‘It’s a mayor killer’: Bill would shift powers in Stonecrest government

Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur. JASON GETZ / AJC

Credit: Jason Getz / AJC

Credit: Jason Getz / AJC

Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur. JASON GETZ / AJC

Clarification: A previous version of this story excluded the fact that some provisions of Sen. Jones’ bill are currently in the Stonecrest city charter, including the mayor being the “ceremonial head” of the city, some of the duties of the city manager and several of the mayor’s powers. It also excluded the fact that under the bill, the mayor would be allowed to cast a vote in the event of a tie. This story has been updated to include that information.

A state senator who has clashed with the mayor of Stonecrest is pushing legislation to strip the mayor of most of his power.

“It’s a mayor killer,” Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary said of the bill, introduced by Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur. “It would reduce me to kissing babies only.”

The legislation — which also has the support of the two other state senators who represent Stonecrest — would state that the mayor is the "ceremonial head" of the city and only allow them to vote in the case of a tie. Currently, under Stonecrest's charter, the mayor is designated as the city's ceremonial head and can cast a regular vote in addition to the five council members.

The senator said the bill is not personal, but he was troubled to learn Lary and the city recently filed a lawsuit and tried to take out a restraining order against a sitting councilwoman. Due to ambiguities in the city charter, the councilwoman’s seat was put in question after she missed two meetings last year. The city dropped the legal effort late last month.

Jones, who represents part of Stonecrest, said he proposed the bill because he does not think a mayor should be so involved in making laws and policy. He compared his proposed council-manager form of government to the structure of DeKalb County, which has a commission that operates separately from its CEO.

Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary

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The council would elect a council president to oversee meetings, while the city manager would act as chief executive and be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the city; the Stonecrest city manager is currently designated as the chief administrative officer of the city. The mayor would be able to sign checks on behalf of the city, make some appointments and have oversight of the city management, powers the mayor currently has.

“We continue to stay focused on the governance issues surrounding this city and how the mayor and the city council are interacting with each other,” Jones said Thursday.

During a speech on the Senate floor Feb. 21, Jones said that ‘it makes no sense when a member of the executive committee of a city attempts to sue a member of the city council.” His bill would also clear up the part of Stonecrest’s charter that led to the confusion over absences.

Lary called the legislation “petty and vindictive” and said Jones only represents a small portion of the southeast DeKalb city, which was incorporated in 2017 and has 54,000 residents. He also criticized the senator for not getting public input on the proposal.

Jones and Lary have disagreed on several city issues during previous legislative sessions.

In 2018, Lary supported a bill that would have changed the city's charter to, among other things, raise the mayor's salary from $20,000 to $75,000. It failed after Jones pushed back on the bill, saying that "we did not create the city to be a jobs program for the mayor and his cronies." Lary, who was the city's first mayor and won reelection last fall, said at the time that he was insulted by that comment.

The following year, Rep. Vernon Jones, D-Lithonia, filed a bill that would institute a "strong-mayor" form of government in Stonecrest, under which the mayor would officially be the chief executive of the city. It would bar the mayor from voting except in a tie, but he or she would have veto power. That bill did not pass last year but remains alive for this session. Rep. Jones is the only listed sponsor.

Sen. Jones’ bill, however, has the support of most of the DeKalb Senate delegation. If the Senate OKs it, it would go to the DeKalb House delegation for consideration.

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