Senoia Council to limit mayor’s power, set term limits

After an Oct. 3 discussion among members of the Senoia City Council, it turns out that the consensus of the group is to move forward with the steps necessary to transition from a strong mayor-council form of government to a council-manager form and to institute term limits for the mayor and council members.

Though operating more like the council-manager form of government for the past few years, the idea to change the city charter was essentially one that would prevent future mayors from possessing the far-reaching control found in the strong mayor model. Under the current strong mayor model, the mayor has control over a multitude of city functions and serves as the chief executive officer. Under the council-manager model the city manager has the responsibility for a variety of functions such as daily operations, personnel and finances.

As for including term limits in the new charter, all on the council reached consensus on the measure. After some discussion, the agreement was to set the term limits at three consecutive terms for council members and two consecutive terms for mayor. Each term will run for four years.

Councilman Jeff Fisher in commenting on term limits said, “The purest form of government starts locally. We can’t say term limits would fix Congress and not have it apply to ourselves.”

Commenting on the need to change the charter and citing one of the reasons to replace the strong mayor form, Mayor Robert Belisle said, “The charter currently says the mayor doesn’t have to give the council a proposed budget until 10 days prior to the vote to adopt it. We don’t do it this way and I don’t think we should. This is one of the flaws in the (strong mayor) form we have to change and (it is) the risk we run if we don’t.”

Both Belisle and some on the council noted that past problems had existed under the strong mayor form of government. And though the council-manager form could be reversed by a future council, the consensus was that the safest and most beneficial approach for Senoia citizens would be to limit the powers of the mayor by having the city manager responsible for finances, personnel and the day-to-day operations of city government.

The timetable for the change to the council-manager form of government includes a public hearing on the matter and a resolution vote on the charter change in November, followed by submission to the General Assembly for a vote during the 2013 session.

The strong mayor-council form is one that has the mayor serve as the city’s chief executive officer, with full responsibility for the city’s daily operations. As such, the mayor normally possesses the power to hire and fire department heads and other city staff, prepare and administer the city’s budget, and execute contracts. The mayor may also have the authority to appoint council committees, veto legislation passed by the council, and appoint members to city advisory boards, according to the Ga. Municipal Association (GMA).

Under the council-manager form, the city council provides the primary policy-making role, and an appointed city manager provides the primary executive role. It combines the strong political leadership of the elected mayor and council with the strong managerial experience of an appointed local government manager. The structure of a municipality operating under the council-manager form of government is similar to the structure of a corporation. To this end, the municipality’s citizens are treated as shareholders that elect a city council to serve as their board of directors. The city council establishes the city’s policies, while a professional city manager, hired by the city council, is charged with implementing the council’s policies. In this capacity, the city manager functions similarly to a corporation’s chief executive officer, according to GMA.