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Snellville leaders divided over changes to city charter

SNELLVILLE - Councilman Robert Jenkins brought up an issue during Monday night's city council meeting that is apparently a sore subject among the city's leaders, and that is the fact that the mayor of Snellville votes on all matters coming to council for a majority decision. No other city in Gwinnett allows the mayor to cast a deciding vote unless the council members' vote results in a tie.

"We're plagued with a lot of 3-3 votes, and Senator Balfour wants to do something about it," Jenkins said. The obvious choices are to either add or take away a council seat, or to change the city charter to take away the mayor's vote. Sen. Don Balfour and Rep. Melvin Everson discussed this issue at a recent Snellville town hall meeting, and some Snellville council members want to resolve the question without putting it to a vote.

Councilman Warren Auld said Monday that he would urge his colleagues to continue discussing the question until a resolution is reached. "A tie vote keeps us from moving forward. We tend to run around in circles," Auld said. His preferred solution is for the council members to vote, then for the mayor to vote only in the case of a tie.

Not all council members feel the same way. Councilman Tod Warner remarked Monday that "sometimes gridlock is good." Newly appointed mayor pro tem Barbara Bender said that she does not have an opinion on the matter yet but wants to engage in discussion to reach the best solution. Bender did remark that "dysfunctional behavior does not go away" just by changing the way the city leaders vote.

Snellville is well known for its sometimes controversial politics and for having a team of city leaders that is divided right down the middle on many voting issues.

Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer made his opinion on the matter very clear Monday.

"For nine years, (the mayor has had a vote), and it's not been an issue until now," Oberholtzer said. "I'm elected, and I want to be heard."

What the mayor did suggest is, when his term of office expires in 3 years, another candidate run on the platform of not having a vote in city matters. At the very least, according to Oberholtzer, the city charter should never be changed without the citizens voting to change it.

The mayor also suggested that, if the mayor's vote is taken away in city matters, council seats should be designated by districts. Currently, all council seats are at-large.

"I'm a little disconcerted that Sen. Balfour has inserted himself into the city's business," Oberholtzer said.