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Stockbridge mayor sues city over veto powers

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

A conflict between Stockbridge Mayor Lee Stuart, and the Stockbridge City Council, may soon end up in a courtroom.

According to Stockbridge City Attorney Buddy Welch, Stuart has filed a lawsuit challenging a section of the city's charter that determines how many council members are needed to override mayoral vetoes of proposed ordinances.

"The mayor contends his veto cannot be overridden, unless all five council members are present, and all five council members approve the override of the veto," said Welch. "The charter says that to approve any ordinance, resolution, or motion, it requires a minimum of three council persons voting in favor of it."

The dispute is expected to be heard in Henry County Superior Court, by Judge Arch McGarity, but no court date has been set, according to Stuart's attorney, Greg Hecht.

Since April, Stuart has generated some discord with the use of his veto power to try to stop several council-backed ordinances. On April 16, he vetoed a number of line items within a budget ordinance presented to him by the city council, said Hecht.

One budget item provided $178,337 for "site improvements." The "site improvements" category defines the amount of money to be set aside to improve, or acquire, city property, said Welch. Stuart vetoed the amount, which was later reduced to $50,000, Welch said. The mayor then vetoed the $50,000 amount as well, and the council overrode the action, Welch added.

Another line item set aside $500,000 to build a pedestrian tunnel, linking Clark Community Park and Gardner Park, in Stockbridge, the city attorney added. The mayor vetoed it, and the council overrode his action.

Another Stuart veto was of a proposed appropriation of $30,000 to purchase an executive vehicle for the mayor to drive. The city council later upheld the veto, said Welch.

"I believe that the mayor thought that, at this point in time, those expenditures of tax dollars were not in the best interest of the city. However, some of the other council members thought they were. That was a difference of opinion," said Hecht.

One of the ordinances the mayor vetoed was a proposal to set the city's 2010 budget. It stipulated that an annual budget, and appropriation ordinance, should be adopted prior to the first day of the fiscal 2010 budget year. The council overrode the veto.

Another ordinance would have authorized the mayor, each city council member, and each department head, as well as the city clerk, deputy city clerk, city treasurer, city finance director, city manager, assistant city manager, code enforcement officer, municipal court chief judge, municipal court associate judge, city solicitor, associate city solicitor, city engineer, city surveyor, city auditor, and city human resources director, to contact the city attorney on legal matters, without prior approval of the mayor. The mayor vetoed the action, and the council overrode him.

Another ordinance established procedures for meetings of council committees. The procedures included establishing a meeting calendar, appointing committee members, and requiring the committee members to convene within 30 days of their appointment. The mayor vetoed the measure; the council overrode the veto.

Council members enacted the affected ordinances at their meeting on April 16. The mayor vetoed the ones indicated. Then, on May 10, the council overrode his vetoes by a 3-1 vote, the two attorneys confirmed. Councilman Mark Alarcon was the only council member siding with Mayor Stuart.

The mayor later attempted to veto some of the council members' overrides, said Welch.

Hecht said Stuart filed the lawsuit to establish fiscal responsibility in the City of Stockbridge. The mayor is acting in what he believes is the best interest of the taxpayers, said Hecht.

Welch said he will present his evidence in court in time for the judge to review the documents. "We're going to move quickly to get all the issues before the judge," he said. Hecht said he hopes McGarity will clearly define what is allowed, and what is prohibited.