Roswell residents blunt mayor’s move for more authority over city departments

Residents’ pushback against changes to the Roswell city charter has been heard. AJC FILE

Residents’ pushback against changes to the Roswell city charter has been heard. AJC FILE

Resident backlash has led Roswell to cancel plans for changes to the city charter.

During a Tuesday committee meeting, Mayor Kurt Wilson and City Council canceled a resolution of changes to the charter that would have granted Wilson direct authority over city departments and diminished the power of City Administrator Randy Knighton.

Wilson initiated a motion removing consideration of the resolution from the meeting agenda. It was seconded by Councilman Mike Palermo.

Any change to the city charter would have to be approved by the Georgia Legislature.

“The charter conversation is over,” Wilson, who took office last month, said during the meeting. “I do think it’s a missed opportunity for the city but it’s my fault for not giving the public an opportunity to weigh in on this.”

Wilson, who said he “screwed up,” apologized to City Council and the public for his hurried approach. A resolution for the changes was originally on the agenda of the regular City Council meeting on Monday, but because of residents’ opposition, council decided to delay a vote and discuss further during the Tuesday committee meeting.

The mayor has said the current charter doesn’t distinguish whether the city administrator or the mayor has more authority and the lack of clarity can stifle carrying out city business.

At the Tuesday meeting, fellow councilmembers said they support changes to the city charter down the road that would include public input and possibly forming a charter review commission. The present focus should be on other city business, the officials said.

“There are some discrepancies that need to be ironed out that reflect the future of our city and how we plan to operate whether it’s a commission or a committee,” Councilwoman Lee Hills said. “I will absolutely be pursuing that.”

During public comment at Monday’s meeting, Roswell residents spoke out against adjustments to the city charter saying the mayor’s suggested changes would grant him too much power. Residents also complained the charter issue hadn’t been raised publicly by the mayor before appearing on Monday’s meeting agenda.

Public comment, which is not ordinarily allowed at committee meetings, was permitted Tuesday.

Resident Janet Russell told the mayor that the backlash he received from residents over the issue stemmed from distrust of the previous council. Wilson and three new city council members were sworn into office in January.

“People in this community had gotten used to backroom politics, lies, disrespect, and therefore the people that were leading us lost our trust,” Russell told officials at Tuesday’s meeting. “...And that’s what I heard (Monday) night from people ... for the last four years we couldn’t believe anything anybody said.