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Snellville City Council: Split vote options debated

SNELLVILLE - A crowd of nearly 200 Snellville residents Thursday couldn't agree on how to save the city from a council stalemate, but nearly all told Sen. Don Balfour something should be done.

In a town hall meeting over concern for split 3-3 council votes that have stalled city government, Balfour asked for a show of hands on a variety of issues. The idea that got the most support was taking away the mayor's right to vote, unless the council was tied.

But in a poll of 600 people, Balfour said the option didn't get a majority of responses. People wanted to consider adding or subtracting a council seat and possibly breaking the seats into geographic districts. One man even suggested councilmembers draw marbles out of a hat to decide who won't vote at a given City Council meeting.

"With a city so split as it is and high feelings on both sides ... it's hard," Balfour said after the session, which went just over his hour time limit. "I need to download this for a couple days and think about it. But everyone was very constructive."

The session, like city council meetings, did not go without some fireworks, including some city residents speaking over Councilman Robert Jenkins when he talked about problems dealing with Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer.

But residents pointed out that, by deciding how to end the stalemate, they were taking sides in council politics. Some wanted to consider the issue in a referendum.

"The only fair way to decide how this will come down is let people in the city vote on it," Ralph Bulger said.

Councilwoman Kelly Kautz, who said she had not yet formulated an opinion on the issue, asked people to look past the politics and decide the best possibility for the city.

Oberholtzer did not attend Balfour's town hall meeting, but former Mayor Emmett Clower confirmed that limiting the mayor's vote to tie situations virtually eliminates the mayor from voting at all.

Before the charter changed to give the mayor a vote, Clower, who was mayor for 26 years, said he only voted twice.

"I think we need to take the personalities out of it because the people will be gone (at some point) and do the best for the city," he said.

Balfour said he would likely need to formulate a bill to change the city charter in the coming weeks, if the matter were to be resolved this legislative session.

But he told the crowd that no matter what the outcome, this year's council election would be important for the city.

"Make sure you get involved in this November's election, whatever side," he said. "That can change the complexion of the entire city."