The Jefferson City Council plans to hold a secret vote when it meets on Jan. 25 to determine who will be the next mayor pro tem on the council.
The move would appear to be in violation of state law, which requires that votes of public agencies be recorded and public. A 2012 state supreme court ruling also upheld the requirement that the votes of public agencies be made public.
Following that ruling, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens released a statement in support of the state's open government standards.
"The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the legislative intent of Georgia’s sunshine laws, which is to protect and promote citizens’ access to their government, not to serve as a shield from accountability,” said Olens. “This ruling sets a strong precedent that government should err on the side of openness.”
Georgia's Open Meetings law states that "All votes at any meeting shall be taken in public."
In the past, the council has voted to rotate the pro tem designation, but a majority of council members want to bypass that this year.
Mayor Jon Howell requested the change to avoid having mayor pro-tem duties — in the event of an extended absence of a mayor — falling on a first-term councilperson.
Howell served as mayor pro-tem during his first term as a councilman, as did councilman Clint Roberts.
“I don’t mean to break tradition, but sometimes there may be a little bit better way to do things,” Howell said.
Roberts agreed, saying he’d rather vote for the best available person. First-term council member Cody Cain also supported the move, as did Mark Mobley.
Only councilman Malcolm Gramley disagreed, favoring the rotating schedule. He said he believed the council could work together to support to a first-term council member to fulfill mayor pro-tem duties.