Dunwoody’s Charter Commission on Nov. 2 pushed forward a bevy of amendments poised to reshape the process by which City Council members are elected and how long the mayor can remain in office, among other changes.
The unanimous vote sent the review board’s recommendations to the City Council to make additional tweaks before advancing the proposed charter to state officials for approval.
Four of the slated amendments could then be placed on a referendum for residents to vote up or down. Among the possible ballot initiatives are the prospect of boosting the term limit for Dunwoody’s mayoral seat from two to three terms and switching to a plurality vote for City Council seats.
The Nov. 2 meeting was the last in a handful the charter commission has held since August to brainstorm changes to the city’s founding document.
Those changes had largely been hashed out over previous meetings, so the affair served as a rubber-stamping of their final draft. Commission chairman Robert Wittenstein opened the discussion with a thank-you to his fellow board members for their input through the monthslong process.
“Our meetings have been productive,” he said. “Everybody has participated, they’ve been professional. It’s been a pleasure working with you all, and everybody brought expertise to the table”
The commission was a five-member citizen’s panel appointed by Mayor Lynn Deutsch, City Council members, state Sen. Sally Harrell (D-DeKalb) and state Reps. Mike Wilensky (D-Dunwoody) and Matthew Wilson (D-Brookhaven).
The commission began meeting Aug. 3 with the mission of fine-tuning the charter and recommending changes the council. After signing off, the council will then submit its desired changes to the Georgia General Assembly, which will set up a voter referendum. Dunwoody residents will have final say to approve four of the 10 proposed charter amendments via a ballot initiative.
Dunwoody incorporated as a city in 2008 and last updated its charter in April 2014.
The charter is a legal document that essentially serves as the city’s articles of incorporation. It includes a set of articles and bylaws that function as the genesis of Dunwoody’s governance, outlining everything from election procedures to the structure and authority of the council.
One of the chief amendments that would require a referendum is a proposal to change the mayoral term limit from two to three consecutive terms of office. It was a recommendation for which the commission received pushback during their brief Nov. 4 discussion.
“In the original charter, the reason we had two terms was, Number 1, to keep people from becoming squatters in the position and Number 2, fresh ideas and more citizens involved,” former Mayor Denis Shortal said.
The commission also proposed switching from a majority vote to a plurality vote for City Council elections, meaning candidates in those races would only have to garner 45% of the vote to avoid a runoff election. Candidates for mayor and council races must currently win 50% plus one to be declared the outright victor without a runoff.
The commission last month rejected the notion of moving to plurality votes for mayoral elections. But it accepted that lower threshold for council candidates.
Shortal was adamantly opposed to the idea of as much as 55% of the electorate voting against a candidate declared the winner in a council race.
“This is a democracy and I believe the majority should rule,” he said. “You use that reason to reduce the likelihood of a runoff. Hey, if a runoff is required, so be it. Let there be a runoff.”
In other moves, the commission seeks to impose three-term limits for council seats and shift mayoral elections by two years beginning in 2025 to align them with the council races. Both of those proposals would have to be adopted by voters.
Other proposals that wouldn’t need to be placed on a ballot included moving the annual budget calendar back one month, and increasing salaries for the mayor and council members, based on the Consumer Price Index.
An entire subsection would be added to the charter dedicated to emergencies. It would give the mayor and council members power to adopt an emergency ordinance and declare a state of emergency, which would activate disaster response and recovery powers for city leaders.