State Rep. Carl Rogers confirmed Thursday that he would offer legislation for a nonbinding referendum on an elected mayor for Gainesville and an elected chairman of the Gainesville City Board of Education.
Rogers placed legal notices in The Times of his intent to introduce the legislation. The notices, which appear in today’s edition, are a requirement before local legislation can be introduced in the General Assembly.
The two referendum questions would be placed before voters in the scheduled municipal elections in November.
Rogers cannot file the legislation until Monday. He said all members of the Hall County legislative delegation have signed off on the bill.
“We began discussing this in December,” Rogers said. “I feel like the voters of the city ought to be able to vote it up or down, and I predict they will overwhelmingly vote in favor.”
While Rogers has talked for months about polling voters on an elected mayor, his decision to include a vote on an elected school board chairman did not sit well with one member of the present board.
Kelvin Simmons, who is up for re-election this year, said an elected chairman would make the position too political.
“I don’t see any sense in electing a citywide school chairman,” Simmons said. “The process we have right now works well.”
School board members currently are elected from wards and they, in turn, elect one of the members as chairman.
“I just don’t understand that,” Simmons said, adding that the matter had not been discussed with the board. “We’re just getting too much politics mixed in with education, and it is too political when you have to go out and elect a school board chair.”
Board member Sammy Smith was receptive to the idea.
“There is merit to the concept of a school board chair being elected city wide,” Smith said. “I believe we all try to represent all wards of the city even though we are currently elected by a single ward.”
Members of the City Council cried foul when news of Rogers’ intentions surfaced. They accused the state representative of meddling in city business.
“My opposition is to the state deciding what the city should do,” Mayor Myrtle Figueras told The Times last week. “It is not up to Carl to decide that. It should be the council who decides whether or not to put it up (on a ballot).”
City Councilman George Wangemann also called Rogers’ efforts a “strong-armed tactic.”
“We don’t feel this is appropriate,” Wangemann said.
Most council members said they would support an elected mayor system if it is what residents want. But Councilman Robert “Bob” Hamrick, who has served on the council for 40 years, said the current system works well and there is no need to change it.
“All I know is the council-manager form of government that we’ve operated under for, I know, over 50 years has worked most satisfactorily — particularly in recent years — and therefore, why change?” Hamrick said. “There hasn’t been any study to say ‘no, it would have been better if we would have had a strong mayor form.’”
Times reporter Ashley Fielding contributed to this report.