The community group says the city charter, which governs the appointment process, needs to be revised
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A group of Garden City residents clashed with city council members on Monday night as the council appointed Gwyn Hall to fill the vacant seat on the general council.
The post has three years of tenure remaining and was left vacant when Pro-Tem Mayor Bruce Campbell took over the mayoral position when Don Bethune announced early retirement.
Under the city charter, any council member is permitted to nominate a ward member to fill the vacancy. The appointment is made by majority vote.
Residents who were part of the Garden City Community Group called the method of appointment “outdated” and called on the city to revise its bylaws to allow future job postings to be decided by a special popular vote. The matter also spawned previous complaints about the charter, which had not been revised for decades.
“The charter is law, but it needs to be reviewed and revised,” said Corey Foreman, a resident who previously ran unsuccessfully for both City Council and the Chatham County Board of Elections.
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Appointed served on the Ethics Committee
During Monday night’s meeting, District 3 councilor Natalyn Bates Morris appointed resident Donna Williams to lead the Garden City Community Group. District 4 representative Richard Lassiter nominated Gary Monroe to serve on the planning committee.
The majority ruled when the remaining three council members, Marcia Daniel, Debbie Ruiz and Kim Tice voted to appoint Hall, who will have to give up his current role as the ethics committee.
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Hall will be sworn in during the Oct. 3 session. The council will also vote for a mayor pro-tem that day, a position normally filled by the general councilor during a normal election.
“It feels like some of you … have taken it out of the hands of residents to have a say over who wants to represent them,” Donna Williams said in an address to the council.
Resident Kelly Holt also expressed concerns, noting that the appointee would serve three years of a four-year term.
“We pay the taxes, the choice is yours,” Holt said.
Garden City City Attorney James Gerard clarified that the government agency is merely following the rules set out in the city charter. According to Gerard, time constraints and Georgian law prevented any constitutional changes for this particular position on the council.
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Any changes to the bylaws would first have to get the approval of a majority of the council. Then the amendment would be sent to the Georgia General Assembly for passage in the form of a bill. The next Georgia legislative session begins in January.
Gerard also pointed out that when former Mayor Bethune resigned and Campbell took over as mayor, the city had to follow the law.
Local residents say the process is not transparent
Residents’ dissatisfaction stems from a lack of transparency, which they say is characteristic of Garden City’s administrations. Those who attended the meeting accused the city of “stacking the council” by filling council seats with like-minded people who would similarly vote on city affairs.
The city manager denied that there had been a conspiracy.
Councilor Lassiter said he shared the views of the public on the charter but “we govern by the charter”. Lassiter said the city plans to set up a workshop to discuss revising the entire city document, which has not been fully revised in decades.
“This isn’t the first time we (Lassiter and Morris) have mentioned a charter change,” Lassiter said. “From the fact that we’ve taken GMA courses, we know it’s outdated.”
As Garden City’s population has grown, a special election would be a more appropriate procedure, Lassiter said.
Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter for Chatham County communities. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @nancyguann.