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Former Snellville Councilman Responds to 'Illegal' Meeting With Officials

Tod Warner discusses how emergency meetings, such as the one held last week after the the city clerk was reassigned, do not require the typical public notice, as the mayor claims.

Editor's note: The following is a letter to the editor submitted by Tod Warner, a former Snellville councilman, regarding the recent controversy involving how some city officials held an unadvertised and illegal meeting last week.   

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Anyone that has any knowledge of my brief foray as an elected official knows that one of my biggest issues has been free and open government. You could call it transparency.  

Recently there was a report on a local television station about three City council members meeting with the City manager while another Councilmember waited in the hallway. Just for the record: Emergency meetings of Council do NOT require the typical public notice and this notice is typically handled by the City Clerk.  

According to the required training given to me as an elected official by the State of Georgia, not once but on multiple occasions, if a member of a body that could cause a quorum is not in the room, it does not constitute a quorum and therefore it is not an official meeting.  You can participate via phone or video chat and it would still not be a quorum unless a declared natural disaster prevented attendance in person.  City Council does not make the State law; they just have to live by it.  If the Mayor or anyone else has a problem with State Sunshine Laws, then they should work to have them changed.

Case in point, when I was on the Snellville City Council, state law changed and reports required pertaining to campaign and personal finance changed from being filed locally with the city clerk to being required to be filed online with the State.  There was a provision in the law meant for rural areas without Internet access to mail in their reports.  Mailed in reports were not available online since the State didn’t have the funds to have someone scan them into a computer.  

It turned out a couple of Snellville Councilmembers continually used this loophole in State law to effectively keep their required reports hidden from the public. The only way to see their disclosures was to go to downtown Atlanta and ask the State Ethics Commission office to see the reports, and then you had to pay for a copy.  I thought this was a bad misuse of the law and tried to get Snellville to require local filing of the documents so citizens could be guaranteed access to the information locally or via the internet as they had been prior to a change in state law.

When I couldn’t get action locally, I started speaking to State legislators about the misuse of the loopholes in campaign disclosure laws and asked them to close them.  Many legislators thought I was mistaken and I had to provide instances of local officials across the State hiding campaign contribution and expenditure reports. I am happy to report that this year State law once again requires local filing of campaign documents.  Never believe that you can’t make a difference. 

Another issue covered in the recent televised report was the removal of the Mayor’s unfettered access to the administration offices of the City of Snellville.  Originally all of Snellville’s elected officials had a key card that allowed access to all areas of City hall.  

It just so happened that at least one former City Councilman would go and visit offices when no one was around and was found going through restricted files.  Some files, such as personnel files, contain personal information that is not discloseable and, the City Charter requires all requests of city employees, whether a request for information or other action, must go through the City Manager, access to the second floor of City hall was removed before I was elected in 2007. As a matter of fact Mayor Oberholtzer didn’t have card access to the second floor.

For the exact same reasons of security and transparency, the current Mayor should not have unfettered access to all the information and personnel that is contained on the second floor administrative offices of the City of Snellville.  Frankly, I’m shocked that she had it in the first place.    

