Warner Robins mayor favors veto power

chwright@macon.comMay 21, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- A mayor without veto power is not really a “strong mayor,” Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen said after council reviewed the city’s form of government Monday.

That’s why he favors a charter change that would give the mayor veto powers and fit Warner Robins snugly into its selected form of government.

“The council’s not going to go for it,” Shaheen said. “I know they’re not because it’ll take power out of their hands.”

The topic was discussed during council’s daylong retreat held at The Farmhouse, which also included presentations about economic development and the proposed transportation special purpose local option sales tax.

Council members agreed they would not make any snap decisions regarding changing the charter and form of government.

Councilmen Mike Davis, Mike Daley and Daron Lee, who presented the item at the request of the mayor, seemed a bit wary.

“I’m traditional,” Davis said. “Warner Robins has survived 70 years with the way it is.”

Shaheen responded: “No, it hasn’t.”

Warner Robins functions mostly as a strong-mayor form of government, with the mayor running day-to-day operations and in charge of developing the city budget. However, the city charter does not give the mayor veto power or limit the number of terms a mayor can serve, which are typical aspects of a strong-mayor form of government.

If the mayor were given veto power, he could return any council-approved measure for another vote. No proposed term limits were discussed, but Shaheen mentioned the president of the U.S. is limited to two terms.

Members of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, a government research group at the University of Georgia, explained during the February City Council retreat that most local Georgia governments are hybrids. They also said there were only a handful of the more than 500 Georgia local governments that have a strong-mayor government.

Shaheen said Monday the presenters pointed out Warner Robins is the only form of strong-mayor government that does not give veto power or limit terms. He said he doesn’t remember them saying most governments are hybrid.

“This is 21st Century government,” Shaheen said, reiterating what has become his slogan over the last year or so. “Our city charter hasn’t been updated since 1943.”

Daley agreed with Davis in saying the city has operated fine for nearly 70 years under the current structure. He said mayor and council have historically worked as a team, and he wouldn’t want the mayor separated exclusively into an executive branch.

Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins said council should take its time before making any changes.

“It’s been this way for so long,” Robbins said. “It needs to sink in, and we need to make sure that we’re doing properly what we need to do. ... As big as we are, a city manager form of government might work. I don’t know.”

The Georgia General Assembly must approve any alterations to the city’s form of government -- and incidentally, the city charter. The legislators could either make the changes themselves or ask for the residents to vote.

Shaheen told council he would not be interested in the latter.

Also at Monday’s retreat, council heard from several speakers, including Angie Gheesling, the new director of the Houston County Development Authority, representatives from the Middle Georgia Regional Commission and Rufus Montgomery, a lobbyist for Bibb County schools and a couple other Georgia government entities.

Shaheen said he wanted Montgomery to explain to council the benefit of having someone in Atlanta who knows the city’s position and can locate funds.

“Other cities are doing it, and they’re getting money,” Shaheen said. “It takes relief off of the tax digest. ... There is money in pots sitting in Atlanta.”

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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