The Snellville City Council has a long history of the most contentious politics in metro Atlanta. Now they’ve found a new thing to fight about: the city attorney.
Four members of the City Council have expressed a lack of faith in the experience of current City Attorney Stuart Oberman, who was appointed by Mayor Kelly Kautz.
“(City) council feels that they need representation … we feel it’s necessary at this point to protect our rights and the rights of those who elected us,” said Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts.
Councilmen Dave Emanuel and Bobby Howard and Councilwoman Diane Krause echoed Witts’ opinion.
“I’m not comfortable with some decisions that have been made (by Oberman). What’s lacking is clarity,” Howard said.
Tony Powell, former Snellville city attorney, will serve as the separate legal counsel.
Kautz and councilman Mike Sabbagh voted against the action, with Kautz saying there has been no money budgeted to pay another attorney. The mayor also said Powell supported her opponent Barbara Bender – in the November mayoral election with a financial contribution. Powell is also an elected official in the city of Lawrenceville, and Kautz said that poses a conflict of interest.
The 4-2 decision to hire separate counsel for the council appears to reflect the current split:
…it does underscore the recent tension between the mayor and the majority of council members. Since Kautz’s rise to mayor, a number of key decisions have been split on a 4-2 margin, with only Councilman Mike Sabbagh supporting her.
City Attorney Stuart Oberman disagreed, saying the charter gives sole discretion for choosing a city attorney to the mayor. Citing case law that was not immediately available, Oberman added that the city could be authorized not to pay for additional legal counsel for council members.
“Likewise, the mayor could not go out and appoint her own counsel … if she was unhappy with the city council, so it cuts both ways,” he said.
Indeed, the charter does grant powers to the mayor to choose a city attorney, and the city attorney is deemed a position that represents the city — not individually the mayor nor the city council. However, the charter does mention that assistant city attorneys may be authorized.
Kautz, who voted against the item, said not only was the measure improper but that the council’s choice — Tony Powell — serves as a council member in Lawrenceville and a representative for Snellville Tourism & Trade. Both of those positions represent conflicts of interest, she said.
Besides, Kautz added, the city hasn’t paid its current attorney and does not have the money to pay for an additional one.
I can think of two ways out of this situation for Snellville. The General Assembly could amend the charter to ensure an odd number of votes or remove the Mayor’s vote. Or they could require adult supervision with the authority to send offenders to sit in the corner on a stool with a pointy hat.