OPINION: Mayor tries to slip several big decisions past the council, public


OPINION — Those of us who follow local government have just about had it with Mayor Kim Learnard. Once again, at the February 6 city council workshop meeting, Learnard demonstrated more manipulation than civic leadership.

Watching the video of the workshop meeting, I just threw up my hands while watching Learnard attempting to manipulate two brand new council members into violating the city’s charter and ordinances to achieve her disguised goals (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4RhbGebEQE).

After viewing the video of the workshop meeting, I immediately called Council Member Suzanne Brown, no relation, and explained what the mayor was attempting to do at the meeting. She later confirmed that what I told her was true. Council Member Laura Johnson and Brown were casualties, not co-conspirators.

Learnard continuously running afoul

Learnard deliberately coerced Council Members Laura Johnson and Suzanne Brown in the workshop to move forward on approving council action on paying for a new transportation study for State Route 54, directing city staff to act on planning for a new east-west corridor, and making modifications to MacDuff Parkway.

The fact of the matter was Learnard did not even have an official legal quorum to conduct the meeting in the first place. Likewise, such official actions are not supposed to be taken in city workshop meetings.

I say “deliberately coerced” because Learnard has over 10 years of experience on the city council and knows the rules on what constitutes a quorum and what the council can and cannot do in a council workshop meeting. She has no excuses. Johnson and Brown, on the other hand, are brand new to council dealings, and were clearly being led astray by Learnard.

Learnard puts new council members in the pressure cooker

Please watch the video of the workshop meeting where Learnard continuously uses the term “conversation” to disguise her actual intention of pressuring the approval of official actions of the city council without a formal motion and a second. She uses the phrase “continue the conversation” to persuade Johnson and Brown and make it look as if her requests were insignificant and harmless, giving the appearance of an acceptable practice.

Brown looked very anxious and leery of Learnard’s coaxing and resisted Learnard’s attempts to approve of what the mayor was doing, especially in the absence of Council Members Clint Holland and Frank Destadio due to illness.

For her part, Johnson, hesitant, seemed to have little idea of how the workshop meetings are supposed to function and began to echo whatever the mayor was saying. She looked uncomfortable.

It was obvious neither Johnson nor Brown had any real idea what the mayor was plotting and that the city charter section on quorums was being violated. Neither really grasped what Learnard was up to by luring them to approve official actions without formal motions ever being made.

Johnson and Brown were literally asked by City Manager Robert Curnow to just “nod their heads” in an affirmative manner (you cannot make this stuff up) to approve Learnard’s scheme.

Learnard lied on several occasions, telling the two new council members that they had an official quorum for the meeting. The city charter has long required four members to be present to prevent a rogue mayor or set of council members from taking advantage and sneaking the approval of controversial items without at least a four-fifths representation of the body.

[A legal quorum to conduct official business, including making and voting on motions, requires three council members plus the mayor to be present, or four members without the mayor, according to the city charter and ordinances.]

City Manager Bob Curnow was sitting on the dais with the three members of the council, never once alerting the new council members to the perils of what was taking place. Curnow seemed to be struggling to help Learnard con the new officials. At times, Curnow looked quite anxious, fidgeting, almost giving it away that something was wrong.

What Learnard is hiding from you

The only item on the February 6 workshop meeting agenda was an obscure one-line topic: “Engineering (David Borkowski, John Schnick).” If you are a citizen looking up the meeting on the internet, you would have absolutely no idea what that vague listing means. There was no description of or details about the lone agenda item.

Also take into consideration that four of the council members, the media, and local citizens had no agenda packet materials to view in advance of the meeting as is the standard practice. Only the mayor, city manager and the engineering staff knew what was coming. This certainly aided Learnard in bamboozling the two new council members.

Johnson and Brown had nothing to study in advance and were doused with two hours of infrastructure project slides at the meeting with Learnard inappropriately coercing them into approving official actions, prodding by saying, “Are we in agreement?”

The biggest infrastructure predicament in Fayette County, the intersection of State Routes 74 and 54, was up for discussion (note, the audio is missing for a portion of that discussion, why?).

