Hoschton's city government could be dramatically reconfigured if preliminary discussions by the city council move forward.

The Hoschton City Council held its first working meeting on Nov. 25 to discuss changing the town's governing charter. The biggest change being discussed by the council would be to change the town's governance from a "strong mayor" system to a city manager government. Under that system, a hired city manager would run the city on a day-to-day basis rather than the mayor.

But any change to the town's charter would have to be approved by the Georgia Legislature during its 40-day winter session. That requires the council to quickly agree on a slew of proposed charter changes so that a final version could be submitted by mid-January.

General agreement: While no votes have been taken by the council on changing the charter, council members appeared to be in general agreement with the idea of moving the city toward a city manager government.

"We're not a small city any more," said Mayor Theresa Kenerly. "But we're certainly not a large one, so we're kinda mediocre, but when we do this, we need not look at today, but looking a little bit into the future."

Kenerly encouraged council members to study the proposed charter changes deeply before they meet to discuss the issue again in December.

"This is a major change," she said of the proposed move to a manager government. "I'm not saying I'm against it or for it or anything like that, I want to know how you guys feel, but this is a major change. You are putting a lot of the city into a person's hands who was not elected (with a manager government.)"

Kenerly said that if the city moves forward with a manager form of government, that person should have previous experience in government management.

"I certainly didn't go to school to be a mayor, or anything like this," Kenerly said, praising city administrator Dale Hall for fixing a number of issues in the city's government. "You really need to hire someone (as manager) who knows what they're doing, who went to school for this."

Mayor pro tem Jim Cleveland also voiced support for the change.

"It makes a lot of sense to go to a city manager form of government, but like Dale said, you've got to have the right one and you've got to turn it over and let them run it," he said.

Council member Hope Weeks said city policies from the council would be important.

"You have to let the policies dictate how things go," she said. "If you have good policies in place and a good person in place."

Devil in the details: While there was general agreement with professionalizing the city's government, there was some debate over proposed details.

Under a draft city charter the council reviewed Nov. 25, the new city manager would be responsible for all hiring in the city with the exception of the city attorney, who would continue to be hired by the full council.

But  council member Shantwon Astin said he wanted the council to also hire the city clerk and city treasurer, something Hall and Weeks opposed.

"We talked about that," Weeks replied. "We originally put in there that they would be council-appointed positions, but that sorta undermines the city manager because they would feel like they had to report to us (the council.)"

Astin said the clerk should report to the manager even if the council hires them. But Weeks said that still wouldn't work.

"If you have the power to hire and fire that position, they're going to want to talk to you."

Hall said the position could be recommended by a city manager, but hired by the council.

Districting also a major issue: Another major issue the council will have to resolve is whether or not to have city council members elected by district or wards in the future.

Kenerly said that Rep. Tommy Benton, who would be responsible for carrying the legislation in the state House, had in the past pushed the town to move toward a district-based election system. But she said the town has been so small, elections by district didn't make sense.

Hall pointed out that the problem in the future would be that the large Kolter development (Crosswind) would eventually triple the town's population and that one subdivision would then control the council.

Kenerly pointed out that a similar situation had already happened in nearby Braselton where four of five council members live in the Chateau Elan development.

Hall said he didn't support creating council districts "at this time" because of the distortion the districts would assume.

Kenerly wasn't supportive of districts either, but suggested Benton had pushed the city to go to a district system the last time the charter was updated.

"He said the Legislature wanted us to do this," she said, suggesting that he would again push for the city to create districts. Kenerly said that the last time the issue came up, she gave Benton a map showing that most council members had come from one area of town and that in some areas, nobody ever runs for a council seat. She said that situation makes creating districts impossible since you can't make people run for office.

"Tell'um to put it in writing," Astin said.

"Well, it's not just him, honey, it's all the legislature," Kenerly replied.

"I just said that, and the legislature can put it in writing," Astin said. "If we don't have the people to do it, it can't be done."

Timing a problem: One of the overall questions the council is facing with a proposed charter overhaul is whether or not there's enough time to work through the details by the middle of January.

"That's going to be a tough deadline to meet," Hall said.

First, the council has to unanimously agree on a final draft and that has to be reviewed by the city attorney. Astin suggested that it also be reviewed by someone from the outside as well. In addition, the final version has to have the support of both Rep. Benton and Sen. Frank Ginn.

Once a proposed charter is drafted, state law mandates that a synopsis of the changes be advertised in the newspaper for three weeks before final adoption. The council also has to hold two consecutive meetings no less than seven days apart before final adoption.

Only after that could it go to Benton for a legislative legal review before finally being introduced in the General Assembly.

The upcoming holidays could make that difficult. In addition, council member Cleveland said he will be having surgery in the coming weeks, a situation that could leave the council short of a quorum.

And in the background of the discussion is a recall election of Kenerly and Cleveland to be held sometime in early 2020.


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