Power to Appoint City Attorney At Issue
Who should hire and fire the city attorney? Council members weigh in on Patch.
Snellville City Council is pushing forward with plans to alter the charter to allow shared power -- between council members and the mayor -- when appointing the city attorney.
On Wednesday evening, council voted 4-2 in favor of changing the charter to do just that, and now will need approval of the state legislature.
Currently, the power to hire and fire city attorneys is at the sole discretion of the mayor. A change to share this decision would effectively dilute the mayor's control.
Dave Emanuel, Diane Krause, Tom Witts and Bobby Howard voted for the change. Mayor Kelly Kautz and Mike Sabbagh voted against.
We surveyed council members to learn their positions on the matter, and we got an array of responses from four of six council members. See their emailed responses below.
In addition, click the attached videos to see the mayor's position on this item in 2010, and former Councilwoman Barbara Bender's explanation of charter changes then.
Question: Why did you vote the way you did?
Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts:
"In 2005, the city charter was changed. One of those changes concerned the way that the city attorney was chosen. Prior to that change the mayor had the sole authority to choose the attorney. In the 2005 change, the selection was made by the mayor and council. That change was made by a Home Rule amendment. In 2010, when Tony Powell was chosen as city attorney (by the 2005 process) he determined that the home rule (council vote) change was illegal and recommended that we reverted back to the original charter in order to reverse the illegal home rule (council vote) amendment. At that time, Councilwoman Kelly Kautz stated that it was unfair to the rest of council to give that authority to the mayor."
"She now feels that taking the action is unfair, being done without the citizens knowledge (?) and is nothing more than politically motivated action caused by the results of the last election. I would contend that the charter change has been brought about not by the election results but more by the actions of the mayor since the election. The controversial decisions and interpretations of the charter and city code. The legal opinions and reversals of those opinions by the interim city attorney along with the repeated violations of the rights of the other members of council are a much more a concern (sic). I mention once again that all these actions took place well after election night."
Councilman Dave Emanuel:
"I voted in favor of changing the charter simply because it's the right thing to do. Some people claim that this change is politically motivated. I can assure you for me it was not. It was necessity motivated. During the past three months, I have asked the interim city attorney numerous questions that he was either unwilling or unable to answer. It's extremely difficult to serve the best interests of the citizens of our city when questions regarding the legal aspects of issues are either unanswered, or answered incorrectly."
"The city attorney's job is to handle the city's legal business and provide legal advice and insight to all members of the council. Consequently, I believe all members of council should be involved in the selection process, because all members of council will be working with the city attorney. By relying on a consensus of opinions, rather than the opinion of a single person, (regardless of who that person is) there is a much higher probability that the relationships between the attorney and individual council members will be much more productive."
Councilman Mike Sabbagh:
"My comments are simple. How many people knew about this resolution before Monday night? I did not. I strongly believe in a total collaboration of review of the charter and again collectively make the necessary mods (sic) where possible. I will not support miniature changes simply to suit a certain situation. I understand the majority of council does not agree with my opinion or our mayor's about certain issues. However, we all need to work together for the better of the community."
Councilman Bobby Howard:
"I supported this move last night because I can find no reason not to. Based on the information provided last night at the special called council meeting, it seems very clear to me that we should restore the safe guards that were in place prior to now. This does nothing but protect the integrity of a system that can insure (sic) that the citizens of Snellville and all members of council are afforded every right for a fair process. The idea that a unilateral decision to hire the city attorney by the mayor only, with our form of government in itself asks for trouble. And, that is right where we find ourselves. Some will say, including Mayor Kautz that this is political. For me, this is just the right thing to do. Simple as that."
"I am not pleased that we are a divided council, but I make no apologies for standing by my principles and doing what I can to protect the rights that our heroic service men and woman have fought for and continue to fight for."
(For Howard's full response, see the comment section below.)
Side Note: Want to learn more about their positions, a video of the special called meeting will be available. In addition, you can email each of them. Their contact is listed on the city of Snellville website.
(Editor's Note: Responses have been shortened. Only grammatical errors have been changed. Any parentheses with the exception of "sic" are those of the responding council member.)