Petitions circulating for, against Stonecrest mayoral powers

Though Georgia’s 2020 legislative session has been suspended until further notice due to COVID-19 precautions, petitions are circulating in support of and opposed to Senate Bill 469, which proposes changing some of the powers and duties of Stonecrest’s mayor. 

The bill proposal, sponsored by Sen. Emanuel Jones (D)-District 10, came weeks after Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary and a council member attempted to vote to remove another council member from office after the council member missed one-third of city council meetings within a three-month period.

“[Jones] wants to take this up as a crusade to change our form of government. That’s what [SB 469] does,” said Lary, audibly angry and upset during a March 20 interview with The Champion. “All I would be doing is kissing babies and hugging ladies

. As the founder of Stonecrest, that’s not how we set up. That’s not what the people voted for.”

The city council’s lack of cohesion regarding the council member’s absences led to a divide among the council and was heard in court by DeKalb Superior Court Judge Mark Anthony Scott Feb. 14. The city later withdrew its case. 

“The judge said the state should not have to get down into the weeds of this,” recalled Jones of the hearing. “He said the [the city] has the authority to determine what happens with absenteeism. The city has not been able to do that due to the dysfunctionality. Anytime a mayor sues the city or council member is dysfunction.”

While SB 469 adds clarification on council members’ attendance policies, it takes away several roles of the mayor.   

The mayor currently presides over city council meetings; sets meeting agendas with input from council members, the city manager and public; and has a vote on all items before the city. The mayor would lose those roles to a “council president” elected by the city council every two years and only be allowed to vote in the case of a tie, should SB 469 be passed by lawmakers.

The mayor also appoints members to city boards and committees, subject to confirmation by the city council, and provides supervision and guidance to the city manager. Those duties would be given to the city council as a whole.

SB 469 proposes that the mayor keep his roles as the ceremonial head/representative of the city and his duties of signing documents. 

“This is how most of our cities operate and no other cities seem to have these issues,” said Jones, whose district represents a small portion of Stonecrest. “Ask yourself ‘Why is dysfunction only happening in this city?’”

Though many cities within DeKalb County have varying components to its mayor’s roles, the cities of Avondale Estates, Chamblee, Clarkston, Pine Lake and Stone Mountain have charters similar to what is proposed in SB 469 in mostly giving power to its council collectively, though some allow the mayor to have veto powers. Avondale Estates allows its mayor to vote in all matters.

The cities of Decatur and Dunwoody appear to have a more “strong mayor” form of government, allowing the mayor to vote in all matters before the board, appoint members to committees and set meeting agendas, etc.

Brookhaven, Doraville and Tucker’s mayoral roles appear to fall in between the two charter types. 

“I have been elected twice as mayor. The people have spoken,” said Lary, the city’s first mayor after residents voted to incorporate in 2016. “We have a chance to be a majority leader of economic development right here with a majority Black town. Now [Jones] wants to have a council form of government. CEOs of companies and presidents of companies don’t wait until five or six people can make up their minds to be able to make a decision on business. I spend every day meeting with presidents of companies that are trying to relocate to Stonecrest.”

Supporters of SB 469, according to the petition on change.org which had 210 signatures April 2, say the bill encourages transparency, ethics and accountability. It appears the petition started March 16. Identities and residency of petitioners have not been verified. 

“From day one of this city being formed, there has been no accountability,” wrote one supporter, Marcia Stone. “The people have not had a voice even though they have tried hard to do so. With the change of the charter, we will finally be heard.”

Added supporter Ann Hoffman: “The current charter is not working. Too much power in too few hands.”

Approximately 111 people signed a petition at ipetition.com against SB 469 as of April 2.

“If successful, Senate Bill 469 undermines the will of the people who voted for the city’s existing form of government and who voted twice to elect [Lary] in his role as the city’s chief executive….The mayor is elected by all the people, but the position of council president [would] only [be] elected by the council,” the petition states. 

It is unclear when the petition started, but comments on the petition began as early as March 9. 

“It is quite offensive that the citizens of Stonecrest were not consulted,” said Dennita Sutton-Pierre. “We as citizens should have a voice in what happens. We voted for this city and it is not fair for someone to come in and take away our ability to make this decision for ourselves.”

More comments on the petition suggested that the proposed changes to the city’s charter be decided by residents via a ballot, as the creation of the city’s charter was during the 2016 vote to incorporate.

“Citizens have the right to determine how their city should be run without interference from people who don’t even live in the city,” commented Bill Bruckner. “If a state official has reason to think changes need to be made, then call a referendum of the people.”

Jones said residents’ vote is not necessary. 

“There’s never been a charter change in the history of this state where citizens go out and vote on changes to the charter. The Constitution allows duly elected officials to do that,” Jones said.

SB 469 is co-sponsored by senators Tonya Anderson (D)- District 43, Gloria Butler (D)-District 55, and Elena Parent (D)-District 42.

Petition links:

Support: https://www.change.org/p/dekalb-county-delegation-change-the-city-of-stonecrest-charter-now?recruiter=1052796856&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition&use_react=false

Opposition: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/stop-georgia-senate-bill-469

*Editor’s note: This article has been updated to fix an error.

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