Stonecrest City Council approves 4-1 controversial resolution to change city’s charter

Stonecrest meeting

Mayor Jason Lary: “This is a power grab from the citizens by four people.”

 

 

STONECREST–Around 1 a.m. today as the City Council’s meeting was coming to a close, four Stonecrest City Council members approved a resolution to support a controversial state Senate Bill to make changes to the city’s charter.

Councilwoman Jazzmin Cobble led the move, requesting to add an item to the agenda. She said the item would likely wake up those who had held on until the end of the marathon virtual meeting, which lasted nearly seven hours. The audience of over 100 people had dwindled to about 10 when Cobble made a motion around 12:50 a.m. to add the resolution to the agenda for a vote. Council member Rob Turner seconded Cobble’s motion.

“… This will probably wake everyone up who has fallen asleep. So get ready: I’m gonna ask to provide support to the Stonecrest Delegation to support SB 21, which makes changes to our charter….,” said Cobble. “… I know that it has been a provocative topic of discussion for many years. So I am the first to say that we have battled back and forth with where the charter sits today, changes that need to be made and there’s opinions that go both ways and that’s understood, acceptable and appreciated.”

Council members George Turner, Rob Turner, Tammy Grimes approved the resolution, with Council member Jimmy Clanton dissenting. Mayor Jason Lary was not present for the vote.  Lary had long left the meeting, turning it over to George Turner, who is mayor pro tem.

“Today(March 22) is my birthday and I’m not going to be here until midnight,” said Lary, who had announced earlier in the meeting that he had returned after receiving new information last week from doctors concerning his battle with cancer.

Clanton stated that he opposed supporting the resolution because voters had not had any say in changing the charter in the form of a referendum. He called the council’s move to support SB21 “philosophically wrong,” and likened the lack of a referendum to voter suppression.  Clanton also expressed his disagreement with the way the resolution was added to the agenda, pointing out the resolution was “slipped on” to the meeting’s agenda late night after most of the audience was no longer watching the virtual meeting. Clanton said the City Council’s action was similar to the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners’ move to increase their own salaries during a late-night meeting.

 

The Board of Commissioners voted to give themselves a salary increase of nearly 60 percent—from $40,530 to $64,637 a year—in February 2018 after most of the audience had left the meeting. The measure was passed without the normal committee review process or being included on the board’s agenda. Community watchdog Ed Williams sued the board over its decision.

Clanton said the City Council’s measure was “slipped on” to the agenda late at night the same as the measure supporting the Board of Commissioners’ increase in salaries. Cobble, however, disagreed with that assessment, saying that the City Council voted to add the agenda.

“Our citizens voted for this charter and they should certainly have some input into whether or not we change our charter,” Clanton said.  “Our charter provides for a commission to be established that would do exactly that—that would bring citizens to the table to talk about whatever changes we want to the charter. “

Cobble said Stonecrest citizens were aware of attempts to change the charter. She said SB21 is a “reincarnation” of SB 469 and SB422, which did not make it out of the 2020 legislative session, which ended early due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There was an opportunity for constituents to attend the town hall meeting that legislators held and also be a part of the process for that change up until COVID hit and it(the 2020 Legislative Session) was cut short…,” said Cobble. “It(SB-21) is not brand spanking new to our community. It is just reincarnated from last session.”

Mayor Lary said in an interview with On Common Ground News at 8:30 a.m. today that the town hall meeting Cobble was referring to was held in March 2020.

“There were not a lot of people at that meeting. The citizens, as a whole, have not had their say. We have 54,500 citizens in the city of Stonecrest and the majority of them do not know that four people  have gotten together with Senator Emmanuel Jones to try and change the  charter,” said Lary. “This is changing the form of government. When the citizens voted to have their own city, the charter came along with it. This completely changes the form of government to one that is council-led and filled with bureaucracy. Four people are holding the citizens hostage to their desires. This is not the will of the people. This is a power grab from the citizens by four people.”

To view SB21, click below:

https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/42786

Stonecrest citizens voiced outrage over the bill to change the city charter at the town hall held in March 2020. Below is a news story that was published in On Common Ground News regarding a citizens’ petition to kill the bill:

Stonecrest citizens start petition to stop Georgia SB 469

Story developing. Check back for more.

2 comments

  • Dave Marcus

    March 23, 2021 at 1:07 pm

    I *strongly* support Senate bill 21 and urge everyone who doesn’t know about it to learn about it and to support it. Now that the vision of Stonecrest has turned into the city of Stonecrest, we need this bill to make sure that we have a managed plan to make sure that we get the quality of life that we deserve and were promised.

    With respect, Mr. Clanton is correct but quite disingenuous when he says that Stonecrest citizens voted for the charter. We voted for the city. Anyone who voted for the city had no choice about the charter. It was not studied as part of either feasibility study. Alternatives were not offered.

    Most anyone who has been following Stonecrest politics knew that this was coming. Like many things, it got derailed by the pandemic, but there were public meetings, there were social media postings and arguments, and there was discussion.

