WARNER ROBINS -- A planned routine contract renewal erupted into a shouting match between the mayor and City Council members and left the city without an attorney.
Veteran City Attorney Jim Elliott’s contract renewal was voted down by a 4-2 vote Monday night during the first council meeting of the year, then voted down again after Mayor Chuck Shaheen called on the council to reconsider its first vote.
Elliott, who has worked with the city on legal matters for more than two decades, was tearful during the proceedings. He declined to comment after the meeting.
Councilmen Mike Daley, Daron Lee, Paul Shealy and Bob Wilbanks voted both times not to extend Elliott’s contract, with Councilmen Tom Simms and John Williams voting to extend the contract.
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Shealy indicated the councilmen voting against the renewal felt Elliott was taking sides with the mayor’s office rather than being impartial in city matters.
“I consider Jim Elliott a friend of mine, but you cannot base these things on friendship. We need a city attorney that will go with us to court for the best interests of the entire city. Not one that will only represent a narrow interest,” Shealy said. “He’s clearly representing mostly what the mayor wants him to.”
Shaheen said Elliott had given the city “outstanding advice, beyond what we pay him for, for all these years. I don’t agree with him all the time.” Shaheen said he had no idea what the city would do Tuesday to fill Elliott’s job or take on pending legal matters, such as property negotiations on the planned Warner Robins Law Enforcement Complex and various lawsuits in the court system.
“This is an embarrassment. This council does not understand Mr. Elliott is right in the middle of negotiations with” city business, Shaheen said. “This always comes down to the same gang of four: Daley, Shealy, Wilbanks and Lee. And this is plainly an outrage.”
Wilbanks said Shaheen “always screams foul when he doesn’t get his way or things do not go his way, but we have city business to do. This doesn’t always come out like we want.”
Wilbanks would not comment when asked if he had been consulted or lobbied about the contract renewal in the days leading up to Monday’s meeting.
The move brought outraged comments from some of the more than 50 audience members gathered for the first council meeting of 2011.
Henrietta McIntyre, former councilwoman and acting mayor, said the vote was extremely ill-advised and added, “I have lost all respect for anyone voting for this.
“He’s in a spot. Councilman wants to pull him one way and the mayor wants to pull him another. He’s in the middle, but gives good advice. That’s his job.”
Simms praised Elliott’s years and said, “I’m completely floored by this. I had no idea this was coming. Clearly, some council members did, worked on it before our meeting, but I was not consulted, and I am very much against it.
“We need a city attorney who will work in our best interests, and give us the right advice the first time. We do not need one that will tell us what we want to hear.”
Wilbanks said the council would have to take time to find a replacement, and that he did not know how long that would take.
Council members also voted down a proposed ordinance the would limit the number of liquor store permits in the city. After a short discussion, the council voted 4-2 against the ordinance. Councilmen Shealy and Simms voted to approve.
The council discussed the proposed ordinance for more than a month, with it going through several revisions during regular council meetings.
Also during Monday’s meeting, Lee was elected mayor pro-tem for 2011. Wilbanks was mayor pro-tem in 2010.
To contact writer Shelby G. Spires, call 744-4494.