Businessman says Johns Creek canceled on venue after making comments against city manager

by: Mike Petchenik Updated:

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ATLANTA - A Johns Creek business owner claims he's losing thousands of dollars in business because of critical comments he made about the city's manager.

Chris Cupit is part owner of Rivermont Golf and Country Club, the site of the city's annual holiday party since 2008.

"It is far and away the biggest event we do for the year. Fifteen-thousand to $17,000 for a party," Cupit told Channel 2's Mike Petchenik.

Cupit showed Petchenik invoices of the city paying a $5,000 deposit to reserve the banquet space for a Dec. 14 event, and up until this week, Cupit was planning to host the event.

"We did a walk through with the band about where the outlets should go," Cupit said. "They were doing a theme of casino night, so we were looking to where that would be set up. Those vendors came out to plan on how they were going to stage things."

Then on Monday night, Cupit addressed the Johns Creek City Council and was publicly critical of city manager John Kachmar, who is under investigation for allegations that he assaulted a citizen after a council meeting Oct. 7.

Kachmar denies touching Gerald Bush, but admits to using profanity after Bush swore at him.

Cupit demanded the City Council fire Kachmar for that incident and for allegedly swearing at him during a phone conversation over the summer.

"You sir, are in a leadership position," Cupit told Kachmar on Monday. "You've been given the opportunity to represent the citizens of Johns Creek. You either lead or you leave."

Forty-eight hours later, Cupit said he was stunned to receive an email from city staff canceling the holiday party.

"The reason we are cancelling 52 days in advance is that many staff have told us that they will not participate in an event held at your facility," read the email from Wayne Wright. "We have had complaints for the past two years because we have held the party at the same venue over and over again. The staff has made it clear that we need to move to a different location. It would not make sense for us to host an event knowing it will not be well attended."

Cupit said he's convinced his critical comments led to the cancellation.

"No reasonable person could draw any other conclusion," he said. "It's retaliation."

City communications manager Rosemary Taylor sent Petchenik documents that show city staff had been communicating with other venues as early as Oct. 17, four days before Cupit's statements.

"The decision to switch venues was made at a director level, below the City Manager," she wrote Petchenik in an email. "The decision was made due to employee feedback that they wanted a different venue."

Taylor concedes that some city staff expressed disappointment in Cupit's statements and they said they would not attend an event at his club because of them.

"This, however, was immaterial as the decision to move the event had already been made, pending confirmation of available alternatives in Johns Creek," Taylor wrote.

Cupit showed Petchenik an email he sent to the city council on Oct. 16 in which he promised to make the critical comments at the upcoming City Council meeting.

City records show staff began making phone calls to other venues the very next day, but Taylor maintains that council members didn't share Cupit's email or his intentions with city staff planning the party.