Learnard admitted that the intersection project she previously approved was “not the end all, be all,” meaning it will not solve the major east-west traffic congestion at all and will cost around $18 million. The inferior plan will take 36 months to construct, and the city has not announced any plans on how to mitigate traffic during that time.

When Brown brought up a better long-term solution for the intersection like the grade separation that has been a long-standing option, Learnard quickly dismissed it. In fact, Learnard omitted saying that grade separation was mentioned in the city’s 2014 Pond and Company engineering study.

There was head nodding to remove stop signs on MacDuff Parkway — a major change to the thoroughfare  — and the city failed to notify any of the people living in subdivisions along the parkway that such a discussion would take place. That’s not transparency. That’s classic Kim Learnard.

Engineer David Borkowski mentioned numerous safety hazards with moving forward to alter MacDuff Parkway. He also mentioned the botched negotiations between the Fleisch administration and the residential developers resulting in the developers getting away with not building the required golf cart path tunnels under the parkway, creating the current at-grade golf cart hazard.

Huddleston Road is proposed to have a double left turn lane onto State Route 54 and drivers will not be allowed to cross the highway to the Best Buy shopping area. Sewer capacity is also coming to Huddleston Road and the mayor’s lips are sealed on what she would like to see redeveloped there.

What to do with Kim Learnard?

Learnard also began talking in babble code about pursuing an “alternative” east-west route. Many of us are certain this means she wants to resurrect the TDK Extension debacle. It’s always frustrating when Learnard hides what she is really intending, knowing her positions are controversial.

The slide presentation from the workshop meeting was intentionally withheld and the projects up for discussion were not disclosed to the public in advance on the city’s website, defying standard practice.

The only reason why there was not an agenda packet, and just an obscure agenda is the mayor did not want you to see it. The despotic Learnard also withheld all the prepared meeting materials from the other council members and then she tried to hoodwink the newbies.

Sadly, it’s the latest of a string of violations for Learnard, including the recent violation of the Georgia Open Meeting Act when she conducted secret, closed-door meetings on zoning variances with no public notice, no meeting agenda, and no meeting minutes (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/07/10/opinion-if-city-oks-half-of-all-variance-requests-in-private-how-can-zoning-ordinance-survive/).

Learnard offered no apology then and we should not expect one on her latest violations. City Manager Bob Curnow also participated in the illegal secret meetings before, and he never issued an apology either.

It was also Learnard along with former Council Member Mike King and Planning Director Robin Cailloux who lied to former Council Member Gretchen Caola in a council meeting, saying the city could forfeit millions of dollars of impact fees if she did not cast a vote for Learnard’s urbanization changes to the city’s comprehensive plan at that meeting. Caola did not have enough experience to know if they where being truthful or not.

I have deep misgivings when city staff chooses to collaborate in the attempts to deceive members of the city council and the public. When that happened in the past, the employees were let go.

It’s no secret that Learnard engaged with the pro-urbanization political action committee Plan for PTC. The photos of Learnard in her Plan for PTC t-shirt are all over the internet (see: https://thecitizen.com/2023/04/03/opinion-what-and-who-is-behind-push-for-stacked-multi-family-complexes/). She is promoting the Plan for PTC policy and it is well outside of what the average Peachtree City citizen is willing to tolerate.

There are undoubtedly ethics charges that could be filed. However, it would be difficult to recall Learnard because the process is intentionally difficult. Citizens need to be vigilant, demand transparency, and maintain a healthy distrust of anything she says or does. However, if she continues to disregard state law and our ordinances, there is no choice but to file charges.

Learnard’s lack of remorse when she has violated state law, the city’s charter and ordinances, and the public’s trust is beyond a red flag. It’s more like a raging bonfire.

In 30 years of closely following local and state politics, I have never witnessed such a collection of brazen unlawful and dishonest acts as those from the two-plus years of Learnard as mayor. Only the ultra-corrupt Peachtree City Development Authority more than 15 years ago might have been worse (and it was disbanded).

Over a decade of experience on the city council has not made Learnard wiser, but instead it made her more emboldened to cheat the system.

[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners. You can read all his columns by clicking on his photo below.]


