Marietta rejects mayor’s bid to stagger city council terms

Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin speaks during the state of the city address at the Mansour Conference Center in Marietta on May 15, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin speaks during the state of the city address at the Mansour Conference Center in Marietta on May 15, 2019. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Marietta City Council members voted 4-3 this week to defeat a proposal by Mayor Steve Tumlin to stagger the terms of elected officials.

Currently, the office of mayor and its seven city council seats are elected to four-year terms every four years. All eight seats are up for re-election in 2021.

Tumlin’s proposal called for candidates running for the office of mayor and city council Wards 2, 3, 4 to seek two-year terms in 2021, while candidates for Wards 1, 5, 6 and 7 would compete to win four-year terms. The mayor’s seat and Wards 2, 3 and 4 would then run for a four-year term in 2023 and the other four seats would go up for another four-year cycle in 2025.

The cities of Marietta and Smyrna as well as the Marietta City School Board are the only entities in Cobb County that do not have staggered terms for its elected officials.

Tumlin said his proposal was designed to increase voter turnout among Marietta residents. In 2017, Marietta had about 8% of its voters turn out for two contested and six uncontested municipal races, according to numbers Tumlin provided to city council members.

In 2018, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners and school board races drew more than 60% of registered voters, he said.

“I obviously believe this would be a better way, maybe not for elected officials, but for the citizens to have a right to vote," the mayor said.

Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson, who opposed the measure, said she didn’t think staggering the terms would improve voter turnout. The city has low turnout because its elections are not held when there are big races on the ballot, which occur during even years.

“The con of this is that it allows people to get (involved) other people’s elections and work against people to get them elected," she said.

Councilmen Griffin Chalfant and Johnny Walker agreed with the mayor’s stance. Councilman Joseph Goldstein said a city council elected all at once every four years allows all members to develop a vision for the city that they can implement throughout their terms.

Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly said she believed more communication from the mayor to all council members about his proposal could have been helpful before the request came up for a vote. Kelly also said she hasn’t had any residents ask her to consider staggering terms.

“I’m concerned that we are proposing a solution to a non problem,” she said.

The mayor’s plan was rejected by Kelly, Richardson, Goldstein and Reggie Copeland. Chalfant, Walker and Andy Morris voted in favor. Afterward, Tumlin vetoed the vote. City Attorney Doug Haynie said Tumlin’s veto results in the item being left on the agenda without any action taken.