Can Snellville Get Along?

A lot of people left Monday's council meeting not knowing what to think.

Rodney King made these words famous -- "Can we all just get along?"

They were words spoken after the 1992 acquittal of Los Angeles police in his beating trial. He was pleading for an end to rioting sparked after the court's decision. 

But, when people are mad, and they feel justified in being so, it's hard to reason with them. It's hard to reason with many people when they think -- in their heart of hearts -- that they are right, and that you are wrong.

That's what's happening in Snellville. It was displayed -- once again -- for everyone to see at Monday's council meeting. (Yea, Snellville!)

First of all, the meeting was late. It started an hour after it was supposed to. Lots of people were upset by that. Audible groans were easy to make out. Restless citizens shifted in their seats. A band of children -- with their coaches and parents -- to be honored for their soccer skills stood waiting and waiting. (Bedtime, anyone?)

The was holed up in their work session, no doubt going back and forth over some of the very same issues brought forth at the actual city council meeting. Afterward and before the council meeting started, we saw Councilmen Mike Sabbagh and Bobby Howard having what did not appear to be a jovial conversation. (Body language is hard to hide.)

Then the real fireworks began. 

Out of Order

I'm not really sure how many times the mayor said "you are out of order," but she did for at least three of the agenda items. The one drawing the biggest gasp from the audience and head-shaking was when Councilman Tom Witts tried to appeal the decision of the mayor to not open a vote on the nominations made by the STAT board. (Our understanding -- based on STAT's bylaws and the city's charter-- is that the mayor decides appointments with the council's vote. There is no vote on the nominations.)

So, "out of order!" the mayor decided. Witts just kept talking and appealing, talking and appealing, talking and appealing. The mayor banged on her gavel numerous times, yelling "Councilman Witts you are out of order, you are out of order!" Then she said the words that shut him down and wowed the standing-room-only audience: "You can appeal all day long you want Councilman Witts, but you are out of order, and we are moving on to agenda item No. C."

(Reserving my "whooaaaa" comments.)

In all my years of reporting on government, I've never seen something like that. Not even when I was working in Blythewood, S.C., and the mayor decided kind of out of nowhere to fire the city manager at a council meeting. He didn't even see it coming. One second he was there, and the next second he was gone. (I've talked to him since then, and he is doing just fine not being the city manager and enjoying time with his grandchildren, but at that moment, several years ago, he was completely dumbfounded.)

Confused Much?

Dumbfounded is probably how you could describe the audience after the entire meeting. Not only where council members literally arguing on the bench much of the time, but a critical decision to appoint members to seven other boards (excluding STAT) was stopped in its tracks. For some reason unknown to the rest of us, council members Dave Emanuel, Diane Krause, Tom Witts and Bobby Howard elected to vote against all of them. That leaves all the positions vacant. (Confused? Me, too.)

At one point, Sabbagh also defended himself against allegations that he may have violated city ethics rules in an appearance before the Marietta City Council. (Yes, an investigation will cost the city money.) Certain folks are pushing "really hard" for this, he said.

"This is a fantastic opportunity to let the sun shine in and show the real true colors of some of the city council members' intentions that are set forth," he said. "Absolutely, I have done nothing wrong."

Each of the council members went on to say in their final comments that they want to move Snellville forward and do what's best for the city. One of our favorite quotes came from Witts when he said, "This is Snellville, not Havana." (Havana, as in Havana, Cuba, where the Castro family reigns supreme in a dictatorship.)

Public Comments

By the time the end of the meeting came, I was surprised to see the audience still full of people. Normally, everyone has left by then. But, they wanted to have their say-so in the public comment time. And, so they did.

Rita Sabbagh got up and defended her husband, basically saying that the council's actions were shameful. She also defended the mayor to the chagrin of audience folks.

The Rev. Mike Garrett of felt the need to say something, too. (He thinks they need a mediator at the upcoming retreat. (We do not recommend that this could-be mediator bring boxing gloves.)

Dennis Lawton, a Board of Appeals member, implored the council to work out its differences or Snellville will not move forward like everyone keeps touting.

There were many more comments from others. But, we think Adrienne Britt Levesque stole the show. She's Don Britt's sister (president of STAT board), and their family runs the . She spent a good deal of time commending council working in a tough environment, and then she lit into the mayor.

"Mayor Kautz, I want you to know that there are many of us in Snellville and beyond who see your games. We recognize your spin, and we intend to hold you accountable for every misuse of power you attempt. You've come into your position with claims to take Snellville back, and we say, 'No thank you.' The old Snellville is not what we want."

(She had a few other, shall we say, choice words, and you all can listen to them later when the council airs the video.)

One city staffer told us, in regards to the mayor, that this was all a case of "be careful what you ask for because you just might get it."

The mayor seems to think that's just fine: "I'm here for four years, so this power struggle is not going to get rid of me."

So, you be the judge. Can we all just get along?

