Snellville City Manager Butch Sanders
The Attorney General’s office is staying out of Snellville’s city manager controversy, directing the mayor toward the city attorney for advice.
Mayor Kelly Kautz, a lawyer herself, disagrees with City Attorney Tony Powell on the contract approved last month for City Manager Butch Sanders.
Despite Kautz’s objections last month, the city council — five members who are opposed to Kautz politically — approved a three-year contract for Sanders, with a $15,000 raise and another $5,000 pay increase the next year.
Kautz asked Sanders to cease work Friday, saying the new contract is not valid since she did not nominate him for the job, but Powell has pointed to a city charter statute that says the mayor cannot fire the city manager without a vote from the city council.
With Sanders at work and a stalemate between the two sides, Kautz sought an attorney general opinion on the matter, but in a response Wednesday, the office said it would not weigh in.
“In Georgia, the Attorney General provides legal advice and representation only to our clients within state government. We cannot provide legal services to local political subdivisions with which we have no attorney-client relationship and where the issues involved relate exclusively to the internal operations and management of such an independent political subdivision,” Deputy Attorney General Dennis Dunn wrote in a letter. “Instead, such services are more appropriately provided by the local government’s own attorney or counsel. Additionally, the specific facts and circumstances regarding questions are better known or available to local counsel in addressing such questions. Should litigation develop regarding the City’s actions in relation to your question, the City would be represented by its own counsel and not by this office.”
Late Wednesday, Kautz said the fact that the office declined to give an opinion does not change the issue, and she added that going to the city attorney for an opinion is not an option, since there is still a lawsuit pending involving her firing him last year.
“I’ve heard from citizens who want to pursue taking this to court, but I haven’t decided what I will do,” Kautz said of the Sanders situation. “I would like to keep the city out of court. … But I still don’t believe he has a valid employment agreement, especially not at a higher salary.”
With paychecks set to go out Thursday, Kautz said she has told staff they do not have the authority to place her signature on his pay check, but said it has been stamped.
“Using someone’s signature without their permission has consequences,” she said. “We have policies and procedures, and we can’t give backdoor raises to people.”
Sanders and Powell did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday, but Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts said the attorney general’s office’s decision reiterates the council’s position that the city manager’s contract is a “non-issue.”
“We did everything by the book,” Witts said. “Why the mayor continues to bring these things up is beyond me. … It should have never started, but I doubt it will be the end of it.”