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City Government

Meet the City Officials who Keep Peachtree Corners Humming

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Brian Johnson.

Photos by George Hunter.

Consider a high-performance vehicle — bright, shiny and powerful. It leaps ahead quickly when it needs to, but can also settle back to a comfortable cruising speed. It’s nimble, able to turn on a dime or smoothly reverse direction, if need be.

Ever wished for a vehicle like that? The good news is that if you live within the city limits of Peachtree Corners, you already have one.

Gwinnett County’s largest and newest city has a most efficient “vehicle” for governing its home turf — a staff helmed by experienced department heads who put their shoulders to the wheel, are adept at balancing the sometimes-clashing interests of residents, the business community and other constituencies and aren’t afraid to embrace unconventional approaches.

City Manager- Brian Johnson

“It’s a high-performing municipality within the council-manager form of government,” summarized City Manager Brian Johnson.

“When you look at everything from streets and drainage to business licenses to zoning to document storage to elections — across the gamut — when you add up all of those areas, they should be the sum of all the parts, and with each of those areas you have a senior member overseeing it,” he said.

Johnson’s job is not that of a direct service provider. He supports his departmental chiefs to help them get the resources they need, puts out brush fires, interfaces with the mayor and council and isolates subordinates from politics and distractions so they can get their jobs done in the most efficient manner possible.

He indicated that the city’s organizational chart is an effective display of its leaned-out approach. “A lot of cities have a finance director and also a budget director,” he noted. “We have one person who does both, and as a result he can do certain things in regard to organizations we’re dealing with; he can make decisions quicker because he has authority over multiple areas.”

That means that those decision-makers don’t slip a card into a time clock and punch out at 5:01. And there are those phone calls and emails that arrive outside of normal business hours. All part of the mosaic, and Johnson is proud of the team that has been painstakingly assembled.

Assistant City Manager- Brandon Branham

In a twist on an old saw, it can be said that behind every city manager stands a good assistant city manager. But Brandon Branham does more than support his boss in running the city. He wears an additional major hat — chief technology officer.

Local Motors’ Olli, second generation.

It’s not the most frequent combination of duties for a municipal official, but Branham seems to thrive on it. His responsibilities are broad spectrum. He compares his role to private business, in which Johnson, the city manager, would be chief executive officer and Branham would have chief operating officer stripes.

His operational responsibilities include imbuing departments with strategy and efficiency updates, handling economic development with an emphasis on recruitment, overseeing Innovative and Smart Cities programs, managing facilities and doing partner engagement and management with the Curiosity Lab. Whew!

“We also make sure we’re up to speed, pushing the envelope on the latest cutting-edge technology,” Branham added for good measure.

In that vein, his proudest moment as a tech chief was when the city achieved NIST-171 compliance for the Curiosity Lab Network. He said that’s the highest level of data security for unclassified data an organization can achieve.

“We have a pretty robust security network that blocks intrusions. We get attempts all the time,” he shared.

No one day is the same as another, he said, and that’s part of what jazzes him as he begins his day. One day he might be immersed in some technical aspect of Curiosity Lab, the next he could be helping with long-range financial projections and the day after THAT might find him out of the building taking a gander at a public works project.

All in a day’s work, to be sure.

And, yes, there are roadblocks on occasions, but Branham said an easy-going personality helps navigate and smooth out any rough spots.

He seems to relish startups; he assisted in the birth of nearby Sandy Springs as a contract employee for CH2MHill. He came over to Peachtree Corners in the same capacity before landing on the city payroll.

“What we’ve been able to accomplish in nine years in Peachtree Corners has been pretty impressive,” he said.

On a personal note, Branham said that living in The Corners and going out to dinner usually brings him attention, with folks wanting to ask him about some facet of the city and its government.

Community Development Director- Diana Wheeler

If you want to huddle with someone who knows the City of Peachtree Corners from the ground up, speak to Diana Wheeler, the community development director. She has the distinction of being the city’s first employee, even before the onboarding of a city manager.

Here’s what happened: Peachtree Corners commenced operations on July 1, 2012. Wheeler, who had been community development director for the City of Alpharetta for almost 19 years, departed that position at roughly the same time.

“Somebody read that I had left Alpharetta and I got a phone call and they asked me if I wanted to help with the start of a new city,” she said. “That was one of the few things I hadn’t actually done before.”

Fast forward to today and Wheeler is well settled into her role.

“I oversee community development,” she explained. “That’s all of the building, all of the planning , all of the code enforcement. So that’s most everything that comes out of the ground and is man-made, other than road and bridge-type public projects.”

Her job requires her to be well-versed in a plethora of different kinds of development: residential, commercial, industrial and institutional. Economic development is also on her watch, although she has a staffer who handles that area specifically.