Tod Warner

Snellville City Council, 2007-2011

Kenneth Stepp January 16, 2014 at 09:06 AM
Thank you Tod. That was a great read.
Vicki E. Pomeroy January 16, 2014 at 09:17 AM
We see the problems. Acknowledge and confirm their accuracy. NOW, HOW TO WE CORERECT THEM??? I am beginning to agree with the rumblings of the public. Kelley MUST GO!!!!!!!
Mary Johnson January 16, 2014 at 03:04 PM
Mr. Warner's defense of the council meeting is not holding water. The problem with the meeting of the Council was not that it was JUST not advertised, it was that the Mayor was not notified of the meeting. The Mayor stumbled upon the meeting when she went to check to see if anything needed her signature before leaving for the night. When the Mayor came upon the meeting she was not welcomed, instead, members of Council closed the door on her. If this was really a legitimate meeting why then was the Mayor not notified, especially since she was in the building at the time? And another thing, why did they close the door on her? Clearly the intention was to keep out the Mayor.
Brenda Lee January 16, 2014 at 04:15 PM
Ms. Johnson, would the "close the door on her" be like Rev. Collins turning his back on the person speaking Monday night and signaling his congregations to loudly leave the council chambers?
Jason Jones January 16, 2014 at 06:18 PM
I smell a rat....
Snellville Tod January 16, 2014 at 08:09 PM
Ms. Johnson I'm sorry that I was not clear. According to GA law what the Mayor claims was a meeting was not. Foremost, it was not a quorum of Council and it the individuals were not conducting City business. Consoling a City employee who just found out, through the media no less, that she had been fired could not be construed has city business. Secondly, the Mayor was showing Pastor Collins, Mrs. Richardson, et.al through the second floor administrative offices after illegally hiring and swearing in Mrs. Richardson as the new clerk. Since the City Manager and some Council members were trying to console Mrs. Arnold, a 20+ year employee, shutting the door when the person that fired her and the person the supposedly replaced her came by seems wise or at the very least compassionate.
Ron Schad January 17, 2014 at 08:15 AM
Mrs. Johnson When the Mayor walked in on the meeting of Sanders, Arnold and some? council members did she inquire as to the intent of the meeting? They could have been planning a surprise party for my birthday. But, in her world, everything is about her. I see now the Mayor has inadvertently, I hope she didn't intentionally plan in advance, to introduce racism into the ugly mess that has encompassed this great City of Snellville. Just wait & see, Ms. Richardson will probably file a lawsuit against the City, excluding the Mayor, claiming her appointment was legally binding. This process could take months and a lot of money plus council time distracted from other pending concerns. I am truly sorry for the mess our City government leaders have created and would propose to pull the thorn out of the lions paw before it can infect our entire city.
Brenda Lee January 17, 2014 at 01:55 PM
For the record, Ms Richardson has apparently showed up every dat at City Hall reporting for work. She is apparently being respectfully told that she cannot work and leaves. It's not hard to figure this little stunt out. Kautz entered into an apparently illegal contract with Richardson. Richardson shows up for work every day at 8:00 am. At the end of the payroll period she submits her invoice, which Kautz can no longer issue or sign. Then, Richardson or her lawyer, goes directly to GJAC and files a lawsuit against the City of Snellville for breach of contract. BTW, I am not a lawyer. However, I was blessed with a moderate amount of common sense and the ability to observe what is going on around me.
Matt Czarick January 17, 2014 at 02:22 PM
Blessed is right Brenda! As you know, common sense is not that common these days!
Kenneth Stepp January 17, 2014 at 07:57 PM
Yet another lawsuit Kautz has inflicted on Snellville because of her run away ego. When will this end? Hopefully she will be indicted soon and be unable to damage the city further.
Mary Johnson January 18, 2014 at 12:56 PM
Mr. Warner, you said that the individuals were “Consoling a City employee who just found out, through the media no less, that she had been fired..” and that is not true. I was at the council meeting when the Mayor explained that Ms. Arnold held three positions (1) City clerk, (2) Purchasing Agent, (3) Court Clerk. Ms. Arnold was not fired, she still holds two positions at the same salary. That sounds like a winning situation to me. Why is this an issue? Ms. Arnold was overworked and underpaid. After the City Manager got his big increase there was nothing left for anybody else. You should be asking the City Manager to share his $25,000 increase with Ms. Arnold rather than fighting for her to maintain her heavy workload.
Snellville Tod January 18, 2014 at 05:09 PM
Ms. Johnson, a number of years ago City Council removed the separate position of purchasing agent from the budget as a cost cutting move and the responsibilities for those tasks moved with Mrs. Arnold to her position as City Clerk and Clerk of Courts. Just because a position is enumerated in the City Charter or Code of Ordinances does not mean it is an separate position as far as the current organizational chart or budget. Employees serve many different duties and responsibilities in every department. The Chief of Police is also the Assistant City Manager. When he was given the second title / position he received a small increase but certainly not enough to fund a stand alone employee. To my knowledge the City Clerk and Clerk of Courts has always been held by one person. The City managers increase which you refer to is incorrect. The increase will effect the budget $7500 this year and his pay is still substantially less than his predecessor was paid.
Brenda Lee January 18, 2014 at 09:53 PM
Ms. Johnson, how do you know Ms. Arnold was overworked and underpaid? If that was the case and Ms. Kautz was so concerned, wouldn't the appropriate action, as one of six (6) elected officials, be to share her concern with the council? Reducing Ms. Arnold's workload could have certainly be achieved without all the drama and frustration. That would have truly been a "win win" for everybody.
