Senoia schedules public hearing on city charter changes

Senoia citizens interested in hearing more about a potential change to the current form of city government should attend a Nov. 5 public hearing to learn the specifics about transitioning to a form designed to limit the power of the mayor. Included in the proposed charter change is a proposal that would impose term limits on the city’s elected officials. The proposed changes came after a consensus agreement reached at the Oct. 3 work session.

Following the consensus reached Oct. 3, the council on Oct. 15 voted to hold a public hearing on the charter changes on Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. in the meeting room at the Municipal Court building on Howard Road.

As for including term limits in the new charter, all on the council reached consensus on the measure at the Oct. 3 work session. 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.

When it comes to the form of government, city attorney Drew Whalen maintains that the city currently operates officially under the “weak mayor-council” form of government because the mayor has no personal city staff. The reality, however, is that the city currently operates under the strong mayor-council form even though that approach is not used. And as for Mayor Robert Belisle and council members, they want to change the charter to a “council-manager” form to make sure that future mayors and council members possess only minimal power over the daily operations of the city.

Both Belisle and some on the council at the Oct. 3 work session 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 strong mayor 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.

The timetable for the change to the council-manager form of government includes the Nov. 5 public hearing and a resolution vote on the charter change later that month, followed by submission to the General Assembly for a vote during the 2013 session.

Supporting documents pertaining to the proposed charter changes can be viewed at www.senoia.com