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City of Porterdale mulls increasing mayoral powers

PORTERDALE - Changes to the city's charter were discussed at a City Council work session Thursday night, including whether the mayor should be granted the power to cast a tie-breaking vote.

Other changes to the charter discussed Thursday included a provision for city employees to be hired under contract and clarification of the method by which members are appointed to city committees. City Manager Tom Fox also presented a policy to clarify the chain of command when he is out of the office for vacation or other extended periods.

Under the current charter, Porterdale's mayor has no voting powers. Councilwoman Linda Finger said she saw no need to grant the mayor a tie-breaking vote.

"This is something that is not broke, so why fix it?" she asked.

Councilman Robert Foxworth, who is the longest-serving member of the council at six years, said he has seen the five-member council deadlock on a vote three to four times. The most recently elected council member, Lowell Chambers, said he has seen the council deadlock once during his approximately seven months in office.

Finger also objected to spending the money that would be required to pay City Attorney Tim Chambers to make the changes to the charter.

"Why are we spending money on something that is not absolutely necessary?" she asked. "I think we need to be really, really watching our money."

City Manager Fox pointed out that the attorney would need to be involved in making other changes to the charter as well as any change in the mayor's powers.

"I don't think you can make a charter change without involving the attorney," said Chambers, adding, "I think we're splitting hairs if we say we'll pay the attorney to write these words, but we won't pay him to write that."

Finger said her opposition to granting the mayor a tie-breaking vote is not directed toward Mayor Bobby Hamby. Finger said she is concerned about the potential for a mayor to abuse the power of the office in the future.

"As far as having a tie-breaking vote, I really don't care if I do or not," said Hamby, "because right now I don't have to be responsible for any of it."

Hamby acknowledged that voting powers were removed from the office of mayor in response to a specific situation when he was a member of the City Council and he supported the change.

"But we went too far, and it needs to go back to the middle of the road," Hamby said.

The way the charter is now written, the mayor cannot vote but does have the power to veto ordinances approved by the council. The veto can be overridden by four council votes in favor of the override.

Changes to the charter involving elected officials must be approved by the General Assembly, according to Fox. Other proposed changes involving contracts for city employees and committee appointments can be enacted with the approval of the council.

Fox said he would obtain an estimate of how much it would cost in attorney fees to amend the charter and present it at the next council meeting.

Alice Queen can be reached at alice.queen@rockdalecitizen.com.