According to the city charter, council members may not manage city officers or employees. City officers and employees are to be supervised “solely” by the city manager. The charter states, “… neither the city council nor its members shall give orders to any such officer or employee, either publicly or privately.”
Elected officials may only get involved in city affairs “for the purpose of inquiries and investigations” following the adoption of an authorizing resolution, according to the charter.
City attorney Robert Stultz said the mayor did not discuss his information-sharing concept with him. Therefore, he could not address the context of the mayor’s request.
“Does the mayor have the authority to send them (council) out on errands? I don’t think so,” Stultz said. “If there’s some inquiry to be done it would have to be done by vote of the council in order to make an inquiry. No individual — including the mayor — has the authority to take action on their own.”
Stultz said the mayor’s request appeared to be informal, and wasn’t sure if the other council members agreed to carry it out.
Long maintains his request for information is not an attempt to interfere, but a way to better inform the council.
“I think it’s going to help all of us, it’s going to educate us,” he said. The mayor added, “We cannot get involved in the city’s day-to-day operation.”
Long said he believes sharing this type of information would draw council members closer together.
“There are some real issues,” he said.
Long said Fort Oglethorpe “has a lot going on” in reference to city projects, such as the proposed construction of a new garage for the public works department. Sharing information would help the council understand the needs of each department and could help the city be better prepared for emergencies, he said. Fort Oglethorpe officials have faced serious challenges, such as the April 2011 tornado, Long said.
“We were told we were going to get wiped out,” he said. Long said the city brought its police cars into city hall. “We learned a great deal from (the storm).”
He said the city also needs to be aware of any crime trends that could filter into Fort Oglethorpe from Chattanooga and other neighboring areas.
“Chattanooga is doing a study on gangs,” Long said. “We don’t have a problem now and we hope we never do. But we want to be prepared for it.”
The mayor said it would be up to each member what information they choose to collect.
“If I gather a little bit of information that’s a little bit I didn’t know before,” he said.
Council member Louis Hamm said he didn’t have a problem with the mayor’s request, but so far hadn’t had time to make inquiries into the fire department due to caring for a sick relative. Hamm was assigned the fire department because he already serves as a pastor with Southern Cross Ministries. Southern Cross provides pastoral counseling to area police officers and firefighters.
Hamm explained that when he first served on the council under then-mayor Judd Burkhart, council members acted as liaisons with each city department.
“It wasn’t for us to go in and straighten out a particular department. It was just to be a liaison,” he said. “I think this is what the mayor is really looking at, from that perspective. This is nothing new.”
Council member Eddie Stinnett said the mayor has gone against the city’s bylaws by requesting council members inquire into city departments.
“I believe the majority of the council members are doing nothing (about gathering information),” Stinnett said. “Our bylaws plainly state we are not to interfere. The mayor overstepped his authority by pulling that trick there.”
Stinnett, like Stultz, said the council must first pass a resolution to authorize a council inquiry into city affairs. He said he believes the mayor is “trying to get back at” some of the city department heads.
“As a whole I think the city government runs well. Our finances are great. We have so many good things going on. This childish stuff shouldn’t be playing out like it has,” Stinnett said. “I don’t understand where the mayor is coming from. If something is looking good, you should leave it alone.”
Stinnett added that city administrators and staff do a good job and “should be left alone.” He also predicts the scheduled work session likely would be cancelled.
Council member Earl Gray agreed with Stinnett that the council should not be making inquiries without first approving a resolution, but stressed the mayor has the city’s best interests at heart.
“The mayor was probably trying to get us a little more involved than we need to be on a daily basis,” Gray said.
Gray described what he believes is the city’s proper chain of command per the city charter. When city department heads have issues they should consult with the city manager, he said. The city manager, in turn, would then inform the council, according to Gray.