  1. My impression is that the changes to 54/74 will help a little but might not be worth the 3-year headache of the project. It sems like most people I talk to are less enthusiastic about it than that.

    Any chance we can get a survey or poll of PTC citizens on this? Perhaps it isn’t worth doing?

    A few years ago, there was a presentation at the library (involving the DOT I believe) where they explained it and had some estimates of how much it would improve traffic flow – any chance we can hear from them again?

  2. As a City Council member, I first want to apologize for not being able to physically attend the PTC Workshop on February 6, but I had a medical procedure that afternoon and my doctors told me emphatically, “stay home and get better”!

    So, I took the doctor’s advice and stayed home, but I did watch the live stream broadcast of the entire meeting. The slides by the engineering manager were informative and spelled out what we are working on for the city. After all this was a “workshop” for the city council, not an official city council meeting. Workshops are set up to bring the city council up-to-speed on the latest and greatest information from the city staff, in this case it was engineering projects. In my opinion all proper meeting protocols were followed.

    During the meeting I texted the city manager many times on a variety of items at the workshop, and he was gracious enough to answer them for me via text. I watched him on the livestream as he tried to pay attention to the meeting and tapping on his phone to answer me. In retrospect, I should not have taken his attention away from the meeting by texting repeatedly with comments and questions. He is a dedicated city manager and a good leader for all the city staff. Any suggestion otherwise is off base. If I had it to do over, I would make a different choice.
    I’m asking citizens to please not blame Bob for his action at that meeting because I was a big part of him being distracted and fidgeting around. In fact, knowing how many questions I had, Bob has arranged for Frank Destadio and me to have a full meeting with the engineering staff to see the entire presentation that we missed. I need to thank Bob for that and apologize for texting him repeatedly during the workshop.

    • Thank you for your comments, Mr. Holland. I can’t speak for anyone else, but it’s always good to hear from our city officials in this forum. Communication helps resolve many misunderstandings. I hope to soon see you back in the saddle again.

    • “In my opinion all proper meeting protocols were followed.”

      Clint, be careful not falling in lockstep with SB and his appointed lackey on Council. That said, I appreciate your comments…there is nothing more to see here.

      • I agree, Spyglass. There is nothing in the report of this meeting that is nefarious. It looks to me like the mayor and other elected leaders where attempting to understand the facts and nuances of the issues that they will some day vote on. Gaining education is a GOOD thing.

        One must have a vivid imagination to find a conspiracy here.

        • As much as you and I but heads, STF, it’s good to see we agree on something. I echo your statements here.

          Now – why can we not get a North Peachtree City bypass study going? I’ve thrown it out before – you bypass Peachtree City by using existing roads and adding a couple new ones. Eastern terminus of this proposed bypass is at 54 / Tyrone Road – by the former Adams Farm. Bypass would follow Tyrone Road up to Dogwood, and the bypass continues on Dogwood over to 74, crossing 74 and Senoia Road, and skirting the north side of Lake Tyrone and the Martin Marietta quarry (this is where new road would have to be built). This is where it gets trick – figuring out how to use eminent domain to get required land to tie into Minix Road and eventually Fischer Road, with the west terminus of the North Peachtree City bypass being at Fischer / 54, in front of Sams & Costco. This is – other than a TDK extension – our only hope of adding capacity (i.e. – more lanes to carry more traffic) and to get this traffic out of the heart of PTC. Let’s get moving on this. And no – I don’t own any of this land and have a dog in the hunt, other than wanting to improve traffic. Kim or Suzanne or Clint can have my idea and claim it as their own – I don’t care. Just stop wasting money on this asanine “displaced left turn” that won’t solve the actual issue of choking more traffic onto 54W than it can handle.

          • Wing – I agree with you. We need as many bypass options as possible – including TDK – to remedy this problem. Focusing merely upon the 74/54 intersection is far too limiting.

