Another dispute in Gordon has made its way to the Georgia Supreme Court.
This time, the high court will hear arguments over which of two men is the lawful city attorney.
One of them held the job for more than 35 years. Another one supported Gordon’s controversial mayor, according to a summary of the case.
The Gordon city charter says the government’s authority “shall be vested in a city council to be composed of a mayor and six council members.” The mayor has the power to “appoint and remove, for cause,” all officers, department heads, and employees of the city “with confirmation of appointment or removal by the council.”
The charter also says “the affirmative vote of four council members shall be required for the adoption of any ordinance, resolution or motion.” The mayor is permitted to vote in the case of a tie.
At a May 21, 2014, council meeting, Mayor Mary Ann Whipple Lue made a motion to remove Joseph A. Boone, who had served as city attorney for decades. Three council members voted in favor of the motion, two against, and one abstained. The mayor determined she had a vote, and she voted in favor of terminating Boone, bringing the vote to the four affirmative votes required by the charter. Subsequently there was a motion to give the mayor the authority to appoint an interim attorney, and the vote was the same: three in favor, two against, and one abstention.
The mayor again determined she had a vote and cast a yes. The next day, the mayor sent out a letter announcing the appointment of Ronny E. Jones as the new interim city attorney.
In September 2014, Boone sued, filing a petition for a “writ of quo warranto,” which is used to challenge the authority under which a public office is held. Boone argued he was still city attorney because Jones was never confirmed by the city council as required by the city charter, and the mayor did not have the authority to vote because there was no tie.
Jones responded that Boone was no longer city attorney, as he had resigned from that position at the May 21, 2014, council meeting when he was voted out of office.
Jones requested a jury trial. After a hearing, the trial judge ruled in favor of Boone, finding that Jones “is not the appropriately appointed city attorney of Gordon, Georgia.” The judge ruled that the question of whether Jones appropriately holds the appointment of city attorney “is a question of law and, therefore, a jury trial is not required under the laws of the state of Georgia.”
The judge also ruled: “It is the finding of this court that the city attorney serves at the pleasure of the city council and the mayor’s vote was used inappropriately and was not valid under the code of the city of Gordon.”
Jones appealed to the state Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear the case Monday.
Jones contends that Boone did not have the authority to file a “quo warranto” proceeding. Under state law, only a person claiming the office at issue or who has interest in it has standing.
Such a petition can be brought by a resident to challenge a public official’s qualifications to hold office. But Boone argued only that he was the proper city attorney, yet as Jones responded, Boone resigned from that position. Boone offered no other ground for pursuing the writ and his case should be dismissed, Jones argues.
The trial court also erred, Jones argues, in denying his request for a jury trial.
Boone’s attorney argues the trial court made the right decision. Based on the city charter, Jones “has failed to cite any authority under the charter that the votes taken were lawful or to show how (Jones) could legally act as the city attorney when his initial appointment has of this date still not been confirmed by four affirmative votes of the council as required by the charter.”
While Jones claims Boone resigned, “his claim is unsupported” by the record or transcript, Boone says. The trial court correctly ruled that Boone had standing to bring his lawsuit, and the court correctly interpreted the city charter in concluding that Jones “was never legally confirmed as city attorney by four affirmative votes,” the attorney contends. He says the invalid votes by the mayor to remove Boone as city attorney contributed to her suspension by a judge.
The mayor’s suspension has since been lifted, but the court’s order prohibits her from voting illegally and further prohibits her from terminating any employees, including Boone, without court approval.
The mayor’s appeal in that case is pending before the high court.