Marietta’s mayor and council got into a heated argument Wednesday night.
You may be wondering — was it about money? A controversial zoning case? Negative. It concerned the pressing issue of how the city hands out awards.
The City Council’s Judicial-Legislative Committee was discussing a proposal from Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson to revise the awards that the mayor (at his own discretion) or the council (by way of voting) can give out to citizens, city employees or fellow officials.
First, a little background. Last December, the council split over bestowing a Distinguished Service Award to outgoing Councilman Reggie Copeland, who had lost his reelection bid to M. Carlyle Kent.
Mayor Steve Tumlin had requested Copeland receive the award, which is codified in the city’s code and must be approved by the council.
The award is given, the ordinance says, to officials or staff who “especially and peculiarly through dedication and effort served this city and performed duties that have brought honor and recognition in the performance thereof.”
When the Copeland award came up at a December work session, Richardson, Copeland, Joseph Goldstein and Michelle Cooper Kelly voted in favor of advancing it to the voting meeting. Tumlin's usually dependable allies on the council — Andy Morris, Johnny Walker and Grif Chalfant — voted against.
It should be noted that Tumlin also requested Kelly, the other outgoing council member, to be honored with the same award. Kelly, an accomplished, widely respected councilwoman, was reaching the end of her second term after unsuccessfully challenging Tumlin for mayor.
None of the council members had an issue when Kelly was being awarded, but Morris, Walker and Chalfant balked when the mayor wanted to honor Copeland, who often clashed with colleagues (Copeland once tried to get a restraining order against Morris, but we won’t rehash that again). Copeland, who referred to himself as "The Gamechanger," may best be remembered for a headline-making run-in with police that ended in his arrest.
Eventually, the council granted Copeland the award — Morris abstained from the vote.
That episode raised questions over whether the award should be a participation trophy for all outgoing elected officials.
In the months since, Richardson worked with Davy Godfrey, the city’s HR chief, to draft a rewrite of the city’s code governing official awards. Several awards would be under the mayor’s purview. Under the draft, the “Gem of the City” award would be given, at the mayor’s discretion, as the top honor for a resident. The draft calls for the award to “incorporate real or synthetic forms of ruby, sapphire, emerald and diamond gemstones,” in tribute to Marietta’s nickname as “The Gem City of Georgia.”
Godfrey said it would be analogous to a key to the city. Based on his research, Godfrey could only find one key to the city awarded in the past 30 years or so. The recipient was Braves shortstop and Marietta native Dansby Swanson.
Also given at the mayor’s discretion would be “proclamations,” which would be given to recognize an organization’s event or special action, or to honor longtime city employees who are retiring. “Letters of recognition” would be a further step down the totem pole, issued for birthdays, anniversaries and retirements of local citizens.
But it was the fourth paragraph under the mayoral awards section of the draft that turned a relatively pedestrian meeting into a cage fight. Here’s how it reads:
“The mayor will not recognize any group whose policies or aims advocate violence, hatred, or any other position contrary to the well-being of the citizens of Marietta, or to the quality of life in Marietta. Proclamations and Letters of Recognition will not be issued for any matter which may suggest an official City position on a matter under consideration or to be voted upon by the City Council, and will not be issued for matters espousing an individual’s or organization’s ideological beliefs. The issuance of a Proclamation or Letter of Recognition does not reflect the mayor’s support or endorsement of any individual, issue, project, or event. The mayor reserves the right to modify or deny any request.”
Tumlin, now in his fourth term as mayor, felt aggrieved.
“So if I want to say ‘thank you,’ I gotta ask you and Cheryl?” he asked Godfrey.
“No sir, this is the mayoral awards — ” Godfrey said, before being cut off by the mayor.
Tumlin said he had awarded many proclamations over the years, none of which have been controversial.
“There’s never been any controversy. If somebody says that, that's just a flat-a** lie,” Tumlin said.
“Oh, no, no, absolutely,” Godfrey replied.
Then, leaning forward on the dais, Hizzoner declared, “That’s what I think — if y’all want to accuse me, go ahead! Man up.”
A visibly surprised Richardson cut in and repeatedly denied that the section was referring to anything Tumlin had done in the past.
“What are you accusing me of?” Tumlin asked, later adding “I'm still gonna write proclamations, whether the two of you like it or not.”
Richardson sought to explain herself, saying she was only trying to set up a streamlined award-giving process — “We were trying to codify this, this was not an attack on anyone or anything that anyone's done.
“I’m sure the paper’s going to write this, so I'm going to come out and say it,” Richardson said. “When Michelle and Reggie left, we gave Michelle and Reggie the exact same award. Michelle worked for 8 years, got recognized for Elizabeth Porter (Park), got all of that. Reggie did four years, his impact was less than Michelle’s, and they both got the same award.”
The council in recent years also gave the same award to Dan Flynn, who served 15 years as police chief, and Roger Rozen, who served 39 years as a city prosecutor, and then as Municipal Court judge.
“When Reggie left I think that people felt because we were giving Michelle one, we had to (give him one). I think because we had so few awards, we felt compelled to give everyone the same thing when they left,” Richardson said.
Chalfant, taking the mayor’s side, advised Richardson that she ought to remove the section that offended Tumlin.
“I think everything is positive except for No. 4,” Chalfant said.
“No. 4 is not positive if you believe that it was meant to attack you. It says we're not going to discriminate. … Just like when we do in hiring, ‘we will not discriminate,’” Richardson said.
Godfrey apologized to the mayor and said the paragraph was “some model language” he borrowed from another city to give the mayor some flexibility.
