Euharlee weighs in on charter
by Jason Lowrey
Oct 24, 2012 | 950 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Members of the Euharlee City Charter Revision Committee met with the Euharlee City Council for the first time Tuesday night to hear feedback from council members and ask questions about their progress in rewriting the city’s charter.

As in previous revision meetings, the discussions focused on how much power the city manager and mayor should have and what restrictions should be placed upon the city government as a whole.

“We wanted input from the city council because, ultimately, you guys will decide,” revision committee Chairman Eric Smithey said. “We are making a recommendation and, if we go so far off in one direction or the other, we’d assume there’s a good possibility you’ll fix everything that we would have done, and we want to make sure everything we do is for the right reasons.”

Euharlee’s current charter dates back to the 1970s and it has never undergone a revision. As such, it contains a number of contradictions, such as the vague description of how many council members make a quorum and if the mayor has an ability to vote beyond a tiebreaking capacity.

“Our main goal, of course, is to get something that’s workable, something that is not just on paper, but it is here and it is functional, and that’s why your input is very important to us in just looking at the organizational structure,” said revision committee member Barbara Ford.

The revision committee asked the council if they wanted to see a mayor more involved in the day-to-day city operations, department heads who did not report only to the city manager and city council members who act as liaisons to city departments and are more involved in city operations.

City council member Steve Worthington supported the idea that council members should become more involved with city operations so they would be more informed on those operations. However, council member Craig Guyton did not support the idea.

“I would prefer it if the city council set policy and the city manager took the policy and enacted it. ... With the mayor having veto power but the council being able to overrule her by three votes. ... But if our city manager is doing a good job of keeping us informed, then I don’t see that being an issue, and if our city manager is not, then that person won’t be our city manager very long. It’s just that simple,” he said.

City Attorney Boyd Pettit believed the charter should not stipulate Euharlee’s government structure. He urged the committee to focus on giving the mayor and council flexibility in making decisions.

“I don’t necessarily recommend to you that you put into your charter [a] liaison. That ought to be a council decision. You look at, again, whether you’re talking about the mayor making a quorum, [the] mayor having a vote, those are the sort of things you certainly want included in your charter. But in terms of a future council — or even this council — if they decide that rather than having one person as a liaison to a department, they’re going to create committees... But you’d have that flexibility unless you put it in your charter,” he said.

Pettit explained that a sitting mayor and city council would be the people deciding how to govern the city, with the charter providing a framework rather than template.

“The sitting mayor and council determine the form of government. ... The charter sets a structure, and then that mayor and council makes a determination,” Pettit said. “... They ought to have the flexibility to determine what the needs are. They’re the ones who were elected to govern the city, so they ought to be able to make that determination. If folks don’t like it, then they can turn them out in the next election.”

Discussions and questions from the revision committee began to focus on restrictions to the city government’s power, such as limiting the ability to declare imminent domain, forcing residents to pay for sidewalk maintenance and requiring residents to have sewer service. Pettit said many of these issues were either controlled by state law or would have to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

When the issue of term limits was brought up, Guyton and Worthington said they were opposed to them because they believed it would inhibit residents’ ability to choose the candidate they wanted to vote for, which would effectively remove their vote. Council member Sammy Carden said term limits were likely unnecessary, as Euharlee voters had a history of removing people from office.

Mayor Kathy Foulk, in response to term limits and other discussions about limiting the city government’s power, pointed out how uninvolved Euharlee residents were in local politics.

“They moved out here because they didn’t like the hustle and bustle and all the craziness [of larger cities]. ... They wanted to get away from that,” she said. “You can see who we have voting out here. People just don’t turn out for it. Unless something happens that’s knocking at their back door, you don’t hear anything. We don’t have large council meetings. Nobody comes.

“They want to move out here, they want to live out here and then be left alone. They don’t want to be caught up in the rat race or the politics.”

One point the entire revision committee and city council agreed on completely was the preservation of Euharlee’s small-town atmosphere. Foulk compared it to the fictional Mayberry, saying she would like it to continue to offer a “warm, friendly feeling” to visitors and potential residents. While she was unsure what the city would look like in 30 or 40 years, she hoped it would still have the same, close-knit community.

The charter revision process will continue until the end of November when the committee will present its recommendations to the city council. Once the council makes a decision on what to incorporate into a new charter, it will be sent to the state government for approval.