A move maybe afoot in the city of Clarkston to reduce the number of council members and limit the mayor’s term.
A proposal was introduced during the Clarkston City Council’s Sept. 4 meeting that, if passed, will ask the DeKalb County delegation to the state’s General Assembly to consider changing the city’s charter.
The changes being considered would reduce the size of the city council from seven members to five and change the mayor’s position from one elected by voters to one elected by members of the council.
Councilman Adam White, who introduced subject, said the proposals would not change the form of government. That was changed approximately two years ago from a mayor-council government to a city manager-council government.
“I wanted to put it before the council solely for discussion,” White said. But White said he soon withdrew the proposal.
“A lot of civically engaged citizens…were under the impression that we were rushing the resolution through to…the General Assembly,” White said.
The ideas for the proposed changes were not his, White said. He just decided to open official discussions about them.
“My intention was to bring those subjects up,” he said.
White said some Clarkston council members have been looking at Decatur, which already has a city manager-council form of government with a mayor elected by council members.
Clarkston officials, including Mayor Emanuel Ransom, have researched the possibility of reducing the size of the council from six plus the mayor to four plus the mayor, believing that there is “no reason to have nearly so many councilmembers,” White said.
On the other hand, “some believe that six heads are better than four,” White said.
Under the proposal being considered, the mayor would serve a one-year term and would be appointed by the city council.
Ransom, who has been mayor since December 2010, said Clarkston council members “want to eliminate the [elected] mayor’s position, [and] appoint the mayor…every year.”
Ransom asked whether council members are “going to sit up there in front of voters and…tell them that we select…[the] their mayor? Doesn’t that sound like a dictatorship to you?
“This is not going to wash,” Ransom said. “The people are not going to stand for this.”
Ransom said having an annual vote among councilmembers for a mayor is a bad idea.
“If you have a [mayor] coming up for four years, you have a [mayor] that’s putting his teeth in, getting down to business, working on it and getting something done,” Ransom said. “How can you get something done in one year?”
Ransom said the idea to change the mayor’s position is really a personal attack.
“Since I became mayor, being the first [Black] mayor here, I’ve had opposition from council members,” Ransom said.
Ransom said the council has reduced the mayor’s power by removing the authority to make recommendations for a vice mayor and the make-up of city committees. He said he gave up his office space in city hall after council members argued that a part-time mayor did not need space there.
“They have taken all of that from the mayor,” he said. “It’s nothing but retaliation against me as the mayor. They need to stop attacking Ransom and respect the office of mayor.”
White said his intent is not to get rid of the sitting mayor.
“Whatever changes made would apply for many years to come,” said White, adding that using the charter to remove a person would not be “appropriate.”
“A charter change is an involved process,” White said. “It’s not worth the effort to make it personal.”
Currently, the mayor only votes to break ties during council meetings. And since the form of government was changed to include a city manager, the mayor does not run the day-to-day operations of the city.
“I’m not in charge of the city manager right now,” Ransom said. “He’s autonomously over everything in the city. I can’t direct an employee to do anything without asking his permission. And the people don’t want that. They want to have their own voice in the government.”
Ransom’s biggest challenge occurred in April when 12 ethics charges were levied against him.
The charges stemmed from a December 2011 incident in which Ransom used his consulting firm to assist a refugee business owner get into compliance with the city’s ordinances.
“I was trying to assist one of our refugee business owners that [doesn’t] understand the permitting process,” Ransom said. “What I did was, instead of helping him as mayor, I used my consulting firm to help him, with no pay, no gratuity at all. I sent a letter here to city hall stating that [the business owner] had retained me. I shouldn’t have used the word ‘retain.’”
A council-appointed ethics committee made of residents “found no violations of the 12 code sections on specific ethics standards, but finds that Mayor Ransom has violated the intent of the Clarkston Code of Ethics,” the committee reported.
Ransom said Rep. Karla Drenner is planning three town hall meetings to get feedback from residents on the 2010 form of government changes.