The Villa Rica City Council has sent a proposed new city charter to its state legislative delegation, in hopes that both houses of the General Assembly will vote to approve a new version of the town's governing document before the end of the session.
The City Council voted Tuesday to approve the revised and updated charter. The unanimous vote took place on what city attorney David Mecklin said was the last possible day to get the document before the legislators, whose 40-day session began Jan. 9.
The unanimous vote was crucial, since Mecklin had also cautioned the council members that anything less than complete agreement on all provisions in the document would likely doom the charter in the Legislature.
To that end, the council held a protracted discussion on two final sticking points, both of which involved the powers of the mayor. When a consensus was reached, Mecklin scribbled down a last-minute addition to the document and emailed it to each of the councilmembers sitting around him, who then voted to accept the full charter.
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.
Mecklin initiated the project to review the current charter early in 2016, but the plan was sidelined during all of 2017 by other matters. The council took it up with new urgency at the beginning of this year, and have since held several lengthy meetings and solicited public comment on proposed changes to the document.
The new charter strips away antiquated provisions and that in many instances no longer reflects the way the city operates.
For example, the current charter includes a lengthy process by which a city manager can be removed. But the new charter takes into account that the city's most recent managers have been hired through an employment contract, the terms of which superseded the charter's procedures.
In their review, the council members discussed various "what if" scenarios that might be faced by themselves or by future city councils. They also discussed how to address such theoretical problems as how to contain council members tempted to abuse their powers.
When the council members met on Tuesday, there remained only two issues on which they had not reached consensus, both of which involved the veto powers of the mayor.
Villa Rica's mayor is unique among mayors of other Georgia cities. Although he or she cannot vote on council actions, they can veto the measures the council passes, and the mayor has the power to veto specific appropriations in the budgets passed by the council.
The current charter specifies that the mayor can only veto ordinances passed by the council. But over time, it has become accepted practice to allow the mayor to veto resolutions as well.
Ordinances, which are written, enforceable laws that go into a city's municipal code, are fairly rare and involve a complicated process that includes public hearings. By contrast, most council actions are taken through resolutions, which are simply administrative actions that are generally less formal.
The council members agreed on Tuesday to allow the mayor to veto all actions taken by the council.
The council members then debated at length whether the mayor should be able to veto a measure that passes unanimously by the council. The panel ultimately decided to revise the charter to disallow a mayoral veto in case of a 5-0 vote.
But that set up a conflict on the mayor's line-item budget veto power. Budgets are generally adopted unanimously.
After further discussion, city attorney Mecklin hand-wrote a new provision in the charter that would carve out an exception that would allow a mayoral veto on individual items in a budget, even if the budget had been passed by unanimous vote.
After Mecklin, who was sitting at the council table, emailed his suggestion to the five council members sitting nearby for their review, the council voted to endorse the charter and send it on to the city's legislative delegation.