DAWSON, Ga. -- The honeymoon period, it seems, may have ended sooner than expected for Dawson's young mayor.
The Dawson City Council voted 4-2 at its Feb. 14 meeting to stop Chris Wright, the city's 23-year-old mayor who ousted 32-year incumbent Robert Albritten on Nov. 6, from using a city-owned vehicle. City Manager Barney Parnacott had requested the discussion, and council members Charlie Sanders, Calvin Stephens, Sam Ward and George Wilson voted to halt Wright's use of the vehicle.
Not that Wright's given the vote much credence.
"I had been driving the city-owned car to conduct city business, and I still am," Wright said Thursday. "(Some city officials) are saying being mayor is a part-time position as if that should keep me from doing what the people require of me.
"Funny thing, though: They didn't seem to come to that same conclusion with my predecessor, who had a number of DUIs. If these folks would look at the city charter, they'd see that the mayor serves as CEO of the city government and as CEO has the responsibility of initiating what goes on in the city. They say that the city manager is the person with the power, but the city manager is responsible for carrying out what the mayor initiates. There just hasn't been much initiating going on around here lately."
Albany attorney Tommy Coleman, who serves as Dawson's city attorney, said any piece of equipment owned by any municipality should not be used for personal business. Coleman said he did not attend the Feb. 14 council meeting at which the vote was taken, but he said the rules that govern use of taxpayer-funded property are pretty much universal.
"The rule about use of, in this case, a car, is the same rule that applies to typewriters, cellphones and pencils," Coleman said. "A city official can't use taxpayer-funded public property for personal use. Since it's paid for by the public, its only allowable use is for public business.
"Now does that mean that if a police officer is allowed to take home a staff vehicle he cannot stop off at the Winn-Dixie and pick up a loaf of bread? I don't think anyone would expect the rule to be that strict. But the bottom line is that you just can't use public vehicles for private use."
Wright said he thought the vehicle discussion and vote came about after unfounded complaints from citizens as well as city officials.
"It's just crazy," the mayor said. "Someone called (City Hall) and said they saw (the city vehicle) at McDonald's. As if I just jumped in it to drive to McDonald's. I was on city business, and it was lunch time. What did they expect?
"And then I was headed for a trip out of town on city business and I stopped by the funeral home where I work part-time (Johnson and Son Funeral Service in Dawson) to pick up my briefcase. Someone called and said I was using it for personal work. It's almost comical."
According to minutes from the Feb. 14 City Council meeting obtained by The Herald through an Open Records request, Wright told the council during the meeting: "I wake up and go to sleep at night as mayor, 24 hours a day. I think it is feasible for me to use city transportation to take care of city business."
Wright also criticized detractors Wednesday who emphasized his status as a "part-time employee."
"Councilman Stephens used that argument, and I told him the next time someone broke into his house and we had one of our part-time police officers on duty, we'd let the policeman walk to his house so that he didn't have to use a city vehicle," the mayor said. "Or if we had to call on a part-time firefighter, we'd let him walk to the fire with buckets of water in his hands.
"They told me I should use my vehicle (for city business) and let the city pay me mileage at 37 cents a mile. I'm not doing that. As long as I'm in office, I intend to do the city's business the best way I can. And none of them are going to stop me."