Dalton City Council to look at revising city's charter

Steve Farrow

Dalton City Administrator Andrew Parker recently asked department heads to review the city charter to see if they saw anything that needed to be updated. That review spotted one big omission.

"There's no mention of the Parks and Recreation Department anywhere in the charter," Parker told members of the City Council during a work session Monday.

Parker said preliminary research indicates the recreation department and the recreation commission were created in the 1950s by a referendum.

"The recreation commission was originally a taxing authority," Parker said.

Dalton voters abolished the property tax that funded recreation in a 2008 referendum, and it is now funded by the city's general fund.

At the work session, council members directed Parker and City Attorney Terry Miller to go over the charter with a focus toward a complete overhaul. In particular, they were asked to clarify the role of the city's various commissions — such as the recreation commission and the Public Safety Commission — and to look at the possibility of switching to a city manager form of government from a city administrator form of government.

City Council members have discussed switching to a city manager a number of times during the last 20 years but those discussions never resulted in a major push for change.

While there is no strict distinction between the two, city managers typically have the power to hire and fire department heads while city administrators do not.

"A city administrator is similar to a weak mayor system (which Dalton has)," said Mayor David Pennington. "You really don't have much power and have to convince others to go along with what you want to do."

Council member Gary Crews said he isn't looking to abolish any city commissions.

"I think it's more about clarifying their role," he said. "Are they advisory commissions or will they have any real power? What's going to be the chain of command? I think this will improve communication between the city and these commissions and between the city and its citizens, creating a well-oiled machine for years to come."

Parker said the City Council has made a number of piecemeal changes to the charter over the years, such as changing the number of council members required for a quorum to three from four and allowing the mayor pro tem to vote when that person is presiding over a meeting. But he said it isn't clear when the city last did a complete overhaul of its charter.

"We are still doing our research, but it looks like it was some time in the 1950s," he said. "We see a lot of references in the charter to that era."

Miller said he is still doing research but he expects any substantive change, particularly a switch to a city manager from a city administrator, would require approval from the Georgia Legislature.

Some council members expressed hope they might have a proposal ready to submit to the legislature by the time it convenes in January. But council member-elect Steve Farrow, who defeated Crews earlier this month, expressed concern.

"I was the city attorney for a city that did a complete overhaul of its charter, and that timetable strikes me as very ambitious," he said. "I've also been city attorney for this city, and it has a charter that has worked pretty well, so I don't see a need to rush."

After the work session, Farrow said he was city attorney of Fort Oglethorpe when it overhauled its charter several years ago.

"That took about a year," he said. "They had several public hearings before it was adopted."

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