  3. most of the projects showed at the video from city council are not really priorities for the citizens, however, in most cases is not specified final cost, but for example Peachtree Lake replacement bridge, for sure will be cheaper to build a new parallel bridge instead to replace existing one. About 54 and 74 $18 million funded by GDOT, this is a total waste money, time and inconveniences during construction because the problem isn’t there, cars coming from 54 east and 74 south will get stacked at 54 not matter what because all the light at 54 from 74 to MAcDuff, 6 lights not coordinated (which it’s impossible) in 3/4 miles or less ?, there is the real problem, remember, in the same day they turned on the light at Race Track gas station, at the same moment the existing problem got worse 100%, I live in the area, and I know what I’m talking about it, open your eyes and fine a real solution and please stop wasting our money coming from our taxes, use it to bring a real solutions not to make more mess and give businesses to someone

  4. No harm, no foul, but certainly something to consider. We are inviting exposure. Fortunately, no official Council decisions were made at the February 6 City Council Workshop. I think it may serve the Council well not to vote on official City matters during workshops, but to perform those official duties at City Council Meetings. I sense we have a dynamic Council leadership that can readily draw criticism. Among other things, I will say I was initially wrong in my first impressions of Suzanne Brown. I presumed she was too caustic for the Council and I would not vote for her. I am now glad she is a Councilmember. She earned my respect, in addition to a normal respect for an elected official. Ms. Brown exampled teamwork, accountability, and professionalism during the workshop. She reminded me of Mike King. From the workshop and its title, Engineering:

    After reviewing the upcoming Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) Displaced left turn for the Highways 54 and 74 intersection, the Mayor explained to the two other Councilmembers “that this is a regional project and we intend to work together.”

    At 1:34:19 into the workshop’s video, the Mayor posed the question to two City Councilmembers, “So I guess, what I want to get a feel from you both, is, would you be interesting, interested, in furthering the conversation to see what has to happen next? Because I don’t think this is the end-all, be-all, and actually neither does GDOT. And then the second-half, before, before you say anything (gesturing to one Councilmember), um, we can go to the ARC for what’s called like the preliminary engineering stage when you kind of know the area you’re talking about; you might have some ideas where you’re headed. You can go into something, instead of just doing a broad study; you can do something called a scoping stage that’s a little more, one more layer detailed. It may include utilities. It may include more details on right of way. So we could request funds from ARC in collaboration with our neighbors, um, in hope that we can get ARC to fund it and consider where we can get more funding for a 20 percent match. Did I say anything wrong about that (seems to address to the City Attorney)?”

    The (City Attorney) response, “No.”

    At 1:38:16 into the workshop’s video, the Mayor asked the other two Councilmembers, “As a City Council, are we interested in continuing this conversation that focuses on what can be done, or looked at, or counted, or curb-cut, or widened on 54 west, even with this project is complete?”

    One Councilmember responded, “I’m willing to have a conversation.”

    After some discussion of the impacts of adjacent to PTC growth, the Mayor stated, “All that is bolstering the case for a study, once we get a displacement left turn. Are we in agreement with that?” The other two Councilmembers agreed. The Mayor the addressed, “The second-half of the equation” … “We only have one east-west corridor.” The Mayor suggested we need an alternative to extending TDK Boulevard or a better plan. She further suggested the Council look at the 2020 east/west GDOT traffic study and sought the two other Councilmembers agreement. One Councilmember suggested a need to have all Councilmembers present to decide on undertaking a critique of the study. At 1:43:59 into the video, when the Mayor pressed for the other two Councilmembers to agree with looking at the 2020 east/west GDOT traffic study, the Mayor said, “We are a quorum.”

    To my knowledge, that statement is incorrect and one can make of it as one will. As I know, the current (October 16, 2023) Code of Ordinances of Peachtree City, Georgia, Part I, Charter and Related Laws, Subpart A, Charter, Article II, Governing Body, Section 2.1, Composition Quorum and Meetings, subparagraph (d) states, “Except as otherwise set forth below, the mayor and three (3) councilmembers, or four (4) councilmembers without the mayor, shall constitute a quorum of the city council. Less than a quorum may meet and compel the attendance of absentees as provided by ordinance.”

    At 1:44:30 into the video, the Mayor explained her perspective of seeking agreements on two actions. Looking at the aspects of Highway 54, the details, “”nuisances.” The second-half being to look for alternatives to the current east/west corridor.

