City leaders in McDonough are moving forward with a plan to address issues with the city charter in the county seat of Henry County.
The McDonough City Council voted, Monday, to appoint seven members of the community, to assist them in conducting a series of called meetings, to clarify and re-submit the city’s 2003 charter, during the current legislative session of the General Assembly. The decision came after a recent discussion about the existing charter.
Drew Whalen, of the Griffin-based Whalen Law Firm, which represents the City of McDonough, said he attempted to bring his concerns about the charter, last year, to then-City Administrator, Billy Beckett, but said the city had more pressing matters at the time.
Whalen said a lawyer at his firm, Leigh Hancher, had expressed concern about how McDonough would function without an administrator after Beckett’s resignation last December. Attorneys in the firm later located a 1991 city ordinance, which created the city administrator position, and it outlined some of the mayor’s duties which would be designated for the administrator.
“We also found that, in 2003, there was a home-rule ordinance that was adopted by the mayor and council, which sought to amend the city charter,” said Whalen. “You’re operating, currently, under a charter of 1981, that’s been amended on four different occasions. In looking at the charter and the 2003 home-rule ordinance, it appeared the form of government has been altered,” Whalen continued.
McDonough’s 1981 charter calls for a mayor/council form of government, in which a mayor acts as the city’s chief executive officer, and votes only when there is a tie among council members. The home-rule ordinance, Whalen said, cannot be used to change McDonough’s form of government.
“The 1991 ordinance that we looked at is not a home-rule ordinance, but it appears to create the ... non-elected position of a city administrator, and to reassign some of the duties that the charter gave to the mayor, to the city administrator,” said Whalen. “Some provisions of that ordinance, we feel, are valid. But ..., there’s a provision in there that appears to violate the prohibition on changing the form of government ... Basically, the ordinance took away the power of the mayor, to vote to break ties. We felt like that particular provision was probably invalid, and required an act of the General Assembly.”
The city council began evaluating whether adjustments to the charter are needed. Attorney Hancher said charter amendments that were created in 2003 were not submitted to the U.S. Justice Department for pre-clearance, thereby raising concerns about the charter’s enforceability.
“The easiest way to handle this would be by virtue of another ... ordinance, to repeal that 2003 ordinance, which does have the effect of taking us back to where we were before that time,” Hancher told the council during the workshop meeting.
Whalen added that the city charter also includes a change in language, which does not require the city government to keep a journal of official proceedings. “That clearly violates general law, which requires this body and every other municipal corporation in this state, to maintain written minutes,” he said.
Whalen suggested introducing a local act in the state legislature, submitting the charter with the 2003 amendments. The proposal was rejected 4 to 3, by the council. Instead, they voted 6 to 1, to appoint area residents to help them clarify and re-submit the 2003 charter.