Push to lessen mayor's furlough power fails Macon council

A push to make sure Macon Mayor Robert Reichert can’t lay off or furlough employees without approval from the City Council went down in defeat Tuesday evening.

The vote was 6-9, a wide margin considering proponents would have needed at least 10 votes to fend off Reichert’s promised veto.

“I think this is a defining moment for (my administration),” the mayor, who has been seeking a return of separate mayoral powers stripped during the previous administration, said shortly before the council’s vote.

The layoff/furlough measure was cast as an attempt to clear up a vague reference in the city’s reduction-in-force rules. But it quickly became part of an argument over separation of powers at City Hall — an argument that predates Reichert and many council members.

With Reichert seeking furloughs this summer during budget negotiations, and a department-by-department review underway to “right size” city government, Tuesday’s vote could also be crucial for employees hoping the council will shield them if the administration looks to save money through job cuts.

That report, city Chief Administrative Officer Thomas Thomas said Tuesday, should be ready in two or three weeks. It is not known how many, if any, positions that report will propose cutting.

City Attorney Pope Langstaff has said it’s not clear who has the power to lay off employees or to order furloughs, though he believes the mayor can implement them on a temporary basis. But the City Charter gives the council the power to sign off on the city’s organizational chart, and power over appropriations.

That, plus a vague reference in another part of the city code, has led to debate. Reichert says the power to layoff or furlough is clearly his. Councilman Rick Hutto proposed an ordinance clearly requiring council sign-off before any furloughs or layoffs, a move he said was only meant to clear up the vagueness Langstaff pointed out.

Lobbying on the issue was apparently intense. Hutto said he was surprised some council members didn’t have to wear slings to Tuesday’s meeting because of all the “arm twisting.”

Reichert has been pushing for the return of other mayoral powers, including the power to transfer money within departments without council approval, that were removed under former Mayor Jack Ellis’ administration. Tuesday’s resolution would have gone “the opposite direction,” Reichert said.

Council members Hutto, Lonnie Miley, Elaine Lucas, James Timley, Mike Cranford and Tom Ellington voted for the resolution Tuesday. Council members Ed DeFore, Larry Schlesinger, Miriam Paris, Alveno Ross, Charles Jones, Virgil Watkins, Lauren Benedict, Nancy White and Erick Erickson voted against, siding with the mayor.

Though it didn’t change city regulations, the vote may bring some clarity to the issue, Ellington said, since a majority of council presumably feels like the mayor holds the power to implement layoffs and furloughs.

“There is a legislative record now that didn’t exist before,” he said.