Column: A city in crisis

By State Sens. Emanuel Jones, Rick Jeffares and Gail Davenport

ATLANTA  – Throughout its storied history, the City of Stockbridge has built a reputation as a thriving suburban town; a place where people want to live, work and raise a family.

However, political infighting among city officials has thrown this prominent community into turmoil.
After Mayor Lee Stuart sued the city council in an attempted power grab last year, the city has been embroiled in a costly lawsuit with no end in sight. However, a bill sits before the legislature that represents an agreement reached by both parties that could put this city and its leadership back on track. We authored Senate Bill 189, which revises the city’s charter to delineate the power between the mayor and city administrator, who would be the chief administrative officer and act as a liaison between the mayor and the city employees.

Both the mayor and the city council have agreed to the bill’s terms. It passed the Senate unanimously back in March, but has since been awaiting a hearing in the House of Representatives. Despite efforts to reach a consensus and pass a final bill, backroom deals have derailed the legislation for this year as the 2011 Session draws to a close. Rep. Steve Davis of McDonough amended the bill with changes designed to kill the legislation, including changing the number of city council members, adding district voting and altering the city’s organizational structure entirely.

There is already a process to address these issues. However, using this bill as a vehicle for those changes is not the way to do it, as evidence by the city council’s rejection of Rep. Davis’ amendments. SB 189 is designed to simply settle the lawsuit. Had the original bill been taken up for a vote in the House and passed, the city’s lawsuit would have been resolved and the agreement between the mayor and city council upheld.

Now that the bill has stalled, there is no end to the lawsuit and the city will likely spend more of its taxpayers’ hard earned money trying to reach another settlement agreement. Further contention will only run up costly attorney’s fees and citizens will be forced to foot the bill. City workers will also continue to be caught in between this power struggle.

While everyone is weighing in on the chaos and disorder within the city, we should instead be celebrating the fact that Stockbridge recently received the distinction as having the largest population in Henry County with over 25,000 residents. Sadly, political gamesmanship has divided this flourishing community. With no clear leadership and rampant dysfunction throughout its administration, this is truly a city in crisis.

We remain committed to working with local and state leaders to see that this issue is finally resolved. The governor has also been made aware that we have a city in a political crisis. With a local government at a crossroads such as this, now is not the time for gamesmanship by our elected officials.

Attempts to weaken or significantly alter the agreement between the mayor and the city council should not be tolerated. This is no different than school boards fighting each other. As our state and country work to recover from the worst recession seen in generations, this is the time we should be working together, not against each other. Citizens are still struggling to find jobs, businesses are fighting to stay alive, and it’s crucial to the future of our local communities that we establish a cooperative plan for the future. We don’t have time for infighting and political games that only serve to hurt our communities and the people who live there.

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Express Telegraph

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