Roswell Mayor Jere Wood violated term limits he put in place, a judge ruled Thursday. AJC FILE PHOTO

Court ousts Roswell mayor, rules he violated term limits

Roswell Mayor Jere Wood, a fixture in north Fulton politics for two decades, was abruptly removed from his post Thursday after a judge ruled he had violated the term limits that he championed.

Wood said in a statement that he plans to fight the decision by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall, but that he will not seek another term in office. His fifth term expires at the end of the year, and the order removing him from office will be stayed if he appeals.

Roswell city leaders passed a law limiting the mayor to three terms but the current mayor says that doesn't apply to him.

“I will continue to serve the city until my current term comes to an end or the appellate court rules on Judge Schwall’s decision,” Wood said.

Wood, who was first elected in 1997, is known as much for his bow ties as his brash manner. He has fought for more transit options; has expanded the city’s borders; has tripled the amount of parks land; and has increased bicycle paths in Roswell.

But he has also come under fire for allowing too much development in a city that has grown from about 79,000 residents in 2000, shortly after he took office, to nearly 95,000 in 2016, according to Census data.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, who calls Wood a friend, said Wood “is not a shrinking violet.”

“He will tell anybody, pretty much, what he’s thinking,” Paul said. “I sure don’t expect him to just ride quietly into the sunset.”

Wood was long a champion of term limits, after beating incumbent Pug Mabry, who served more than 30 years, when he was first elected. He tried twice to get term limits passed before he succeeded in his fourth term, in 2010. The new term limits capped the mayor at three consecutive four-year terms.

In court in May, Wood argued that he hadn’t meant the rule to be applied retroactively.

“I did not believe I was precluded from running [for a fifth term],” Wood said. “The intent was that from that point forward, I could serve only three terms.”

Schwall’s ruling said anyone who read the law “would conclude that an individual who had already been elected to three terms as mayor was ineligible to continue holding the office after that point.”

Wood had asked members of the legislature to clarify that the law was forward-looking, but they declined, citing the court case. The law says, “No person who has been elected to three or more four-year terms of office as mayor shall be eligible for election to the office of mayor.”

Wood did not respond to several requests for additional comment about the ruling. Last year, he said the legislature had “made a mistake” in drafting the legislation.

Paul, the Sandy Springs mayor, said Wood was in “good spirits” about the decision. He expected Wood to continue to be involved in the region, regardless of the outcome of the case. Losing him would represent “a huge void in leadership,” Paul said.

Wood is a fixture in Roswell, and can often be seen at community events or tooling around town in his vintage Morgan three-wheeler. Paul said he and others often went to Wood for sartorial advice. The Roswell mayor is known for his professorly style, donning blazers, suspenders and his trademark bow tie. He often takes the time to stop and speak with city residents, and is active on social media.

Paul said Wood had been a proponent of increased park land and improved transportation in Roswell. As the north Fulton representative at the Atlanta Regional Commission, he has had a “profound impact” on regional issues.

John Eaves, the Fulton County commission chairman, said Wood has been a “tremendous regional partner,” and was instrumental in getting mayors county-wide to support a transportation tax that residents approved last fall.

“He was a leader among leaders,” Eaves said.

But not everyone is a fan. In 2009, Wood barely won his runoff. Michael Litten, who plans to run for mayor this fall and who filed the suit against Wood, said the ruling was “poetic justice.”

“The man who ran on term limits in 1997 was hoisted by his own petard,” Litten said. “He was way past his sell-by date.”

Litten said he had no political axe to grind — Schwall’s ruling called Wood the victim of a political war — but that he was happy about the decision.

“People want government officials and the government to be held accountable,” he said. “People are very tired of having one set of rules for elected officials, and another set of rules for other people.”


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