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HB1460 at the center of McCorkle suit
Bill changed Statesboro from strong mayor to city manager government
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        It’s a case of hurry up and wait for Anthony Mann. The Statesboro citizen filed a claim June 16 against the city, arguing that the city’s charter does not give the council authority to hire and fire employees.
        Mann decided to file a complaint for declaratory judgment with the Superior Court of Bulloch County after learning that the council reinstated former city clerk Judy McCorkle June 2. He said he filed the complaint because House Bill 1460, passed by the Georgia state legislature and signed by the governor in 2000, amends the city charter. It clearly states that Statesboro has a city manager form of government and that the mayor and council do not have the authority to make personnel decisions. City manager Shane Haynes fired McCorkle in September 2008.
        “We amended our city government to be a true city manager form of city governance,” Mann said. “The city manager (manages) the city employees and they are responsible to him and (the manager) is responsible to the mayor and council who are policy makers. That’s the way a city manager form of government works because our mayor and council members are all part timers.”
Bulloch Superior Court Judge William Woodrum signed Mann’s order and set an Aug. 24 date to hear arguments.
        The City of Statesboro, the mayor and all five council members are named as defendants in the suit. They are represented by city attorney Sam Brannen and Pat O’Connor, an attorney retained by the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency – the city’s insurance carrier – to represent the city. Brannen said he and the other attorneys weren’t ready to respond to Mann’s suit at this time.
     “We haven’t answered the suit. We will be answering it. We’ll file a responsive plea at the appropriate time,” Brannen said. “We’ll respond to the petition as filed, but I’m not prepared at this time to try to tell you what we’re going to use in replying to suit as it’s filed. We haven’t even filed an answer yet.”
Much like the complaint for declaratory judgment spells out the position of the plaintiff (Mann), the answer – or responsive plea – would spell out the position of the defendants (Statesboro, the mayor and council).
        At the heart of the matter is two conflicting sections of the city charter, which were added only five years apart.
        In Section 3-2 (a), the charter states: “The appointment, suspension, or removal of a city manager, any department head, the city clerk, the city engineer, city attorney, and city auditor shall be made directly by the mayor and city council, which shall establish a procedure for recruitment and review of candidates for open positions.” This section was added in 1995 and amended in 1999.
        For some like Mann, Section 3-6 (d) directly conflicts with Section 3-2. “All department heads and superintendents under the supervision of the city manager shall be appointed by the city manager. The city manager may suspend or remove any employee under his or her supervision in accordance with personnel policy or resolution.” This section was added in 2000 by House Bill 1460.
        Also, Section 8 in HB 1460 states, “All laws and parts of laws in conflict with this Act are repealed.” According to Mann’s attorney Robert Guy, that statement repeals Section 3-2 and puts the authority for hiring and firing squarely on the shoulders of the city manager.
        “(Section 3-2) is repealed by operation of law. Basically, the city of Statesboro through their local elected officials decided to change the way the government was managed with that 2000 amendment,” Guy said. “That charter was change to create a city manager type system, where you have a professional who runs the day-to-day business of the city and you have a council that hires and fires the city manager but, more importantly, they set the policy. The city manager then implements those policies.”
        Mayor Bill Hatcher said that, in accordance with the legal advice he has received, he feels the council still retains the authority to direct the city manager to hire and fire department heads.
        “The way I believe it is put together is that it’s done in consultation – advise and consent,” Hatcher said. “We are confident that the mayor and city council do have the authority to hire (department heads). We would not have (reinstated McCorkle) if we hadn’t thought that.”
        Councilman Will Britt believes the council overstepped its authority when reinstating McCorkle and supports the action taken by Mann. He said he hopes a hearing will determine definitively what form of government under which the city of Statesboro operates.
        “One of the very first things I said…during the Judy McCorkle’s reinstatement, is that I don’t think we should be hiring and firing. And I still believe that,” Britt said. “Apparently, a judge believes there is some merit to that argument.
        Regardless of how the situation with McCorkle pans out, Mann said he wants to clear up any confusion about who has the authority to hire and fire city personnel.
“I cannot have a city where the mayor and councilmen do not know what form of governance they have. There’s nothing to keep them from doing it again if they’re not made to understand, or to inform themselves, of what form of government runs our city,” Mann said. “I just don’t want this to happen again. I want them to run the city according to law, not just how they feel that day.”

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