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Petition rehashes Clarkston conflicts

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According to an online petition, it isn’t too late for the public to weigh in on a controversial Clarkston City Council ruling made in January.

 Titled “Restore Checks and Balances to Clarkston”, the ActionNetwork.org-hosted petition—penned by Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry—outlines a number of grievances related to city charter amendments that shifted mayoral and council powers throughout 2016.

 The online petition was linked by the Clarkston Georgia Sentinel Facebook page on April 10. The Sentinel advertises itself as news and opinion about Clarkston. 

“Several years ago the city charter was changed to wrest power away from an accidental mayor,” the post states. “Our current mayor would like to see some powers returned to the mayor’s office. How do you feel about this issue?”

 The petition specifically references a five-hour Jan. 3 council meeting where the council voted to eliminate unilateral abilities held by Terry. The eliminated abilities include calling a special-called meeting, taking part in reviewing a budget outside of council or placing items on city council agendas without council’s support.

 The adopted charter also limits the mayor’s say in the city manager’s contract and compensation as well as his or her ability to investigate public figures and administrators, also known as ombudsman.

 While Terry vetoed the charter changes Jan. 4, the council voted to override his decision.

 “Over the last 12 months, there [have] been concerted efforts to relegate the only majority-elected position in the city of Clarkston, the mayor, to a ceremonial head,” the petition states. “In January, at a five hour city council meeting where 90 percent of residents who showed up voiced concern and objected to the unprecedented charter changes being made, the council voted to remove most of the authority remaining of the mayor position.”

 The petition concludes with six proposed changes to Clarkston’s city charter: require the mayor to appoint the city manager and conduct an evaluation process on an annual basis; require the annual budget to be reviewed and submitted by the mayor with city manager input; require the agenda of the city council to be set and approved by the mayor; require a supermajority of five votes to override a veto; require the mayor to appoint committee chairs; and require the mayor to appoint city officers such as the city clerk, court clerk, city attorney, judge and solicitor.

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 “In each of these changes, the city council would be required to give final approval of every decision,” the petition concludes. “This provides a check and balance within the city of Clarkston’s charter.”

 According to councilman and vice mayor Dean Moore, the mayor’s ceremonial ambassador position is nothing new. He said the city amended its charter in 2010, where mismanagement by the mayor and council rendered the city nearly bankrupt.

 “Up until the charter change and hiring a city manager, there had been zero improvements to the city in years due to feuding personalities on council and the mayor’s [lack of training] in public administration,” Moore said. “Even the swimming pool had been condemned with no agreement on how to move forward. This current administration does not suffer their fate. To reverse the Charter to put the future success of Clarkston in the hands of one sounds…utterly unproductive as well as counterintuitive.”

 Moore said Terry was aware of the mayor’s role in Clarkston when he was elected in 2013. He said the council will continue working with the mayor and “continue to support good ideas that benefit the public, regardless of the origin.”

 “I think I’m correct in saying we have had a great year passing groundbreaking legislation,” Moore said.

 Terry said he penned the petition not to stir up controversy, but to start a conversation with Clarkston’s incoming charter review commission. He said many Clarkston residents didn’t know about the charter changes or what they meant for government in the city, but that they can have a say when the committee is formed.

 “Part of getting public comment is starting it yourself,” Terry said. “The people of Clarkston never got the chance to vote for the original charter change. What I’m trying to propose is more citizen involvement and to give the people of Clarkston a clearer voice in the matter of how their mayor is elected and how the balance of power exists. That’s all I’m asking for.”

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