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Gainesville may begin electing mayor in 2013
Lawmakers OK city charter change; Deal must sign bill
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A new charter that changes the dynamic of Gainesville City Council awaits the signature of Gov. Nathan Deal.

The new charter, authored by Rep. Carl Rogers, a Republican who lives in the city, passed the Senate, its final legislative hurdle, Tuesday.

The passage was praised by Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan on Wednesday.

If the new charter is signed by the governor, Gainesville could vote on its mayor in November 2013.

For decades, the position has been largely ceremonial, rotated every two years among the five members.

The new proposal keeps the council’s current election structure intact, calling for the citywide election of five council members from each of the city’s wards, and a continued two-year rotation of mayor pro tempore.

But it adds a sixth seat to the council: a mayor elected from any of the five wards.

That person, when elected, would have the same powers and duties of other council members, except when it comes to voting.

With the new addition, any council action would require the approval of four council members, rather than the current three.

The new mayor would be restricted from making motions or seconding motions to approve or deny matters before the council. The mayor also would not vote other than to break a tie or to provide a fourth vote in the case that only three other council members were present at a voting meeting.

The mayor also would vote on the appointment of the city’s top officials, including mayor pro tempore, city manager, city attorney, city judge, solicitor and auditor.

The change comes nearly four years after city voters approved a referendum on the issue of an elected mayor. Because the referendum was nonbinding, no one had to act.

But Rogers and city officials have been working on a new charter ever since the vote.

“There’s nothing simple in government,” Dunagan said of the length of time it took for the change
to come.

Rogers did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but Dunagan said the charter passed this week is “basically the same” as the draft city officials provided three years ago.

Aside from the change in the council structure, the charter has only minor changes, Dunagan said.
Every year since the referendum, the change has hit roadblocks.

Until this year, local legislation required a unanimous vote by the representatives from the county. Last year, Rogers couldn’t get that unanimous approval.

Former Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, was the lone holdout. Mills opposed a fee that the city’s utilities department charged out-of-city customers for water service, and said he would not approve the charter change until the city got rid of the fee.

Members of the delegation have since set their own rules, which require only a majority of them to approve a local bill before it moves forward.

The bill passed this week contains the signatures of all the county’s current representatives, an endorsement Dunagan was glad to have.

“I talked to all of them,” said Dunagan.

“They all knew that the voters had voted for us to have an elected mayor; they thought it was a good thing and they supported us.”

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