Matt Czarick January 19, 2014 at 12:25 AM
Ms. Johnson, the issue is the mayor seems to have overstepped her authority. That in my opinion is a big deal. The issue is not about Ms. Arnold, it's about the mayors attemp to exert authority where she has none. The charter, the city code of ordinances, and the home rule ordinance 04-2013 is crystal clear that the mayor does not have the power to fire or hire a city clerk without a majority confirmation of council, which the mayor is a part of. Take the names out of it and look at it logically. If the mayors appointments to the Arts Commission, the park and rec board, etc. have to be confirmed don't you think it makes reasonable sense that the city clerk/treasurer would also have to be confirmed.
Mary Johnson January 19, 2014 at 01:15 PM
Mr. Czarick and all. Don't you think it would be appropriate if the $25,000 raise the City Manager got would have been discussed in public and not presented as a fait accompli? That was a back room deal for a political buddy. And why did Butch Sanders resign "abruptly" when he was the City Manager in Henry County?
Matt Czarick January 19, 2014 at 09:47 PM
With all due respect Ms. Johnson, don't let facts get in the way of your argument. Let's stick to the real issue(s) that our mayor keeps creating. She claims to be a unifier, yet she continually and needlessly creates controversy. Believe it or not I actually agree with the mayor on some issues, but her implementation of those ideas are questionable to say the least. Again and again she tries to play the "victim", which is getting old and tired!
Mary Johnson January 19, 2014 at 10:26 PM
With all due respect, please get your emotions out of this and stick to the facts. The council and their Republican cronies have been angry since day 1 that the mayor was elected to office. They have been obstructive since day 1. Now on the matter of the city Manager. Let's stick to the facts. He got a $25,000 raise that wasn't publicly discussed until it was a fait accompli, while the rest of the city staff gets a COLA, maybe. Plus other perks. BIG FAIL!
Snellville Tod January 20, 2014 at 07:45 AM
"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity" Martin Luther King Jr.
Brenda Lee January 20, 2014 at 04:20 PM
Ms. Johnson, you might want to read this article by Mark Williams, Interim President of the Gwinnett County NAACP. Racism or Race Baiting? January 20, 2014 Mark Williams, Interim President Gwinnett County NAACP Over the years, I have kept abreast of the Snellville City Mayor and Council activities and interactions through the Snellville Patch and by way of what is shared with me from community members. Last Monday, I decided to attend the meeting and see for myself what some have described as racism, controversy, divided, etc. The major discussion of this particular meeting centered on the Mayor’s attempt to appointment a black woman as city clerk to replace a white woman. Upon entering the room, I saw a majority of Blacks on one side and Whites on the other and wondered to myself—“What is going on here?” I quickly realized that most of the Blacks sitting together were members of a local black church. Once the meeting started and the preliminary information was read, it quickly turned to the divide over the city clerk position and the appointment of the black woman. During a discussion period, Tom Witts commented that he was more disgusted with race baiters than racist to which the Mayor remarked that she never mentioned race. As I listened to the reading of the city charter, the comments made by the city officials, the comments by community members and what I didn’t hear, I began to ponder the race baiting comment made by Mr. Witts. I didn’t hear or have read a reason as to why the Mayor would want to replace the city clerk. I will admit that I could have missed it since I don’t read every Snellville Patch email I receive. However, I did hear the reading of the charter outlining the powers of the Mayor and during that reading it was quite clear to me that protocol was not followed. Upon exiting the room, I ran into Melvin Everson. We briefly chatted and I left the building. During the week, I continued to think about the meeting and the issue of racism or race baiting. I decided to look up some stats on the racial make-up of the community when Melvin Everson served on the city council from 2001-2004. The 2000 census data showed that Snellville’s population was 89.6% White and 5.4% Black. I asked myself, “Who voted for Melvin?” Surely, Melvin didn’t win his city council position with all black votes. Hypothetically, let’s say Melvin did win by receiving all the black votes. We still have to consider that he served as Mayor Pro Tem for 3 years and was voted into that position by his council peers, who more than likely were White. Melvin later went on to win House seat 106 in 2005. As of the 2010 census data, Snellville’s population was 61% White and 30% Black. Again, did Melvin win as a result of a strong black voting block? I remember seeing Whites standing on the corners of Hwy 124 and Ronald Reagan as well as Hwy 124 and 78 holding up Vote For Melvin Everson signs. Is Tom Witts correct? Is this an attempt to race bait or is the city council racist? Since I don’t know the city council personally and this was my first city meeting, I can’t speak to the latter or the former. However, I can speak to the fact that Snellville, like the county as a whole, is changing in terms of its racial makeup and that people of color will play a part in shaping the outcomes of local elections. However, as people of color we must not allow ourselves to become pawns in a political chess game. During this last city council race, there was an attempt to get a Black person elected to city council. Will there be an effort to find a Black candidate for the upcoming Mayor and City Council seats? Will those Blacks in support of the Mayor, pit a black candidate up against the Mayor? Is Melvin Everson willing to run for Mayor? I think then we will be able to answer the question of Racism or Race Baiting?
John Canterbury January 20, 2014 at 10:06 PM
