Legal questions remain over Warner Robins city administrator

Questions remain over administrator legality

Questions remain over Monday night's City Council decision to create a city administrator in Warner Robins.

After the meeting, at least one councilman raised concern over the legality of the Council's decision to redistribute power from the mayor's office.

The answer is a complex one, but city attorney Jim Elliott says as long as the Council changes the city's charter before the administrator ordinance goes into effect in December of this year, it will be legal and within their authority.

The newly passed ordinance says the administrator would become chief administrative officer and answer to mayor and council.

The administrator would take some responsibilities away from the mayor's office, including financial updates, spending, purchasing, enforcement of laws and ordinances and some personnel duties.

Elliott says for the administrator to answer to mayor and council instead of just the mayor, they first have to amend the original city charter.

“You amend the charter to say acting as a body they hold the administrative powers, and they as a body have hired this person to carry out those powers on their behalf,” Elliott said.

Elliott says it is legal for elected officials to transfer existing powers, including administrative, among themselves.               

He says the state of Georgia General Assembly would have to approve a charter change only if they took executive powers from the mayor or council and gave them to a non-elected official. For example, if Council tried to give the administrator hiring and firing power over department heads, Elliott says that would need state approval.

Mayor Randy Toms says he is not against an administrator, but he or she should not answer to both the mayor and council.

“You can't function that way, you can't actually do your best job if your answering to all seven people,” Toms said in his office Tuesday.

Toms also says he thinks Council acted too quickly to approve the position and did not get enough input from the public.

And he says even if the position does not legally change the system of government in Warner Robins, it should still get state approval since the change would transfer administrative duties to someone else.

“I think overwhelmingly, what I've heard from every attorney I've spoken to on the matter, is that there is just not a whole lot of case law on this, so I think in a lot of ways it's uncharted territory,” Toms said.

Elliott pointed to two Georgia Supreme Court cases that he says provide case law that says transferring powers among already elected officials does not require state approval.

No matter what, Toms says the mayor’s position should stay full-time.

The ordinance did not specify a salary for the new position. Elliott says he has not been asked to start writing amendments for the charter at this time.

Elliott says if the Council does not approve amendments to the charter to share administrative responsibilities amongst all 7 elected officials by the end of the year, the ordinance passed last night cannot go into effect in December.

Toms said he would be fine with an administrator that helped update elected officials on ongoing projects, provided financial reports, and overlooked some departments, but not the fire and police departments.

© 2017 WMAZ-TV


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