It’s quite a smorgasbord of responsibilities. And it actually represents a widening of her original career goal.

“I started out to be an architect and I have a degree in architecture and urban design from Columbia,” Wheeler said. “I discovered that I really liked urban planning and designing spaces more than buildings. So then my focus evolved away from individual buildings, more into city planning.”

In pursuing that, she follows the script of the city’s 20-year comprehensive plan that was developed after extensive public input, visioning sessions and city council direction.

She noted that while the city is mainly built out, there are considerable opportunities for redevelopment. That’s led to incentive programs for developers, including one under which those putting together mixed-use developments can earn a way to make their projects more residentially dense in return for instituting value-added improvements from a list developed by the city.

That whole landscape has come with a number of challenges, including dealing with inherited rules and regulations from the days of Gwinnett County control. “What we are trying to do is enhance the quality of life by managing growth,” she asserted.

Focusing on both the larger picture and its component parts constitutes a major motivator in Wheeler’s job.

Take the Town Center concept, which emerged from community meetings and citizen input and became an integral — and literal — part of the landscape. The plan being a 20-year document, she pointed out, the project didn’t come together overnight but “we got to work implementing that vision and it took six years to make it happen, but it’s here now.”

The enthusiasm and passion Wheeler brings when talking about that and other projects is palpable. She’s not a fan of bureaucracy, but of results.

“I’m really fascinated by the projects and all the fun stuff that comes with them and I have had the opportunity to do a lot of that in Peachtree Corners,” she shared. She added that two factors played into that experience: one, the Corners status as a new city and the other, the City Council’s willingness to try new approaches.

When not wearing her development hats, Wheeler said she likes gardening, “and like a lot of people during our COVID break, I have refined my baking abilities.”

City Clerk- Kym Chereck

Kym Chereck was raised overseas by parents who worked government jobs. She has found a home in Peachtree Corners where she and her husband raised two children and where she serves as city clerk.

The clerk’s job is heavily bound to record-keeping, as the office keeps official and historical records of the city. It also provides support to the mayor and council, helps facilitate the city’s legislative process and supervises elections.

Kym Chereck at her seat during city council meetings.

Chereck said she moved over from Alpharetta to begin work on Dec. 12, some six months after the city officially came into being. She was one of a trio of initial official city employees.

“The day I started there was no phone, no furniture, nothing,” she recalled. Because the office lacked outside communications, she gave her personal cell phone number as a route by which officials and citizens could contact her.

“A lot of people still have it because we didn’t get a phone for a couple of weeks, but it’s fine, that’s what I’m here for, to answer questions,” she said.

And the questions come with regularity. At press time, many of them involve getting set up for the Nov. 2 election, in which three city council positions are up for grabs.

“It’s been very interesting,” Chereck said of the training and certification process and her track record of finding people and dealing with setup and logistical issues.

“I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite thing to do,” she added frankly, “because it’s stressful. But it’s very rewarding.”

Chereck said she got interested in government as a youngster while observing her mother’s work with the state department and her dad’s career in a classified military job. At one point, her family lived in Cold War East Germany and she passed armed checkpoints daily to go to school on the west side.

She came to Atlanta to visit a sister and her daughter, “and I wound up staying.” Putting down roots — she’s a 25-year resident of the Corners area — has made her a solid member of the community. That plus being here for a good stretch of time has given her a solid sense of where to send people who need help or have other issues.

That strong orientation toward helping has served her well in city government, she indicated — and did from the outset. “The first couple of weeks we didn’t have anybody to clean or sort the mail or do things that people might think beneath them,” Chereck said. “I made it perfectly clear. Anybody I hired, I told them that cleaning the bathroom was not beneath them, and that I was not going to require it…but that we work as a team.”

She said that with an “amazing” assistant and a supportive city manager, she is a part of the governmental mix for the duration. “They’re going to have to kick me out,” Chereck said.
When she’s not clerking. Chereck says she enjoys boating. swimming, reading and traveling.

Public Works Director- Greg Ramsey

Greg Ramsey, explaining one of the projects he handles — the botanical-style area near town center, part of the multi-use trail city in the city.

Greg Ramsey has his mind on the gutters, and on the roadways, sidewalks, storm drains and other existing and planned public city infrastructure that falls on his watch.

The Peachtree Corners Public Works Director loves his job keeping the city’s public facilities humming along in good shape — and planning for the future. He loves his job and its variability.

On his desk a presentation of the pedestrian bridge

Asked what occupies the bulk of his workday, he replied, “Honestly, that changes from day to day.” Obviously, on a rainy day stormwater is a big issue, making sure the system can handle the runoff, he said, and engineering projects for development is a big consumer of time, as are city “customers” who find problems and report issues.

