Warner Robins is deep in its budget season.
Elected officials are scheduled to vote on -- and will likely pass -- next year's nearly $110 million budget on Monday.
However, a Facebook post this week alleges elected officials were supposed to hold four public budget hearings in the city's electoral districts no later than 90 days before July 1, but didn't.
Is that true? Did city officials violate their own ordinance? We set out to verify.
It turns out, the answer wasn't hard to find.
Passed in 2018, section 2-113 of the Warner Robins city code says "additional hearings on the budget shall be held in each of the four (4) council districts no later than 90 days prior to the start of the fiscal year."
That means besides last week's public budget hearing in the council chambers, there should have been four more throughout the city.
We asked City Attorney Jim Elliott if that happened.
"It didn't happen this year and I don't believe it happened last year either," said Elliott.
He says unlike many ordinances, this one is pretty cut and dried. The word "shall" is a powerful one in legalese, and by using it, Elliott says the code doesn't leave much wiggle room.
"That's very simply mandatory," he said.
We asked him if that code was violated.
"I guess the answer to that would be 'yes,' because it says the meetings shall be held and they were not held," said Elliott.
So we can verify, city code was violated and those hearings never happened
The question then becomes, 'What happens next?'
According to three council members and Mayor Randy Toms, it won't affect Monday's budget vote.
"I don't think so, I think we'll pass the budget Monday night," said Toms.
As for consequences, multiple council members, including Tim Thomas, said they don't expect any.
"It is a work in progress -- there's things you have to tweak in ordinances so no there will be nobody reprimanded for that," said Thomas.
Elected officials made a rule to better engage citizens. They didn't follow the rule. The budget will be voted on Monday night. There are no consequences.
Elliott said that pretty much summed up the situation.
"I wouldn't disagree with that," he said. "I think it's always important when you're going to impose some additional requirements locally that you comply with them. I mean that gives credibility to the whole code of ordinances."
Elliott added there is some recourse available to citizens who might be upset about this.
According to him, they could file what's called a writ of mandamus -- a legal motion to compel a lawmaker to hold the hearings.
They likely also could file an ethics complaint through the city's newly-passed 'city of ethics' ordinance.
There was also some debate over who's responsible for this. Elliott said the ordinance isn't specific on who is supposed to organize these additional hearings.
Councilman Thomas said he was aware of the ordinance but couldn't hold a hearing because the Mayor didn't give him the budget in time.
Councilman Clifford Holmes said the hearing ordinance slipped his mind.
He promised to hold them next year and acknowledged he thought it was unfair not to hold them this year.
"It's never fair to pass some kind of ruling and don't carry it out in some form of fashion," he said over the phone.
The mayor said council could have held hearings without the budget, using them as a sort of fact-finding town hall to hear what citizens want to see in the budget.
And Toms says he believes the failure to hold hearings was an unintentional oversight.
"I don't think it was a nefarious situation," he said. "I don't think there was any ill-intent by any member of mayor and council."
When asked why city officials would pass an ordinance and not enforce it, he said "I don't have a real good answer for that."