    Speaking of disingenuous, the delay caused by the pandemic gave the Mayor time to ramp up the charter review commission that he mentions—it was a full year of delay during which time a commission could easily have met on Zoom a dozen or more times to recommend changes. He chose to not do this, and this bill being back in play is the result of that decision.

    Last year, I thought the bill had a lot of good in it, but that it went somewhat too far, and I said that publicly. Watching the Stonecrest administration, though, has made me change my mind. The current form of government has allowed a person who had a GREAT vision that so many are thankful for and who did an EXCELLENT job of selling Stonecrest but who is poor at planning and execution to run a government that has made mistake after mistake after mistake. This doesn’t minimize the good things done for citizens related to the pandemic, but it shows that the charter has allowed minimal planning, off the cuff actions, and poor execution to flourish.

    This is the key problem: the very strong central Mayor role–the role that sets the council agenda AND runs meetings AND votes on every item AND makes many appointments AND then is responsible for getting things done—that role can do all of that very well, or very poorly, or in between. And if they don’t do a great job, we are all hurt. The constraints, boundaries, and oversight is weak and actions like not having an internal auditor make them weaker.

    This is not “a power grab by four people”. It is an attempt by our elected council representatives on behalf of the citizens to create a better mechanism for governing the city. Instead of the over-strong mayor, our council representatives would elect one of themselves to be, essentially, the administrator of the city. It would also make the office of the Mayor a less stressful and a truly part-time job, in line with the pay for the office. The power players of the city oppose the bill, though, and I don’t blame them—it will correct the balance of power, which we need badly.

    I support this bill strongly. I have reviewed it in detail both when it first came out and again last fall. It is not perfect, but it will give us a government that is SIGNIFICANTLY better than the one we have. I have lived here 30 years and will probably die here, and I want Stonecrest to be the vibrant city that it has the potential to be long before I die.

    Too much time and energy over the last year(s) has been spent correcting mistakes, such as the illegally set up Stonecrest Convention and Visitors Bureau (being redone) and not having the complete board of the Development Authority legally appointed (now fixed, but some decisions made pre-fix could be challenged legally). Too many of the work items required by the Comprehensive. Plan have simply been ignored. For instance, it called for an Economic Development Plan—a key requirement for good growth—to be completed in 2019. Two years later a contract to develop the plan has not even been approved. The city made Municode.com the place to go to view all city ordinances, but it hasn’t been updated since 2019. Developers who read requirements there aren’t reading the latest ones (for instance, the Arabia Zoning Overlay requirements are not there, nor are other zoning changes). A promise several months ago to update it hasn’t materialized. The head of the Planning Department notes that he has problems getting important information about rezonings and the like added to the department’s web page. The administration hired a contractor and tried to get a zoning overhaul with very significant changes put in place without public meetings and hearings. This delayed the process by months and it still is not done. The city bought the old Sears Automotive to house a police precinct the DeKalb County denied ever planning to move here. The feasibility study to get better police services by having a Stonecrest police force never said how to get better services and it did not look at newer policing models that can save lives.

    I myself found a million-dollar error last year (and much smaller errors) on budget reports on the city’s web site. This was corrected—but now we see that no financial reports have been uploaded to the web since May, 2020. And the monthly departmental reports that used to be shared on the web site have not been posted since Jan 2019. There was no “state of the city” report last year and none announced for this year. There is no reporting on where the city is in carrying out the Comprehensive Plan. There is no game plan for getting to where we need to be.

    Contracts that expired at the end of fiscal year were not renewed because the administration didn’t realize they needed to be expected the work that was under them to be continued. Plans for taking over Public Works assumed that the city would collect the taxes in 2020 and start doing the work in 2021 but that turned out to be not the way things are allowed to work. At the same time, a budget for Parks presented to the council (as a Powerpoint slide) showed both Parks and Public Works taxes being spent on Parks (also not allowed). To cap it off, the administration claim at the same meeting that the mechanism wasn’t in place to allow for homestead exemptions was simply wrong and was quickly corrected by a city attorney (Ms. Machewski).

    A number of smaller things are sloppy, too. For instance, people who saw on the notice for last night’s public hearings that they could come to city hall and speak directly to the council via Zoom were turned away from city hall; no one was there. No agenda for the meeting was posted to the city web site until about 8 hours before the meeting, and it omitted key items published in legal notices as the agenda—and what actually was handled at the meeting was somewhere in between. No work packet, with item details, was ever posted on-line and the copy sent to council members was protected with a password that they were never given, according to several people. The promise by the administration to post unofficial minutes of meetings on-line soon after each meeting hasn’t been kept.

    The list of errors and fumbles goes on and on. Our representative on the city council constantly butts heads with administration to try to get things done correctly, or simply to find out what has been done.

    Bill Allen once said at a meeting that investors and developers look so very hard at a majority-minority city that we have to be perfect in what we do. This current charter leaves much too much room for the imperfect and downright bad, and we see that month in and month out.

    The Senate bill is not perfect but it will correct major problems we have today. We can then fine-tune it at the city’s leisure. Please support it.

    Reply

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