Snellville mayor can fire city attorney, Ga. Supreme Court says

Snellville's mayor was triumphant Monday when the state Supreme Court decided that she had the right to terminate the city attorney even though members of city council wanted to keep him.

“It means a lot to me,” Mayor Kelly Kautz said. “I’m hoping we can put this behind us. I’m hoping we can just focus on the city for the next few months.”

The mayor and city council have been locked in lawsuits for years after Kautz terminated Tony Powell as Snellville’s attorney in December 2012. Kautz maintained that, because she had the authority to appoint the position, she also had the power to terminate. Council members disagreed, saying the right was theirs.

In a unanimous ruling, the justices said the state Court of Appeals erred in siding with the council. Council members had argued that Snellville’s charter did not explicitly say who had the power to terminate the position; therefore, it fell to them because the charter gave the council all duties that were not expressly given to the mayor.

The Supreme Court said that interpretation "simply is not specific enough to counter the 'universally accepted rule' that is 'provided by law' giving the mayor the power to remove the city attorney as incident to his or her power to appoint the city attorney."

Powell and his attorneys did not respond to requests for comment. Attorneys for Kautz said they were thrilled with the decision.

“We have believed all along that Tony Powell was not properly serving as the city attorney,” said Phyllis Miller, who represented Kautz. “She lawfully terminated him some time ago.”

Kautz said she had questioned Powell’s billing, his relationships with some members of council and whether it was a conflict of interest for him to also serve as a city council member in Lawrenceville. Council has blocked her efforts to hire another attorney by withholding payment, she said.

Lester Tate, who argued on Kautz’s behalf, said the state Supreme Court decision could have implications if other governments are unclear about who has the authority to fire an appointed position. But Brian Wallace, a spokesman for the Georgia Municipal Association, said this decision is specific to Snellville.

“I don’t think it means … anything for anyone else,” he said. “It’s really specific to this one instance.”

Kautz and Miller both said they are exploring whether they will be able to recoup taxpayer money paid to Powell when he acted as city attorney at council’s behest after he was initially terminated. If necessary, Kautz said, she intends to send a cease-and-desist order to ensure that Powell does no more work for Snellville.

This does not put an end to Snellville’s infighting. In another court case involving the jobs of the city manager and city clerk, decided in favor of the mayor, council members are appealing a ruling that granted Kautz tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees.

Kautz, who has not yet decided whether to run for reelection, said her “priorities have changed” since having a baby during this term.

“The best thing for the city of Snellville would be a completely new mayor and council. It would be for everyone to go,” she said.