Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Milton Council Counters Mayor's Plea for Veto

By DOUG NURSE / The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 05/24/07

Over the Milton mayor's objections, the City Council effectively countermanded a letter he sent to the governor asking that changes to the city charter be vetoed.

By a 4-3 vote, the council on May 17 approved a resolution that instead asked Gov. Sonny Perdue to sign legislation that changes the founding document for the city. The charter establishes the city and sets rules for its operation.

Among the changes are the addition of term limits — limiting the mayor and members of the council to two four-year terms. Supporting the resolution were council members Karen Thurman, who sponsored the resolution; Rick Mohrig; Bill Lusk; and Neal O'Brien. Opposed were Mayor Joe Lockwood and council members Julie Zahner Bailey and Tina D'Aversa Williams.

In the last legislative session, the General Assembly, at the behest of state Rep. Jan Jones (R-Milton), changed the city's charter in a little-publicized bill. The legislation removed provisions allowing collection of franchise fees, diluted some of the mayor's authority to make appointments and hire staff and set term limits, and removed language allowing benefits for the mayor and council.

After the vote, Lockwood said he didn't anticipate any further action on his part.
"I think we're done," he said. "It's up to the governor now. We'll move forward and do the best we can with what we've got."

State Rep. Mark Burkhalter (R-Alpharetta) also weighed in with a letter to the mayor and council in support of Jones.The governor's office has been circumspect in discussing the controversy. "The governor will decide whether to sign based on its merits," said Bert Brantley, spokesman for the governor's office. "He takes into account all points of view."

Lockwood and his supporters said they weren't aware of the changes until April 24, after they had been passed. They also argued that the changes weakened the position of the mayor.
Other council members countered that the changes were minor.

The council debate at times was sharp-edged. The writing of Thurman's resolution wasn't finished until just before the council meeting, which prompted Zahner Bailey to decry the lack of "professional courtesy" by Thurman and by Jones for essentially ambushing the council.
Thurman countered that there wasn't time to follow the normal procedure in presenting items to the council. Perdue's deadline for signing bills is the end of the month. The next City Council meeting is June 7.

Thurman also faulted Lockwood for sending his letter to the governor without consulting the council first. Lockwood explained that he talked with a majority of the council members and had come away with the understanding that they agreed with him.
Lockwood said that when the governor's staff called him for his reaction on Monday, he told them he wasn't happy. Write a letter, they said. He did, asking Perdue to veto Jones' House Bill 811.

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