A new charter for Villa Rica is nearly ready to present to the state General Assembly, following a series of intensive meetings in which the City Council has discussed virtually every line of the document.
The charter was discussed at a special called meeting of the council on Tuesday, and was scheduled to be discussed again Thursday, at the council's regular work session. A finalized version of the document could be discussed at the council's Feb. 5 monthly meeting.
The Feb. 5 meeting will take place at the Municipal Courtroom at 101 Main St. at 6 p.m.
The council has made the charter a priority for the first weeks of 2018, because council members hope to present the document to the Legislature during the current session. Work on the document began in 2016, but was put on the back burner through the whole of 2017.
To be approved, the council must agree on a draft, which then must be presented to the city's representatives in the Legislature. Those lawmakers will then introduce it to the House and Senate, both of which must approve the document within their 40-day legislative calendar, much of which has already elapsed.
The city charter serves as the foundational governing document for the city, much as the U.S. Constitution lays the framework for national government. It specifies how the city government functions and outlines the powers of key officials, including the mayor, council members and the city manager.
Over time, city charters may come into conflict with new laws and amendments to the state constitution, so they must be amended.
A draft of proposed changes to the document has been ready since October 2016, but had not moved forward because the council had other priorities during 2017, namely hiring a new city manager and working on a budget designed to address long-term financial issues.
But since the current legislative session began Jan. 9, the pressure to make the needed changes to the charter this year has taken on new urgency. The council has now met four times since Jan. 18 to review virtually every line of the document, following recommendations made by City Attorney David Mecklin.
In their review, the council members have discussed various "what if" scenarios that might be faced by themselves or future city councils. Changes to the document have been proposed to handle routine governmental affairs, but others have been discussed to address such theoretical problems as how to contain council members tempted to abuse their powers.
One focus of discussion by council has been on mayor's veto power, an authority granted to the Villa Rica mayor that few other city officers have. The discussion has centered on whether the mayor should only be able to veto ordinances, or can reject any action approved by the council.
Another area of attention has been to strengthen the city manager's control of the day-to-day operation of the city by restraining council members from attempting to direct or supervise individual city employees.
The need to update the charter was illustrated in May, 2016, when a situation developed that the current charter had not anticipated, and which briefly forced a crisis in city government.
That occurred when former Mayor J. Collins resigned to seek the legislative seat he currently holds. That left the city with no designated person to wield executive power, since the charter did not delegate that duty to the mayor pro tem. To resolve the issue, the city had to use its home rule powers to create a new office, that of interim mayor.