With the legal assistance and advice of Jim Bisson, owner of Minor Bell Neal law firm in Dalton, the city council has now drafted and held a public workshop to examine a draft of a new charter, one that brings the city up to speed with the 21st century.
The previous charter, ratified in 1913, is not only relatively antiquated in its wording and legal allowances, but prescribes governing methodology different from what the city has been typically using in more recent decades. Bisson and the council discussed these differences and clarified wording of the new document in a public work session Monday evening, Jan. 14.
“The document as this has been written,” said Bisson in reference to the draft of the new charter, “is I guess what we could call a ‘strong mayor’ form of government that’s been modified.
“In the past, I think everyone has been under the assumption that the former charter was a ‘weak mayor, strong council,’ which wasn’t the case, I’m assuming.”
“It doesn’t really make any difference,” said council member Jim Staub. “I think that just points out the difficulty with reading the old charter and trying to figure out exactly what it said.”
“Things have evolved,” said Bisson. “That was my recommendation, that if you’re doing something that’s different than what this says, then we need to change the charter because, legally, you should be following what it says.”
The new draft provides for a mayor and council governing in the same manner as currently being practiced -- one mayor with five council members elected on open ballots, without wards.
Per the new charter, three council members, minus the mayor, are required to constitute a quorum, and the mayor can only vote on an issue in the case of two absences and one abstention.
The charter also provides for compliance with legislation that has been passed since 1913, such as the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, and more modern concerns, such as environmental protection.
The new charter stipulates that the position of city recorder, currently held by Juanita Crowder, will be abolished effective Jan. 1, 2014, at which time an official city clerk will take over.
In addition, although the position of city manager is already well-known in the person of John Culpepper, that position was never formally arranged in the previous charter; that issue has now been amended, and the duties of the city manager -- which include preparing meeting agendas and budgetary reports, among others -- are clearly described.
The new charter will come before the city council again at its regular monthly meeting Monday evening, Feb. 4, and will likely be formally approved at that time.