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Gainesville's new mayoral post mostly ceremonial
Mayor will be able to break tied council votes
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Election calendar

Qualifying dates

Gainesville: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 26-28

Clermont: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Aug. 26-30

Gillsville: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 Aug. 26-30

Lula: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Aug. 26-28

Sept. 4: Late date to file write-in candidacy notice

Oct. 7: Last day to register to vote

Oct. 7: First day of early voting

Nov. 1: Last day for early voting

Nov. 1: Last day to mail ballots

Nov. 5: Election Day

Dec. 3: Runoff, if necessary

Gainesville election

City Council positions on ballot

Mayor: Currently held by Danny Dunagan*

Ward 1: Currently held by Danny Dunagan

Ward 4: Currently held by George Wangemann

*Mayor’s post currently rotated among council members

Many Gainesville voters will do something in November they’ve likely never done in their lives — vote for mayor.

The Gainesville City Council will add the elected mayor position to a council of five people representing five wards, for a total of six on the council. Previously one of the five council members has served as mayor, with the position elected by the council and rotating every two years.

Some council members, including current Mayor Danny Dunagan, said the change to the mayoral position is minor. They said the big change will be having an additional council member.

The mayor pro tem position will continue to rotate.

“It’s basically going to be about the same as it has been in the past,” Dunagan said.

Gainesville’s mayor will be elected citywide for a term of four years to preside at meetings, but he or she will not vote on issues unless there is a split or to provide a fourth “yes” vote needed for approval. It will take four votes by the council to pass anything.

Dunagan currently can make motions and vote on agenda items, but the new elected mayor won’t do either. The elected mayor will serve as the official spokesperson for the city and the chief advocate of city policy.

“(The new mayor) is still going to be looked to as the leader of the council,” Hamrick said. “He will have influence, but at the same time, if you went strictly by the printed charter, (the person) would not have any more authority than any other council member.”

The charter is a legal document that sets up local laws and government structure. Gainesville’s charter was amended with these changes in 2012.

Gainesville was officially chartered by the state of Georgia in 1821, but setting up government and services appears to have started in the 1870s.

The Georgia General Assembly approved a city mayor and two councilmen in an 1877 charter change, according to city archival records. The mayor’s position was a strong one but the term in office short, and he could only vote in a tie. He was the CEO of Gainesville, making sure orders, bylaws, acts and resolutions of council were carried out.
The mayor had a one-year term limit; councilmen had a term limit of two years.

A 1922 change abolished the that system of government and changed it to a three-person commission and a city manager. Terms of office ranged from three years to one year, depending on who got the largest amount of votes. Commissioners elected one of their members as mayor.

“The mayor shall have no more authority than either of the other commissioners except that he shall act as chairman ...’” the charter stated.

Gainesville added two more council members in 1958, technically “commissioners.” The name was unofficially changed back to city council around 1990, Councilman George Wangemann said. It is officially “council” in the current charter.

Voters approved directly electing the mayor in a nonbinding resolution in 2009.

The city manager role, which has been a very powerful position since the change to a more legislative government style in 1922, won’t change, Wangemann said.

Wangemann agreed with council members Bob Hamrick and Dunagan that impact to the council won’t be great.
Councilwomen Ruth Bruner and Myrtle Figueras didn’t return calls for comment.

“The change should be minimal,” Wangemann said. “But if you get one or two individuals who are extremely strong-natured in their opinions and their judgments, then you could have a significant battle on your hands.”

The position may become more ceremonial, but it’s still likely to be contested this fall. Dunagan has announced he will run for mayor, along with Gainesville resident Charles Alvarez. The qualifying period for candidates runs from Aug. 26-28.

Qualifying was also changed in the charter last year. Candidates previously had to submit a petition with the signatures of 50 registered voters. They now have to be a resident of the ward they want to represent for 12 continuous months. Dunagan said the petition was hard to get because it had to have registered voters, not just city residents.

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