By Valerie Baldowski
The City of Stockbridge officially rescinded a newly passed resolution to raise its hotel-motel tax to 8 percent. During Monday's meeting, the city council unanimously voted to rescind the resolution, which it had approved during its April 12 meeting.
Approval of the [firstl] resolution was an error, Stockbridge Mayor Lee Stuart told council members. "That's the reason why this resolution, even though we passed it, is really not correct," he said.
At the heart of the ciy council's opposing votes is an apparent misunderstandng between county and city leaders over the hotel-motel tax issue. "It was a misunderstanding," Stuart said after Monday's meeting.
He said Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis contacted a city council member, Fred Evans, in April, to ask Evans to sponsor a resolution supporting the county's intent to raise the hotel-motel tax rate in unincorporated Henry County. Stuart said that when Mathis did not get an immediate answer, she contacted another city councilmember, Kathy Gilbert, with her request. Gilbert said she passed the request to Merle Manders, who was the Stockbridge city clerk at the time.
Mathis said on Tuesday, however, that the county was simply sharing information with Stockbridge. "I shared with two Stockbridge council members the county's plan to send a resolution to our [legislative] delegation pertaining to the hote-motel tax, and the ways we planned to use ours," she said.
"It was the same information I shared with McDonough. My purpose in sharing was to help the cities find ways to address a problem with interchanges not being maintained, due to GDOT budget shortfalls. I don't know about the rest of it. I was offering information I thought was helpful. We didn't need a resolution of support. We can do it without any of the cities following suit."
Stockbridge Councilmember Gilbert said that after she was contacted by Mathis, she was waiting for a response from another councilmember. "All we wanted to do was have a copy of the county resolution in order to mirror what they wanted to do," said Gilbert. "Merle was going to write the resolution exactly like the county's [resolution]. " B.J. spoke to me about it and to Fred, at one point, then, I never heard anything more from Fred."
Councilmember Fred Evans said he was contacted by Mathis, but didn't take any action on the matter.
"I never did approach the city council with it [resolution]. I had intended to," said Evans. "When I heard from Mrs. Mathis, we had a council meeting a couple of weeks later, and that's when it came up. To be honest, it simply slipped my mind."
Mayor Stuart said there was also some confusion surrounding the proper procedure for submitting the resolution. "BJ wanted us to support it, fine," said Stuart. "... Merle [Manders], who was city clerk at that time, Kathy told her what we wanted, Merle drafted it up," Stuart said. "[She] didn't consult Buddy [Welch, city attorney] and them. It was that we are passing a resolution to raise our hotel-motel tax," continued Stuart. "It just now became clear to me this last week what had happened. That's not what we [should have been ] asking," he said.
Stuart indicated that the council should have been asked for a resolution supporting Henry County on the hotel-motel tax matter. "That's the reason why we rescinded that," he said.
Manders, however, who has since retired as Stockbridge's city clerk, said Tuesday that Stuart did not reveal the full story of what happened. "He's trying to put the blame on me," said Manders. "I know my job, I know what I am supposed to do with resolutions.
"He's not telling the truth," she said. "It went round and round, and it came to me. I was told to call BJ's office and get a copy of their resolution of the hotel-motel tax. I was instructed to do this.
"When it came in, I was told to change the resolution and put 'City of Stockbridge' everywhere it said 'Henry County.' That's what I did," she said.
Manders said the normal procedure for drafting a resolution was not followed in this case. "When the city adopts a county resolution, or is supporting a resolution, the city attorney drafts a separate resolution adopting the resolution," she added. "This was not done, because I had retired, I guess it fell through the cracks after I left."Manders said she retired as city clerk April 9, before the April city council meeting.
Stockbridge City Attorney Buddy Welch said the city missed the deadline for submitting the resolution.
"The city clerk prepared a resolution requesting that the legislative delegation also introduce legislation to increase the City of Stockbridge's hotel-motel tax," Welch said Tuesday. "The resolution was adopted by the mayor and council. After the adoption of the resolution, we reviewed the resolution and issued the legal opinion that the proposed legislation had not been properly prepared, and that the time for submitting local legislation had passed."
Even so, passage of the resolution did not put the city in any legal danger, he said. "The current hotel-motel tax of 5 percent remains in full force and effect," added Welch. "The city has not been put in any legal jeopardy as a result of the adoption of the resolution, and there is no potential litigation concerning the resolution."
Stuart said if the city wants to amend its hotel-motel tax rate in the future, proper documents must be prepared next year when the general assembly is in session. "It takes more work than that," said Stuart. "We've got to run a referendum, and it's got to be state-legislated to do so. It [the resolution] was illegal and erroneous."
Rep. Steve Davis (R-McDonough), chairman of the Henry County Legislative Delegation, said Tuesday that, in order for any such resolution to become legal, it must be forwarded to legislators. "To raise it, it is a piece of legislation we would have to pass in the House," he said. Davis said he did not receive the resolution from the city for review.
No legal problems would have occurred as a result of the resolution, unless the city tried to raise the hotel-motel tax without accompanying legislation to back it up, he said.