“I didn't mean to appear like it was overstepping … I was not making any sort of statement, I was simply just doing an admin thing that I'm used to doing, and just putting some words on paper to have y’all take a look at it,” Godfrey said.
Added Richardson, “It’s a statement, and if you take it personally, then that is on you, not on our intent."
“I take it personally,” Tumlin said.
“That’s on you, mayor,” Richardson retorted.
At one point, Morris said he doesn’t think every council member necessarily deserves an award at the end of service. Walker also tried to make a point, and the two talked over each other.
“Point of order! Please don't interrupt each other,” said an exasperated Goldstein.
“I'm in charge, I didn't call on you. I’m talking, I’m head of this committee,” Morris exclaimed.
“Point of order overrides that,” said Goldstein, a Robert’s Rules of Order aficionado. “So, I’m done."
“Well I'm speaking, can I finish?” Morris said.
“You’re the chair,” Goldstein said.
Eventually, Richardson got so fed up that she made a motion to deny her own proposal, which failed for lack of a second. When it came time to make a decision, none of the three committee members (Morris, Richardson and Andre Sims) wanted to make another motion, so the proposal died.
Readers of this column will recall that when Kelly ran against Tumlin last year, Richardson chose to back her candidacy in a very public way, giving Kelly her full-throated endorsement. Unfortunately for Richardson, Kelly failed to win. The temperature between Richardson and Tumlin has been on the frosty side ever since. Which goes to show what happens when you back the wrong horse.
REVIEWING THE REVIEWER: State Rep. Ginny Ehrhart, R-west Cobb, reports that the House Special Committee to Study Accreditation is up and running.
The goal of the committee, Ehrhart said, is to make recommendations for legislation to be introduced in the next session to address any issues related to accreditation for K-12 public schools.
The committee is chaired by Rep. Chris Erwin, R-Homer, former president of the Georgia School Superintendents Association. Other members include Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville, chair of the House Education Committee; Rep. John Corbett, R-Lake Park; Rep. Mesha Mainor, D-Atlanta, and Ehrhart. Members were appointed by House Speaker David Ralston.
After an initial administrative meeting, the second meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. August 2 in Room 403 of the Capitol.
“The purpose is to study the current state of the accreditation process in Georgia and whether or not it is serving the ultimate purpose of educating the minds of Georgia's children,” Ehrhart said. “What are the objectives of accreditation? What are the pitfalls? The shortcomings? Now I can tell you, in my opinion, that accreditation has taken on a whole new purpose in the past, let’s say, three or four years in Georgia. So I'm really look forward to having various parties come to the table and give testimony about their experience in accreditation.”
Lawmakers will invite different people to speak at the hearings from superintendents to teachers.
Ehrhart said the ultimate goal of accreditation is to give a sort of stamp of approval to a high school degree. She said it’s interesting to note that accreditation is not required for admission to any Georgia public universities.
“Now the stickler is, and the problem is, an accredited degree is required for the HOPE scholarship, and that concerns me. So I would personally like to look at and discuss in this committee whether accreditation should be decoupled from the HOPE scholarship,” she said.
Questions to be answered, she said, are who should be accrediting Georgia’s public school systems, and what criteria they should be using.
“I know from what Rep. Erwin stated that everything we do should be measured against the ultimate goal of what is best for the education of Georgia students. Everything should be done with that end goal of doing the very best we can to equip Georgia students for the future, for their college careers, for their entrance into the technical program, or their entrance into the workforce.”
The largest accreditation firm in Georgia is Cognia, which Ehrhart says has made dramatic changes to its new tenets.
“My understanding is that after the debacle we had here in Cobb County with the failed accredited process of Cobb Schools and the quite frankly outrageous special review they (Cognia) put the district through, my understanding is they said they are going to push some of those new criteria down the road a little bit, but it’s supposed to go into effect in July. Their paperwork says their tenets go into effect in July.”
And what’s her take on those new tenets?
“It’s replete with a lot of social constructs. It is heavily weighted toward a social agenda rather than academic achievement, in my opinion."
PRINCIPAL SEARCH: In a Wednesday email to Marietta High School staff, Superintendent Grant Rivera gave an update on the selection process for the new principal of MHS.
"During the optional MHS staff meeting on June 13, I promised you that I would provide updates regarding the principal selection process and timeline. This email serves as my follow-up to that commitment," Rivera wrote. "After working through an extensive applicant pool, district leaders started round one interviews this week. We will continue with a second-round panel interview that includes SGB and PTA representatives, followed by a third-round interview with student representatives (selected based on their current leadership roles at MHS). At the present time, we are on track for a finalist to be named in July. Look for me to follow-up later in the process. Until then, wishing you each a restful and relaxing summer."
JERICA'S FUTURE: One could’ve been forgiven for forgetting that, depending on who you ask, Commissioner Jerica Richardson has just six months left in elected office.
Having been drawn out of her post in this year’s redistricting process, Richardson herself has acknowledged she’ll be booted out of office when the maps take effect Jan. 1 of next year.
But studious observers of Richardson shouldn’t expect her to go quietly into the night, either.
“I will not sit back. I will not step down, and I will not just say nothing,” as Richardson herself put it earlier this year.
She’s been mum so far about her plans, but Richardson told the Journal this week she and her allies have been doing their homework, with more developments in the works.
“There has been a lot of legal research done at this point about what the avenues are, and I will share that there have been some legal pathways that we've identified,” she said.
Does that mean a lawsuit will be coming from her?
“Not from me,” said she, ever-coy.
Around Town wishes you and yours a safe and celebratory Independence Day. To quote Benjamin Franklin, "Where liberty dwells, there is my country."