LAWRENCEVILLE -- Tony Powell is Snellville's city attorney again. Again.
During a Tuesday afternoon hearing, Gwinnett County Judge Timothy Hamil reversed Snellville Mayor Kelly Kautz's December decision to fire Powell as the city's counsel, saying its code of ordinances denied her the power to do so. Hamil also dismissed Powell as a defendant in the related lawsuit filed by Kautz against him and councilmembers Dave Emanuel, Bobby Howard, Diane Krause and Tom Witts.
"We always believed we were right," said Witts, the mayor pro tem. "We just kept being told we were wrong, but we always believed we were right. We have faith in Tony Powell. We have faith that he wouldn't put us in a position that would turn out bad for us."
Powell sat alongside the councilmembers in the front row of courtroom 2B Tuesday, as lawyers on both sides of the lawsuit hashed out their perceptions of Kautz's mayoral powers to terminate a city attorney. Fred Bentley, hired last week to represent Kautz, argued that the appointment power granted to the mayor by the city charter implies the right to terminate as well.
Judge Hamil said he generally agreed -- "I don't think any of us need case law to determine that" -- but that a section of Snellville's code of ordinances addresses separately the removal of "the mayor, councilmembers, or other appointed officers." The code section says such officers must be removed for cause and either by the City Council or an order in Gwinnett County Superior Court.
The decision means Powell is back as city attorney, a position he has now filled three separate times. He had already been hired, let go and rehired once since Kautz was elected in 2010.
More than once, Hamil expressed his disappointment that all parties couldn't settle the issue outside of court.
"It's unfortunate we had to be here," Councilman Bobby Howard said. "Now we can begin to address all the issues straightforward, ready to go, and we can continue to move our city forward and not be stalled by pointless legal maneuvers."
Kautz dismissed Powell in December, saying the move was due to over-budget legal fees and the fact that Powell pushed for lawsuits "instead of giving opinions on city matters." At a January meeting, though, the four councilmembers later included in the lawsuit passed a number of motions and resolutions in support of Powell.
A hearing date to settle the issue was scheduled after that.
Kautz has appointed several different city attorneys since she took office, including Karen Woodward and Nola Jackson, appointed in December before resigning in January.