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Senate requests charter clarification

ALBANY -- A Georgia Senate Committee considering a measure that would call for a public vote on whether to consolidate the governments of Albany and Dougherty County has asked for clarification on 11 issues raised in the bill.

House Bill 800 was first approved by the Georgia House of Representatives last year, but stalled in the Senate as local government officials worked to create an alternate charter for legislators to consider.

The city commission ultimately pieced its proposed charter together and voted to forward it to Atlanta. The county commission worked on its version, but ultimately voted against continuing the process.

HB 800 is now in the hands of the State and Local Government Operations Committee of the Senate, or SLUGO, and has been amended to include the city's provisions.

If that committee reports favorably on the bill, it will come out for a vote before the full Senate.

But at some point in mid-February, the legal counsel for the committee sent state Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Albany, the list of items that needed clarification before the legislation could be considered, which she then forwarded to city leaders.

After discussions this week, city officials are preparing a response that will be presented to the full commission before being sent back to Atlanta.

In the letter, Jimmy A. McDonald, the assistant legislative counsel for the Legislative Services Committee, provides Sims with a list of mostly-typographical clarifications.

For instance, McDonald writes that the words "general, urban and service areas," and the additional use of the words "general, urban and service districts," to describe the political divisions of the new government.

"Are the service areas established meant to be the districts authorized in Section 1-105? If so, which terminology do you wish to use 'districts' or 'areas?'"

Other questions are more material and deal with the unique nature of the type of government city leaders are trying to create.

The third item on the list asks about the elected head of the new government or Chief Elected Officer or also referred to as the mayor.

The city's version of the charter creating the new government has the CEO or mayor as a full-time position, but goes against conventional practice by also having a strong manager form of government -- ultimately meaning that the mayor will be a full time position, but the government manager will oversee day-to-day operations.

"The city (commission) wanted a full-time CEO, but not a strong mayor," Assistant City Manager Wes Smith said. "There is a difference.

Essentially, they wanted to keep the general form of the government we have now, just with a full-time manager."

Other questions will likely be addressed through simple revisions such as one item which simply asked for the word following "death" in the charter section dealing with filling a commission seat once it has been vacated.

Others were apparent oversights on behalf of the city, like one statement requesting the proposed district map of the government.

Once the responses are made and presented to the commission -- likely at next week's work session -- they will be sent back to Atlanta. If the changes are accepted, the committee will discuss the item and decide whether to report favorably on the legislation.

According to an official in the SLUGO committee office, HB 800 has not yet been placed on the group's agenda, but likely appear once the revisions are done.

If the amended version of HB 800 is approved by both the Senate and the House and then signed by the governor, the charter must then be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice for approval before it would appear on the ballot.

Last week, Sims placed a legal ad in The Albany Herald giving "notice of intention to introduce local legislation," calling for the unification of the city and county governments.

That ad will run until Friday.