    At 1:45:40 into the video, the Mayor said, “So, I think we agreed we will move forward with the 54, uh, west, uh, study. Um, GDOT called it a scoping phase which means a study, but a little more engineering type detail.” A Councilmember clarified they were specifically discussing Highway 54 west of Highway 74 study. The City Manager said we will have to most likely hire a consultant to look at that. A Councilmember asked if they were going to pursue trying to study funds from the ARC and received a positive answer.

    Also, from the workshop, considerable expense and obstacles are considered connecting Robinson Road to the Publix Supermarket Peachtree East parking area. I have wanted to propose any future annexes into Peachtree City shall have previously resolved any access considerations, to include multipurpose path access. I want to see those annexed properties prepared to connect our multipurpose path system prior to the formal annexing of the properties.

    On another note about City Council workings, in reviewing the not yet approved City Council Retreat Minutes, of January 25-26, 2024, I find myself distraught as I read, “They decided to put affordable housing on the goals list.” As well as, “They had already achieved something today and would move on to achieve the items on the goals list.” It looks to me like the City Council met in a “closed door” meeting and committed the City to pursue a course of action. This was after “Robert Norton of Tenzinga Consulting conducting the retreat” said, “It was important to understand that Peachtree City needed to invite outsiders in so they could maintain the services and amenities they enjoyed.” and “Cailloux observed that sometimes it seemed the majority of citizens did not want them to open up. Norton said that was where leadership would have to step up. They should not let a small minority dictate what the entire city should do. Leadership should look for patterns and not let the “one-offs” dictate policy and their decisions.” I question the legality of such an incident and wonder how our City Council may commit to establishing and achieving a City goal without a formal and publicly open meeting.

    As I said above, I sense we have a dynamic Council leadership that can readily draw criticism.

    • Doug, thank you for the helpful timestamps. I will say that between one hour 45 minutes and one hour 50 minutes was a very uncomfortable stretch. Lots of body language and congratulations to Suzanne for throwing on the brakes and doing the right thing.

    • Doug thank you for taking time for this fine analysis.

      One quote that made me curious was “They should not let a small minority dictate what the entire city should do. Leadership should look for patterns and not let the “one-offs” dictate policy and their decisions.” This topic was debated at length in the recent election.

      The Plan for PTC ticket led by our Mayor was soundly defeated by wide margins which would suggest that opposition to a plan to ..”It was important to understand that Peachtree City needed to invite outsiders in so they could maintain the services and amenities they enjoyed.” was not just opposed by a small vocal minority.

  5. Interesting article Steve.
    Upon research, I found the following:

    Here is Section 2.1 from the Peachtree City Charter:

    Sec. 2.1. – Governing body; composition, quorum, meetings.

    (a) The government of said city shall be vested in a mayor and four (4) councilmembers chosen as hereinafter provided, in such other officers and employees as required under the terms of the charter, and in such other officers and employees as the mayor and councilmembers consider necessary and proper to appoint and employ.
    (b) The chief administrative and operational officer of the city shall be the city manager.
    (c)  The mayor and councilmembers of said city shall collectively be known as “Council of Peachtree City” (hereinafter sometimes referred to as “city council” or “council” and when so referred to shall be construed to mean the Council of Peachtree City), in which all legislative powers of said city shall be vested.
    (d) Except as otherwise set forth below, the mayor and three (3) councilmembers, or four (4) councilmembers without the mayor, shall constitute a quorum of the city council. Less than a quorum may meet and compel the attendance of absentees as provided by ordinance. 

  6. Laura did look completely out of her league dealing with Kim. Not a good look there for Laura, Imker would have shut this whole very sorry disappointing episode down very quickly. Suzanne seemed to somewhat understand what Kim was trying to pull, but she is going to need to get way more assertive and realize what exactly she is up against with Kim. It was just very difficult to watch that meeting. So disappointed in Kim.

  7. Steve, you have obviously already watched the entire two hour and 21 minute long meeting. In the future, it would be most helpful if you would include some key timestamps so that we don’t have to weed our way through 140 minutes of video. Thanks for your effort to protect and promote transparency.