ATLANTA -- For the second time this year, the city of Gordon is asking the state Supreme Court to help figure out who runs the town of about 2,000 people.
This time, two sides are wrangling over the city attorney job: the new guy or the incumbent.
Ronny E. Jones told the state Supreme Court on Monday that a lower court made mistakes when it failed to recognize his appointment by Mayor Mary Ann Whipple-Lue as Gordon’s new city attorney as of May 22, 2014.
“The appellant was properly appointed to the position of city attorney,” Jones said, referring to himself and representing himself in the high court.
Jones said the lower court should have at least granted him a jury trial, not a bench ruling. And besides that, Jones argued that the man who brought the complaint, Joseph Boone, had no standing to do it.
But Boone -- the city attorney before Jones’ appointment -- does have the right to bring a case, said James Green, the attorney representing Boone.
“There’s no reason for (Boone) not to be the city attorney because he never resigned his position,” Green said.
The fight started on May 21, 2014.
A motion came before the Gordon City Council to terminate Boone. Three council members voted to fire him, two voted to keep him and one abstained. It takes four votes to fire someone in Gordon city government.
Whipple-Lue interpreted the abstention as a “no” vote, then drew on her power to cast tie-breaking votes. She cast the fourth ballot to fire Boone.
Subsequently, a motion came up to give the mayor the right to appoint an interim city attorney. The voting went exactly the same way.
“This gave the motion four affirmative votes, and it passed,” Jones told the court.
He cited a precedent case in Augusta that he said proves an abstention can count as a “no” vote.
In September, Boone asked the area Superior Court circuit what it thinks of the way Jones came to claim the job, via Whipple-Lue’s appointment the day after the key City Council meeting.
The court was skeptical of the actions within Gordon City Hall.
“The Court finds that the power exercised by the mayor to appoint ... Ronny E. Jones as city attorney was not within the mayor’s powers under the city charter,” wrote Judge E. Trenton Brown of the Superior Court of Jasper County, which is in the same circuit as Wilkinson County.
But Brown made mistakes coming to that ruling, Jones said. That’s why he appealed to the high court and asked justices to reverse the lower court ruling, he said.
The ruling is due in the coming months.
But one thing that’s not under dispute is that Boone continues to do the city’s legal work without a paycheck.
“Payment’s been a little slow coming,” said Green. “But Mr. Boone’s maintained the files for 35 years. ... He can’t just dump them. He’s got an ethical obligation to continue see the city’s business is done.”
Jones said he is not receiving a city paycheck either, but has not done any legal work for the city. Questions of payment are “in limbo,” he said, until the case is settled.
At the root of Gordon’s legal sagas are difficulties with the charter. For one, there’s always a risk of troublesome tie votes when a city council has an even number of members like Gordon’s six.
And the charter talks about the mayor’s role in making a council quorum in such an ambiguous way that it’s already come up in the January 2014 Gordon case before the high court.
In that case, Whipple-Lue says a Wilkinson County judge erred when he briefly suspended her from office, then restored her to the post with qualifications. Plaintiffs in that case said she violated state open meetings law by meeting with three City Council members privately, creating a quorum that might illegally settle public business in private.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on her suspension is expected in the coming months, though it will not settle the question of what constitutes a quorum in Gordon.
What might have a better chance is a review of the city rules requested by state Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon. At his request, the Middle Georgia Regional Commission is looking at Gordon’s rules and comparing them to a model set of rules, with an eye to recommending changes.
The state Legislature must ratify any changes to Gordon’s charter.