Ms Johnson got it right. The problem is, the Mayor wants total representation in the city and the clique does not want that so they change the charter constantly to deprive the Mayor of her powers. Every African American person that the Mayor nominates for Board positions is constantly turned down. It so happens that the pastors noticed this behavior and decided to take action. Minorities in Snellville pay taxes too and they are being blocked every step of the way. Then some of the Councilors have a habit that after they vote against the nominees they go over and hug them. Such blatant display of hypocrisy. It is clear that Mark Williams is not aware of Snellville politics, he admits that and for that reason he should stay out of it. He may have missed the reception Melvin Everson received when he got up to speak (people walked out). Everson does not represent the minorities in Snellville nor does Mark Williams. I did some research too and found out that Williams' NAACP meeting is very poorly attended (sometimes 5 people) so he should spend his time taking care of that rather than sticking his nose in Snellville's affairs. If his own people don't want to have too much to do with him, why should we in Snellville care what he says. Ms. Johnson, your arguments are logical and factual. Thank God for an objective voice in Snellville.
Kenneth Stepp January 21, 2014 at 08:15 AM
So now because Mr Williams doesn't stand behind the mayor on an issue, he is irrelevant? The nominees do not get approved because almost all are a case of the mayor going around the system. If anyone wants to look at these situations fairly (which Mr Canterbury clearly does not), blame the mayor. The council has to be suspicious of every candidate she nominates as well because of her past actions. She has cost the city a small fortune by doing things in an unlawful or underhanded manor. It is their job to watch over the city's finances. Please note that from the outside looking in, it is easy to see that she is using the blacks in Snellville to create problems for the other council members. This may be ok with some. But watching her use others because of the color of their skin is offensive. It's sad there are some that are being used but can't see it.
John Canterbury January 21, 2014 at 08:30 PM
Mr Stepp, you are making wild accusations about the Mayor saying that “it is easy to see that she is using the blacks in Snellville to create problems for the other Council members.” Can you please explain exactly what do you mean by that statement? Please tell us how she is using people because of the color of their skin? And who are those people that are being used and can't see it? These are specific questions Mr. Stepp and I do hope you can answer them precisely and factually. The Mayor is an honorable lady, she loves Snellville and works hard for the city. She does not practice cronyism or racism and I think that is the reason you and others are having a problem with her. Let's face it, if it had not been for Mayor, Kautz Snellville would not be celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday and most of the Councilors and their cronies don't even participate. There are people who are “costing the city a fortune,” but the Mayor is not one of them, they know who they are. They are benefiting tremendously off this unfortunate situation. Regarding Mr. Williams, it is clear that he makes statements without first getting the facts. Ms. Hall makes some good points where he is concerned. Does the NAACP knows that he is making these statements under their banner? I am of the opinion that he has an axe to grind which will surface later.
Brenda Lee January 21, 2014 at 08:34 PM
Mr. Canterbury, are you sure that the council members don't/didn't participate?
Brenda Lee January 21, 2014 at 08:50 PM
I do believe that is former Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer, Councilmen Dave Emanuel, Tom Witts and Bobby Howard and Dave Emanuel in this photo from the 2012 MLK Walk. I believe that they walked from Snellville City Hall to New Jerusalem Baptist Church. http://www.gwinnettdailypost.com/photos/2012/jan/16/34698/
John Canterbury January 22, 2014 at 12:01 PM
Miss Lee, HELLO! this is January 2014 not 2012. I have no idea what you look like, but I do not think you were at the King's parade. The parade was lead by Mayor Kelly Kautz and Bobby Howard and Tom Witts were in attendance. State Senator, Gloria Butler gave the keynote address. Emanuel and the rest of your cronies were nowhere in sight.
David Brown January 22, 2014 at 12:23 PM
John, in all fairness, Dave Emanuel did participate in the march. I was there. I spoke with him briefly.
Brenda Lee January 22, 2014 at 02:23 PM
Mr Canterbury, you might want to put down the shovel. Council member, Diane Krause posted on several public FB pages that she would not be able to attend any of the MLK events as she was suffering with the flu and did not want to share. Apparently the flu bug is not racist. Council-member Barbara Bender also posted her regrets because she has had recent foot surgery. Council members, Dave Emanuel and Bobby Howard were at New Jerusalem Monday morning. There are photos here on Patch. I believe that Councilman Howard walked from NJ to SUMC. Councilman Emanuel also publicly indicated that he had a business appointment and could not walk but as noted he did make the effort to show up, offer support and encouragement. Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts meet the parade participants at SUMC and helped serve them lunch.
Rob Smith January 22, 2014 at 02:47 PM
Got a call the other day. Person said they thought John Canterbury sounded suspicious. Sure enough can't find him anywhere. Is not a registered voter in Snellville and can not find any one by that name in Gwinnett County records. My bet is it is a fake name and someone who is being investigated byt the District Attorney or is hiding behind it.
Michelle McGill Couch January 23, 2014 at 05:49 PM
The MLK event was a fine event for the city and I enjoyed it very much. I, as well as others were on hand to assist if we were needed. We were told that we were not. It is quite foolish to debate who was and who wasn't there. I feel absolutely certain that all council members would have attended if possible.
Kenneth Stepp January 25, 2014 at 06:14 AM
Rob. That's why I didn't answer him. No one is stupid enough not to see what the mayor is doing here. Just a fake tool.

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