Grant January 10, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Pretty easy to see that you're doing it wrong when people stay several hours late just to have a few seconds at the podium to express their outrage . Kautz would do well to listen
Darla Dixon January 10, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Ethics investigation passed 4-1 (with Witts and Sabbagh abstaining, as abstentions count as Yes votes in Snellville) - That was one thing I was glad to see from Mr. Sabbagh. Gave me hope to his true nature/intent in his Marietta trip, but I would think it would be the right thing for him to step down as mayor pro tem until the controversy surrounding the appointment of him to that position unilaterally by Mayor Kautz is all cleared up. The council voted 4-2 to appoint a registered expert in parliamentarian procedure to be present with mayor and council to ensure that Robert's Rules of Order is interpreted correctly.
Grant January 10, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Guessing the Parliamentarian wont have any actual authority though... So when Kautz doesnt like what he might have to say she'll just call him "out of order" and do as she pleases?
Gary Custar January 10, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Ned Lane January 11, 2012 at 03:52 AM
I was present at the meeting and left knowing exactly I what I think. I think the mayor has no idea how to get along with the council, and doesn't understand that she needs votes to get anything done. I find the quote from the mayor in this article outrageous. The mayor was the person I saw struggling. Four votes, no struggle. It seems simple to me. First graders can understand this.
Cynthia Hovey January 11, 2012 at 12:21 PM
Get rid of all of them and start fresh! This kind of bickering goes nowhere and just shows how immature these people are.
Michelle Couch January 11, 2012 at 03:54 PM
It wasn't actually the work session itself that prolonged the meeting start-time. The council went into Executive Session when the work session concluded. Any reporter who wasn't there to cover the work session missed out on what reporters call "a hot story", but I what I call further-valuable insight into the Mayor's challenges of exactly what "set of guidelines" she wants to follow and when! Mayor Kautz actually recessed the work session for 10-minutes during a heated discussion then stormed out to recompose herself after being asked a very simple and direct questions from Council Member Bobby Howard. This is by-far the DEAD-ON question that I feel bares repeating, especially for the public (and reporters) that didn't attend the work session; In a nut-shell, which set of rules/guidelines does the City follow first? What takes precedent over what? This was the basis of Council Member Howard's question. The City Charter?, The City Code? Roberts Rules of Order? Mayor's Decorum (yes, Mayor's Decorum was another phrase that Mayor Kautz kept touting during the work session - a few too many times. As Mayor Kautz declared during the council meeting, the City Charter is the Supreme Law of our City, according to "Snellville Today" News Site..... Seems simple enough to me! Follow the City Charter - what's the problem!
Gary Custar January 11, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Michelle, the problem is if the mayor follows the city charter she can not enact her agenda because only two of the six councilmembers agree with her. But we all know that. So does she.
Michelle Couch January 11, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Agreed Gary! This is how I see it: There are six members of the Mayor and Council to ensure a "Balance of Power"... say it with me everyone... "Balance of Power"... The City Charter is yet another instrument of Government that ensures "Balance of Power".... say it again..."Balance of Power". At this point, the Mayor does not seem to understand "Balance of Power" and the concept that the entire "Assembly" meaning Mayor & Council are there to represent "ALL" residents of Snellville which elected each one of them. It is the Mayor's JOB and RESPONSIBILITY to "ALL" residents of Snellville (those who voted for her and those who did not), that all the instruments in place to ensure the "Balance of Power" are "honored", "respected", and "adhered to" exactly as they are written. Included in this responsibility to all residents of Snellville, is to allow "ALL" council members who have placed items on the council meeting agenda, their time on the floor to present their issue, provide solicitation for a motion, and a vote of the council. That is what the entire Mayor and Council were elected to do. By the Mayor railroading the agenda to her liking, purposely omitting agenda items although they are recorded on a public meeting's formal docket, disallowing the City's other ELECTED OFFICIALS their EQUAL right to floor time, she has violated the most fundamental principals of ensuring "Balance of Power". In my opinion - the Mayor and the Council Members are really Equal Partners!
Dave Emanuel January 11, 2012 at 06:55 PM
My apologies to everyone who attended Monday's City Council meeting for the delayed start of the regular session. I feel responsible for much of that delay, because I voted in favor of going into executive session. We had already been engaged in a lengthy work session, and when the mayor called for a vote for the executive session. One of the other council members pointed out that we were already running late, so I interpreted her request for a vote to mean that the executive session would be called following the regular meeting, not immediately. That interpretation was obviously incorrect. I should have inquired as to specifics and did not. Again, my apologies.
Dave Emanuel January 11, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Regarding the sequence of rules, section 2-81 of the city code states, "Unless otherwise provided in this Code, procedures for meetings of the city council shall follow and edition of Robert's Rules of Order prescribed by the mayor." The city charter is essentially the city's "constitution", and the city code largely defines the procedures used to implement the charter. So the sequence of rules is Roberts, Rules of Order, unless preempted by the Code, unless preempted by the charter. Disagreements arise largely as a result of interpretation. Such disagreements are unfortunate because they are a distraction from conducting the city's business. However, I don't believe it's prudent to conduct business when, in the process, the charter, code or Roberts Rules are not being followed. In my opinion, the disagreements that were apparent at the January 9th meeting were a result of the majority of council believing that proper rules were not being followed.
Darla Dixon January 11, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Are you going to run for a council seat the next time one becomes available?
Darla Dixon January 11, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Thank you for explaining that, Dave.
Darla Dixon January 11, 2012 at 07:17 PM
I'm not trying to be mean, but you should know that the city has trouble -- actually has TROUBLE -- finding people who will serve the city on the council. I am grateful for the fine council members we have: Diane Krause, Dave Emanuel, Tom Witts, Bobby Howard, and Mike Sabbagh has improved in my eyes lately since he recused himself from a vote regarding an ethics investigation that involves himself. But to say "get rid of all of them and start fresh!" is like throwing out the baby with the bath water.
Michelle Couch January 11, 2012 at 08:41 PM
That's a great point Darla.... unless you are willing to step-up and put about 80 hours a week in to be a council member and serve yourself, it's not really logical or rational to make such an extreme comment. I concur completely that the bickering will get us nowhere, but neither will tossing out everyone who already know so much about the City!
Michelle Couch January 11, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Ditto Dave on what Darla said. Now do I understand it correctly - will the city be hiring or appointing someone to be the "Parliamentarian Expert" that will actually facilitate the council meetings? Is this what the 4-2 vote on Agenda Item #6A under Old Business means?
Michelle Couch January 11, 2012 at 10:49 PM
Jackie - I got two emails with your comments - but I don't see them here???


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