“It’s spread out pretty evenly and that’s what makes this job interesting,” he stated.

Ramsey came to work for the city in 2014 and was part of the public works operation startup in November of that year, taking over from Gwinnett County. He said one continuing challenge is that Peachtree Corners was mainly built out by the time it incorporated. There is more of a concern with retrofitting and assessment management, which are part of two major linchpins in his job description — project development and infrastructure.

Another challenge that has emerged is residents’ changing taste in public amenities.
Sidewalks are a good example. “They weren’t a priority back in the 70s when a lot of stuff was built. They just built roads,” Ramsey noted. “They didn’t contemplate a future where people would want to walk for pleasure or walk their dogs or walk for transportation.”

Recent years have brought a much greater emphasis on sidewalks and on the trail network the city is now building.

The takeover from Gwinnett involved handling a good bit of road maintenance. “The Gwinnett footprint is so huge that we had the ability to narrow the focus on the smaller geography and, for example, we certainly had some opportunity to expand the sidewalk network,” Ramsey explained.

One of the new and signature projects he’s most proud of is the pedestrian bridge that links the Forum with the Town Center.

Perhaps less high profile, but no less important, are such projects as a stormwater replacement/upgrade that became necessary after a tropical storm washed out a roadway in his first year at the helm. Pipelines and pipeline replacement have also been major undertakings. And the expansion of the trail system is under his umbrella.

Ramsey also looks to the future and the city’s long-range transportation plans. “Traffic is certainly not going to reduce over the coming years,” he noted. That argues for the need for continued traffic improvements. At the same time, he’s proud of what’s been done up to this point to get people out of their cars and make it more feasible for them to bike and walk.

His biggest frustration about the job? “It’s that I can’t please everybody,” he said. It’s a reminder of finite resources pitted against many, many requests.

Ramsey IS pleased to coach his kids’ baseball and softball teams in his time off. He’s also an avid golfer.

Financial Director- Cory Salley

Cory Salley, the city’s financial director, is another of those people who stretch over a broader landscape than is the norm.

Salley arrived in the Corners after stints in Garden City and Anniston, Ala. Johnson brought him to suburban Atlanta.

His suite of responsibilities includes being in charge of the administrative functions of the city budget, accounting, tracking where city money is spent and making sure it’s done appropriately, working with the city’s independent auditors, payroll, business license applications and alcohol permits.

“We pay all the bills and receive all the money that comes to the city as well,” he added.
Most of Peachtree Corner’s income derives from business licenses and franchise fees as the city has no property tax. That may make it a bit more challenging, because the city can’t increase the millage rate like other communities can, but Salley stressed that “even cities with property taxes have to make projections and live within their means like we do.”

And it must be pointed out that having no property tax is a major selling point.

His journey to handling money for Peachtree Corners was a bit circuitous. After getting an undergraduate degree in Economics from the University of Georgia, Salley realized that the field was a broad category, and he wanted to continue to a master’s degree.

A master’s in public administration with a specialization in public finance from the University of Georgia resulted. That, plus tagging along with a relative’s wife who worked for a regional planning commission, piqued his interest in local government.

Like Ramsey, Salley laments having to tell folks no sometimes, but he recognizes its inevitability.

He started with the then 8-year-old city in March of 2020, just in time for the COVID-19 epidemic to roar to life. He helped with the handling and disbursement of federal aid money to businesses.

Riffing off of that rapidly evolving situation, Salley said he’s glad to be working with a young, vibrant city, as opposed to an older city with legacy costs and more bureaucracy. “It allows us to be pretty flexible. If we see a need arise, we’re able to pivot and meet it pretty quickly,” he explained. “This is probably the most responsive government I’ve ever worked for.”

Some late nights become a necessity during budget season. He doesn’t mind coming early and staying later, “although I do have six small kids, so if I stay late, my wife might kill me,” he joked.

When not perched over the metaphorical adding machine, Salley said, he likes to play tennis and hang out with his family.

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City Government

Film Industry is Coming Back! Ozark, Disney and More Shot in the City

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filming resumes in Peachtree Corners

We are glad to see the film industry back up and running and, once again, filming in

Peachtree Corners. We have had 13 requests from production studios so far this

year, which is about the same as in 2019. Obviously, 2020 was a bust, with only one

Capital 1 commercial in January.

But the industry is winding back up, which is good to see. Blue Cat Productions

filmed in Peachtree Corners six times over the past year. You may know their work:

the series Ozark. The series Monarch also filmed in Peachtree Corners this past

summer, and most recently ABC Signature, a subsidiary of Disney Television

Studios, filmed some shots for the series Queens at The Forum shopping center.

A representative from Disney toured City Hall on Nov. 18 for another series.

Apparently, they are interested in filming a new series that involves an FBI agent.

