The Ludowici City Council on Tuesday approved its final draft for the proposed changes to its city charter.
With the council voting unanimously in favor of the draft, it ended several months of debate over the document.
“I’m glad it’s over. We’ve been working on it for a while now,” Mayor James Fuller said. “With this new version, it is a lot more streamlined, and a lot of those old rules that were needed way back are out of it.”
Some of the major changes in the document include revisions to the manner in which the city’s municipal-court recorder judge is placed in office and the manner in which an elected or appointed official can be removed from office.
Attorney Katie Smith, who recorded the document, said that in compliance with new state requirements, once current Judge Larry Fowler steps down, it will be required that an attorney fill the seat. But she said, with this new requirement the City Council now possesses the authority to appoint a person, whereas in the past the judge was elected.
She said that the reason the Legislature now allows the local governmental entity to appoint a judge was due to some smaller communities not always having an attorney as a legal resident who is willing to serve. As long as Fowler remains certified, he can continue to be appointed by council, but that he will be the last person who is not an attorney to hold the office.
In regards to the judgeship, the council placed wording in the charter stating that attorneys who have a primary office and practice law primarily in Ludowici will have a preference to be appointed. Smith said this preference will not apply to an attorney who has a primary office outside of the city and only a satellite office in Ludowici.
Fowler’s current term ends on Dec. 31, 2015.
The council also placed stricter guidelines on how an elected or appointed official can be removed from office, citing that there must be “detailed, legally valid grounds and procedures to remove a person.” Smith said these changes also came down from the Legislature to prevent lawsuits from officials who have been removed, stating their “due process” rights being violated.
However, Smith cited that officials can be removed after an investigation hearing, written notice and a public hearing should they become incompetent, negligent, unqualified, act with moral turpitude, abandon office, leave the city or violate the charter. The requirement for removing an official is by having four of the five council members vote for ouster.
Smith said that the charter also states all appointed and elected officials must apply ethical standards in the performance of their duties and act in the best interest of Ludowici citizens. She said that if they act in their own best or “self-interest,” they would then be in violation of the conflict-of-interest clause and be subject to removal.
The proposed charter goes to the state legislature for approval.
Also Tuesday, local businessman Price Chapman went before the council to commend members on their plans to place a pole and United States flag at city hall and their advances in cleaning up the city. He also asked Fuller where the city was in regards to collecting past-due water bills. Chapman said there was around $9,000 that had not been collected. Fuller said when the current council took office, that amount was around $20,000, but through diligent efforts it had been cut in half. He also said that a water customer who has an unpaid balance is required to pay their current bill and a portion of their previous balance until they are paid up in full.
In other business, the council:
• Voted unanimously to begin the final steps to joining the Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter for the 2014 year.
• Unanimously voted to recognize trick-or-treating from 6-9 p.m. Oct. 31.
• Unanimously approved donating $750 to the Long County High School band to help offset costs for the band representing Ludowici and Long County during the halftime show of the upcoming Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
• Unanimously approved Dec. 13 for the annual employee Christmas party.