened before,” Rieker said. “It’s also happened in some of the alleys, back behind in the central business district, where the city has given up the rights to the alleys.”
Decaturish followed up with Brown and asked if Rieker would be charged a fair market rate for the property. He received the questions at the end of the June 16 meeting. His first response was that the information would be contained in the audio of the meeting. But the audio didn’t make that point clear. He eventually answered the question shortly before 5 p.m. on June 17.
“The Gratuities Clause of the Georgia Constitution prohibits the City from giving away anything of value,” Brown wrote via email. “An easement over property indisputably has some financial value. Therefore, the City must receive fair market value in exchange for granting an easement in order to avoid violating the Georgia Constitution.”
Prior to discussing Rieker’s request during the June 16 meeting, commissioners discussed what the city is allowed to do in terms of granting easement to private property owners. According to Commissioner Randy Beebe, some residents have asked the city to provide an easement. In one recent instance, a resident requested an easement for a driveway. The city attorney said the city can’t do that without charging a fair market rate.
Beebe said that discussion was unrelated to Rieker’s request.
The June 16 meeting was unusual in another respect. Unlike previous meetings, agenda items were not posted on the city’s website prior to the work session. The items would’ve contained detailed information about Rieker’s request and other information about the agenda of the June 16 work session. Brown said the agenda items will be posted for meetings. The city has been short staffed since City Clerk Juliette Sims-Owens abruptly resigned.
Paul Brown attended the June 16 meeting, and he was one of several candidates who ran to replace Rieker. He lost to current Mayor Jonathan Elmore.
Paul Brown said he has some questions about the city selling property to the former mayor and about how the property would be used.
“First of all what the city is proposing is selling away public domain for the sidewalk along Center Street for the advantage of Tudor Square to build a (boardwalk) and by doing that that takes away the possibility of putting a future sidewalk on Center Street,” he said. “It forces people to walk through Tudor Square if they’re going down Center Street.”
Paul Brown said if the city grants Rieker’s request, it would be unusual.
“You just don’t see that in any city, to allow somebody to build right up to the street curb,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen. And the reason why the city was in favor of this, it seems like there’s a drainage line that dumps storm water and this would allow them to avoid fixing that by putting in an elevated walkway or boardwalk. To me it just doesn’t look out for the safety and welfare of the community.”