Term limits and a slight increase in pay for the mayor and City Council are among the recommended changes to Brookhaven’s charter as part of its mandated five-year review.
Rebecca Chase Williams, former mayor and vice chair of the Charter Review Commission, made a presentation at the City Council’s Dec. 12 work session outlining some of the recommended changes. The council will have to approve the recommendations and a bill approved by the General Assembly in 2018 before the changes can go into effect.
The current charter has no term limits for council members and a two-term limit for the mayor. Williams said the commission wants to have the mayor and council all be limited to three terms, or 12 years total. The mayor and council could take a year off and then come back to run for the positions again.
Doing so would allow residents to not be intimidated by the advantages of an incumbency to run for office, Williams said.
She noted that two of the four members of the council have been elected with no challengers.
The commission also recommended the mayor’s salary be upped to $20,000, from $16,000, and council members receive a $15,000 salary, up from $12,000.
Williams said the most contentious subject during commission meetings was the city manager’s and city finance director’s request to life the millage cap that they said would impede the city from receiving a AAA bond rating. Brookhaven’s charter sets the millage cap at 3.35. Currently, the city’s millage rate is 2.74.
“Ultimately, though, we decided not to remove the cap … because we felt it would be a broken promise to the citizens,” Williams said. “This was a promise made during cityhood.”
She added that the commission members were not convinced removing the cap would guarantee the city would receive a AAA rating.
The City Council can remove the cap under its “home rule” provision in the charter, Williams said, and the issue can also be brought up to a vote by referendum.
Assistant City Manager Steve Chapman said because Brookhaven is a young city, it has not built up reserves. And when the city does go out for bonding for major capital projects, as it is expected to do soon, financial agencies will note the millage cap.
“The cap will not help us. I can’t say it will hurt us, but it is not a helpful thing,” Chapman said.
Williams said the commission felt an issue as important as removing the millage cap should be left up to elected officials and include public input.