Published Wednesday, November 07, 2012
By ALEX MCRAE
The first person to speak in opposition to a change in the city charter of Senoia was Grantville Mayor Jim Sells.
Sells made his remarks during the public meeting portion of Monday’s meeting of the Senoia City Council.
The agenda item that drew most of Sells’ concern was a proposed change in the charter designed to give more administrative decision-making responsibility to a city administrator/manager rather than the mayor and council.
Under the proposed charter, the city manager/administrator would assume responsibility for personnel and financial matters that must now be approved by the mayor and council. Mayor and council would still approve any changes in city ordinances.
Sells said that “someone needs to represent the city (of Senoia)” and said he feared that changing the charter would leave the city without someone to represent them as a “figurehead” at official functions or meetings.
Sells said he had recently represented Grantville at a funeral and a meeting of the Georgia Municipal Association and wondered who would do that for Senoia.
Senoia Mayor Robert Belisle informed Sells that the mayor would still be the city’s official representative and would attend those functions and perform those duties as before.
Sells said he was also worried that giving financial and hiring power to an unelected city manager/administrator would mean that the person handling finance and personnel would not be vetted by the voters.
At the end of his remarks and responses by city officials, Sells said his concerns had been addressed and that he had not fully understood the action being proposed and how it would affect the status of the office of mayor.
Senoia resident Don Rehman then addressed the council about his concerns regarding a change in the charter.
Rehman said most of his remarks would concern what he believed to be specific “errors and omissions” in the language of the proposed new charter and “logical and practical alternatives” to the changes being proposed.
Rehman cited a lengthy list of sections published in the Georgia Municipal Association guidelines that are published as guidance information for municipalities about how to form and administer governmental entities.
Rehman pointed out several specific instances where the language of the proposed changes in the charter did not conform exactly to the language suggested by the GMA.
Time after time, Senoia City Attorney Drew Whalen told Rehman that the GMA guidelines were just that — guidelines — and that all Senoia codes — current and proposed — met the statutory requirements of Georgia law.
Rehman also said he was concerned that the proposed charter did not require a city administrator or manager to have held such a position previously or to have any municipal experience at all.
“It is an affront to me,” Rehman said, that the person “could hold that job without having any experience.”
Belisle pointed out that city manager Richard Ferry had no previous municipal experience when hired by Senoia and was probably the “best hire” Senoia had made in recent years.
Rehman said he was also concerned that the charter did not specifically enumerate the maximum or minimum jail sentences that could be imposed by a city judge.
Again, Whalen informed Rehman that such statutory limitations were spelled out in Georgia law and did not need to be included in the charter, although they could be if desired.
Rehman also said that a term limit proposal in the proposed charter was “a roadmap for a lifetime career in politics.”
Under the proposed change, a mayor would serve no more than two consecutive terms, council members no more than three consecutive terms. After two years out of office, a former mayor or council member could run for the office not previously held.
Chester Campbell spoke and said he thought the charter change was “an excellent move,” and he thought attorney Whalen had done a good job of addressing concerns raised during the meeting.
Joe Cannon spoke and said he favored the charter change but was not a fan of term limits because it prevents citizens from reelecting those they feel deserve more time in office once term limits are met.
The mayor and council approved the proposed charter.
The new charter must be approved by the Georgia General Assembly during the 2013 legislative session and will then become law.