They were looking for a meeting room with “gray government walls.” It’s called

Class of 09 and it’s an FX/Hulu miniseries about the FBI that follows agents in the

years 2009, 2019, and 2065. It is under the Disney umbrella since they own Fox,

who owns FX. They need to make the front of City Hall look like Arizona, however,

which could be interesting.

We mentioned to the Disney folks that if they don’t get exactly what they are

looking for, we do have an extended reality production studio in town that I’m sure

could give them a hand, Music Matters Productions. A lot of people know about

Eagle Rock Studios in Gwinnett County, near Norcross, but they may not realize all

the film activity taking place in Peachtree Corners.

We like to have film crews here because they often bring with them a lot of people

who need to eat and need a place to stay. This benefits our hotels and restaurants.

So, our city staff strives to review film permit applications the same day they are

received. Sometimes we have questions, like “Are you going to blow up any stuff?”

Ozark used some pyrotechnics a few years ago in Technology Park when they were

blowing the windows out of a building. Obviously, we don’t want residents or

businesses to be disturbed, which is why we like the studios to let us know when

they are planning to do some filming here. In fact, we require it, actually. We

require that neighbors be notified and that police officers be on hand for any road

closures to help direct traffic. On occasion, we have had to say “no” because it

would be too disruptive to people or businesses or create safety concerns. But

overall, I think Peachtree Corners has a pretty good reputation for being

accommodating to the film industry.

If you have some vacant space in a shopping center or office building, the film

studios may be interested in renting it for a few months, perhaps longer. Our staff

can get you connected with the right people if you are interested in leasing space to

Disney or other studios. Just take some photos of the building, inside and out, and

send them to our economic development staff. Maybe the film studios will give

Peachtree Corners a mention at the end of the flick.

Stay safe, Mike Mason, Mayor

Source: Mayor’s Letter

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City Government

EV stations for business ready

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ev charging stations

The City of Peachtree Corners is offering assistance to businesses in the city that are interested in installing electric vehicle charging stations.

As part of President Biden’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, there are a number of incentives at the local, state and federal levels available to those looking to adopt electric vehicles. In addition, Georgia Power is also offering incentives as part of its Make Ready program.

For businesses, the first step is to determine what the stations need to do. Will they be supplying power to a fleet of vehicles, or enabling employees to charge vehicles at work? Perhaps the goal is to attract shoppers who want to park where they can get charged at the same time. Whatever the wish, the city of Peachtree Corners is available to help businesses determine the best arrangement for its needs and connect the people with the right resources.

There are a variety of cost off-sets currently available. Commercial property owners and businesses may set up a time to speak with experts who can help walk them through the process of installing EV charging stations on their property.

For more information, contact Jennifer Howard at jhoward@peachtreecornersga.gov

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City Government

Construction Update: Bush Road at Medlock Bridge Road Project

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The City of Peachtree Corners is providing this information as a construction update for the Bush Road at Medlock Bridge Road project.  The goal of this project is to improve the intersection of Medlock Bridge Road, Bush Road, and the slip ramp to State Road 141. The project is currently under construction.

This project includes the following:

  • Two lanes added to northbound Medlock Bridge Road to accommodate a left turn lane
  • Through lane leading to SR 141 South
  • Through lane to East Jones Bridge Road
  • Through and right turn lane leading to both Bush Road and the slip ramp leading to North SR 141
  • Second right turn lane added to Bush Road that leads directly to the SR 141 slip ramp
  • New traffic signal installed to aid in the operation of these new lanes
  • Widening and traffic signal on Medlock Bridge Road and Bush Road

In addition, this project also includes a new concrete sidewalk, island, curb and gutter, asphalt paving, drainage improvements, modular block retaining wall, overhead signs, ornamental fence and ornamental trees. 

Current Status of Project

Complete:

  • Drainage improvements, retaining wall, and general grading
  • Most concrete work
  • Base layer asphalt for the Medlock Bridge Road and Bush Road turn lane extensions

Remaining:

  • Overhead utility relocation
  • Traffic signal installation
  • SR 141 slip lane construction
  • Concrete island and ADA ramp construction
  • Final asphalt layer installation
  • Guardrail, sod, decorative trees, ornamental fence, signing and marking

Remaining Schedule/Milestones (estimated):

  • Georgia Power to set three joint-use poles and five utility poles – Mid December 2021
  • Traffic Signal Installation – January 2022 
  • Overhead facilities relocated to new poles by Georgia Power, Comcast, AT&T, Zayo – February 2022
  • Existing pole removal by Georgia Power – February 2022
  • Guardrail, signs, fencing, trees, filling gaps in sidewalk, curb and gutter, sod, final asphalt paving and striping – March 2022

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