As state lawmakers head under the Gold Dome for the final day of this year’s legislative session, there won’t be one peep about changing Gainesville’s charter.
But the issue, which would change the structure of the city’s governing board to allow for a mayor the voters specifically designate as such, isn’t dead.
State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said he plans to meet with the City Council after the legislative session ends to work out the details of the new Gainesville government.
“We still have time to do that next year,” Rogers said. “...I promised the council we would sit down and meet and go over any questions we may have.”
This year, not so much. After the state’s revenues took a monthslong free fall, lawmakers spent much of the 40-day session shoring up a $785 million hole in the state’s budget.
And members of the local delegation said there was not much time to spend working on a new charter for Gainesville.
“We never had a meeting about it,” state Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said. “We’ve got so much with the budget and everything else. ... With the numerous issues of the session we did not have a chance to move forward.”
Even if the bill creating the new charter was ready to drop, there isn’t a state senator to pass it. Former state Sen. Lee Hawkins, who represented Senate District 49, which includes Hall County, resigned his post to run in a special election on May 11 to fill former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal’s seat. The special election to fill Hawkins’ seat also will be held May 11.
All four representatives from the county and the state senator from the county must sign off on local legislation for it to pass, Rogers said.
For nearly a year and a half, city officials and state lawmakers have discussed whether or not to change the City Council’s structure to allow for a directly-elected mayor.
Gainesville’s five council members have traditionally taken turns serving as the city’s mayor, rotating the position among themselves every two years.
But in November 2009, a majority of those who voted said they wanted to directly elect their mayor. Though the referendum was nonbinding and required no action, city officials moved forward on the changes.
In December, the City Council handed over a draft of a new city charter — the first since the late 1970s — to the county’s legislative delegation.
The draft adds a sixth seat on the council for a mayor who could reside in any ward in the city, and would require more votes than a majority to pass an ordinance, motion or resolution.
While the current five-member council only needs three members to vote in favor, the proposed charter requires four council members to vote an ordinance up or down.
Under the proposed changes, Gainesville’s mayor would be elected at large for a term of four years to preside at meetings and serve as the official spokesperson for the city and the chief advocate of city policy. The new mayor would sign all ordinances and resolutions approved by the council but would not vote on those issues unless there is an equal division on an issue or to provide the fourth affirmative vote needed for approval.
The mayor would also have the power to appoint members of city boards, commissions and authorities. The council would have to approve the mayor’s appointment, however.
But those changes may not be discussed for a few months and may not take effect for a few more years.
Rogers said he plans to take his time on the charter changes so that everyone walks away happy. When Rogers created the referendum on the issue, council members did not feel included in the decision.
“It would be nice that we’re all in agreement,” Rogers said. “That is my goal — to get us all in agreement.”