The newly-formed city of Stonecrest is reviewing proposed changes to the city’s charter that include making the mayor’s position full time, clarifying responsibilities and powers of the position and separating the executive branch from legislative branch.
The changes are among several recommendations the City Council discussed at its Nov. 8 work session, which lasted four hours.
“We’re looking at several things in the charter and making suggestions to forward to the General Assembly,” said Councilman George Turner, noting that the upcoming Legislative Session begins in January. “We’re looking at having a full-time mayor. I believe we need a full-time mayor, based on what has to be done in terms of setting up the city and working on economic development. We know that we cannot operate with a part-time mayor with what we’re facing.”
George Turner is not alone in his belief. Councilmembers Rob Turner and Jimmy Clanton concur.
“When we had our Council retreat three weeks ago to discuss our goals and vision for the city, we said we wanted to create a world-class city. As a group, we said our city deserved to have a full-time mayor,” Clanton said. “I believe that our commitment was prophetic because now we have SPLOST to manage, along with setting up the city. We’re not going to be able to do that with a part-time mayor.”
Clanton also said the mayor’s position should include pay that is commensurate with CEOs who run corporations.
“I don’t think that a mayor running the largest city in DeKalb County with over 50,000 people should be making what you’d pay an administrative assistant. This notion that public servants shouldn’t be compensated for the level of services they are providing is ridiculous,” Clanton said.
Said Councilman Rob Turner: “We’re starting to build a city from scratch and having to be available and accessible for all kinds of meetings. The head of a city has to be available as we put in place the groundwork for our infrastructure. It’s critical that the head is at the table.”
Councilwoman Diane Adoma said, however, she is concerned about changing the mayor’s position to one that is full time—and the $85,000-a-year salary proposed for the job. The current salary for mayor is $20,000 a year. Adoma said she also is not in favor of increasing salaries for City Council members as Mayor Jason Lary has proposed. The salaries for council members would increase from $15,000 a year to $25,000 under a recommendation by the mayor.
“I want what’s best for the city of Stonecrest. As a new city, it is extremely critical to be frugal on the front end, factoring in cushion for uncertainty,” said Adoma. “There are 539 new cities in the state and there are an infinite number of ways to get things done. This is about what is the best way for the city of Stonecrest. There are long-term implications to our decisions. It’s important to understand this is a city of 55,000-plus people who should also play a role in this decision. This fight needs to go to the people. My constituents have told me they want to have input in this decision. They want to feel like it’s their city, too.”
Councilwoman Jazzmin Cobble said she believes there are valid arguments on both sides concerning the proposal to make the mayor’s position full time.
“I understand the position that there is an expectation for elected officials to be available at every beck and call, but do you rectify that by making the position full time? I don’t have the answer for that as of yet. I agree with Diane that we should extend the opportunity to the public for feedback before we finalize any decision, especially those that have implications on the budget,” Cobble said. “I’m still working through the fact that we have a robust staff to run the city and a $16 million contract with CH2M to provide us the best and brightest candidates, so how much oversight from the office of the mayor is truly needed for the day to day functionality of the city?”
Cobble said she has asked constituents to send in feedback, which she plans to bring up at the next work session, scheduled for Nov. 15.
Meanwhile, Mayor Lary said he remains focused on the city’s mission.
“We’re building Stonecrest on community, commerce and culture, working together as a world-class city. We can’t do that with a part-time mayor,” said Lary. “The council members have additional duties that other city council members do not have such as the development of our film market, oversight of planning and zoning, beautification of the entire town, Smart City initiatives and Public Finance, which is why I’m recommending raising their salaries. We are developing a full-fledged police department and by law, we have to take over roads and drains. We are real city now. We have the budget to take care of all of our needs, including salaries.”
All of the council members said they expect to spend a lot of time pouring over the proposed charter changes before voting on any resolution to present to lawmakers by the end of the month.
The proposals also include the creation of a Chief Operating Officer, six city departments, and changing the name of the Lithonia Industrial Park to the Stonecrest Industrial Park.