West Point discusses changing city charter

Published 4:45 pm Friday, August 9, 2019

WEST POINT — The West Point City Council is discussing ways to handle future vacancies caused by the departure of a current term mayor or council member.

However, any change to the city charter and how the city goes about filling elected officials’ seats would have to be changed by the Georgia Legislature.

Under the current charter, if there is a vacancy in the mayor’s office, the mayor pro-tem would serve as mayor until the next election or until a special election is called. Tramell has been vocal about changing the way this process is handled.

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Tramell believes an appointed council member or mayor has an advantage in a general election. That scenario has taken place twice

since 2016.

Tramell replaced Drew Ferguson when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. A year and a half later, Tramell was elected as mayor of West Point.

In April, Deedee Williams was appointed to the West Point City Council by her peers after Benjamin Wilcox stepped down in January to accept the position of West Point municipal court judge pro-tem.

Although Tramell said he does support changing the charter to say there should be special-called elections, he thinks the discussion should wait.

“I think it is something the new council in January should address,” he said.

Councilman Henry Hutchinson said he feels this seated council should come up with a recommendation because it’s hard to predict what a new council will do.

“There is a potential there is an entirely different council in January, and it may not be an issue to them,” he said. “If we see that there is a need and I think we agree there is a need, then I think we should get the ball rolling.”

Williams, who asked for the discussion to be placed on Thursday’s work session agenda, said changing the city charter will not be a quick fix and the conversations should be happening now.

“We already have a precedent on how we fill council seats in the past,” she said. “It could be done more effectively and efficiently and appropriately if we change it.”

She said that although the situation is rare where there is a vacancy, especially at the mayoral level, it does happen.

“We all know we don’t have a vacancy in the mayoral seat very often, but last time when we did, we followed the charter,” Williams said. “Many people would be OK with that, and just like you (Tramell) recognized the way this seat was filled (Williams’ seat) was not the best way in your opinion, the way we filled that vacancy (the mayor’s seat) was not the best way in my opinion.”

She said the council needs to have a discussion as a group about the process before a new council is seated.

Councilman Gerald Ledbetter said it’s fine to start the process, but it’s best to wait to after the election.

“I think we all agree that something needs to be done in regards to the way we feel an absence mayoral seat and how we seat vacant council seats,” he said. “I am personally in favor of all seats being seated by the electorate. People should choose who their representatives are.”

Tramell said it seems the council is in favor of a special-called election for all vacancies, but the council was missing two members Thursday — Councilman Joseph Downs and Councilwoman Sandra Thornton.

He said the council would continue its discussion at the next work session, and it will need to discuss if it wants to start the process to amend the charter now or wait until the next election.

Hutchinson said he would like to dive into the entire charter to see if other issues can be amended.