The group tasked with reviewing Sandy Springs’ charter reported its recommendations to the state Legislature to the City Council on Nov. 15, but their suggestions were met with an unenthusiastic response from some council members.
The city’s charter is essentially its constitution, outlining the roles and responsibilities of the city’s leadership.
The recommendations, which would have to be adopted by the state legislature, if implemented would put greater limits on council members’ power and give more to the mayor. Chairman Rusty Paul briefed the council on what the Sandy Springs Charter Review Commission recommended. The review commission was made up of representatives appointed by the city’s legislative delegation and the city’s government.
The commission voted to recommend term limits for city offices, allowing elected officials to serve no more than two four-year terms. The recommendations would give the mayor much broader authority over matters such as finance and the day to day operations of the city.
The mayor currently can veto any policy approved by the City Council. The commission recommended raising the number of votes required to overturn a veto from a simple majority to five votes. There are six City Council seats.
The recommendations also would give the mayor supervisory powers over the city manager’s position, a separation of powers generally meant to keep the mayor out of the day-to-day business of running the city. The mayor would also set the revenue estimate for the budget, not the city manager. The budget could not be submitted by the city manager without the “advice and consent” of the mayor. Currently the mayor only reviews and comments on the budget proposal.
“From my view, the mayor’s job is quasi-executive,” Paul said of the recommended increase in mayoral powers. “As you well can imagine, having six bosses oftentimes makes the city manager’s job undoable. By giving the mayor day-to-day oversight, it provides an executive function for the mayor.”
Paul said the changes would not diminish the council’s authority over the city manager.
But Councilman Gabriel Sterling disagreed. He said the revisions could create instances where the council has set policies for the city manager, but the mayor tells the city manager to ignore them. Sterling said allowing the mayor to set the revenue for the budget could also politicize the budget process.
“I’m a little concerned we’re creating tension where it doesn’t exist,” Sterling said.
Councilwoman Dianne Fries said giving the mayor authority over the city manager moves the city’s charter away from its original intent of having a weak mayor.
“I was thinking about some other cities that have gone through this and they’ve had the strong mayor and they switched to strong city manager because there was too much meddling around,” Fries said.
Paul said the language does not weaken the city manager. He said the city’s current mayor, Eva Galambos, already exercises a strong influence on city government.
“Anyone that knows this mayor knows she’s pretty strong willed,” Paul said. “She understands and commands the bully-pulpit as well as anyone I know. (In the current charter) there is no real-line connection between the city manager and mayor. We did nothing to diminish the power and responsibility and authority of the city manager.”
Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny said she had no problems with the recommendations.
Councilman Chip Collins said he does not agree with the commission’s suggestion on term limits. The commission split 5-3 on recommending the limits, and Paul said he voted against it. The entire set of recommendations was adopted unanimously.
Sterling praised the openness of the process.
“I think it gives the Legislature a lot to chew on,” he said.