Former mayors testify in Snellville mayor vs. council trial

Author: Camie Young, Gwinnett Daily Post

LAWRENCEVILLE — Two former mayors testified Tuesday at the outset of a trial between Snellville’s mayor and its city council.

With the jobs of City Clerk Melisa Arnold and City Manager Butch Sanders in dispute, eight attorneys — not including Mayor Kelly Kautz — submitted dozens of documents into evidence.

The proceedings centered on actions in January, when Kautz attempted to appoint a new city clerk and declined to acknowledge Sanders as city manager, after the council approved a new contract for the official without Kautz’s nomination.

The mayor contends that clerk and manager positions required her nomination because the terms had expired, but the lawyers disagreed on the procedures in the city charter, including whether the mayor has the right to appoint a new city clerk at the beginning of any year.

On the witness stand, Mayors Brett Harrell and Jerry Oberholtzer discussed changes to the city charter over the past 16 years, including a 2004 change from a strong mayor form of government to a city manager form.

After a 2005 move to strip the mayor of several powers, which some contend was an illegal move, Oberholtzer said he believed a 2010 vote reneged the 2005 changes and returned to the previous charter provisions. But when reading the document in court, he conceded that it appeared that the one-year term for the city clerk was deleted with that 2010 action.

“My understanding was we were going to go back to the original form as adopted by the General Assembly. I didn’t believe we had the right to change the power of the mayor and the only one who had the power to do that was the General Assembly,” Oberholtzer said, adding that he wasn’t aware that the clerk’s term had been changed. “That was my assumption, and in engineering terms, an assumption is making an ass out of you and me.”

“Kautz’s attorneys also questioned Oberholtzer over the contracts that had been devised for Snellville’s city manager since the government shifted to that form in 2004. He said that the term of the contract has been used to define the term of the city manager in the past, pointing out that even though the council had hoped to renew the contract of then interim-manager Jim Brooks, Oberholtzer declined to nominate him, so the position became vacant.

#Oberholtzer then pointed out that he added a provision in Brooks’ successor Russell Treadway’s contract to automatically renew the contract to keep a political rift from disrupting his service.

Kautz’s attorneys contended that the mayor had triggered the need for a new nomination when she placed a contract end date in Sanders’ contract.

Judge Warren Davis said the idea of using a contract to impose a term limit is an “interesting legal question” but that he wasn’t yet convinced.

Another highlight came when Michael Clark, a former county judge who had recused himself from the case while on the bench but joined Kautz’s legal team over the weekend, made accusations against Sanders during opening statements. Clark said depositions revealed that Sanders lied on his resume when he applied to become city manager of the city of Dalton, falsely saying he had attended the University of Southern California on a football scholarship.

Kautz is expected to take the stand Wednesday in the case, where she also accuses councilmembers of violating Georgia’s Open Meetings Law and of restricting her access to portions of City Hall.