Charter review committee for Fort Oglethorpe finalized; mayor appoints member after councilman’s nominees rejected
The Fort Oglethorpe council has appointed a seven-member committee to review the city’s charter and, in the process, tossed out one council member’s nominees.
The committee, which was finalized Monday, May 20, is in response to a similar panel being formed by the state legislature to decide whether the city’s charter needs to be rewritten to avoid abuse of power by the mayor and council members.
The state decided to scrutinize the charter after a shakeup in leadership in late March, in which the city manager was forced to resign and the police chief and public works director were fired.
Some have maintained the city’s charter gives the mayor and council too much power. The state stepped in to investigate the matter and is setting up a 14-member panel.
Mayor Lynn Long and the city council, in response to the state’s actions, decided to form its own charter review committee to decide the issue. They maintain the charter gives the city manager too much power and should give more power to the mayor and council.
Fort Oglethorpe charter review committee members
Ron Powell: City resident. Nominated by council member Louis Hamm.
Michael Bellamy: City resident. Nominated by council member Louis Hamm.
Ron Hodges: City resident and business owner. Nominated by council member Johnnie Smith.
Steve Brandon: City resident, business owner and former city council member. Nominated by council member Johnnie Smith.
Arlene Walker: City resident. Nominated by council member Clay Kissner.
Clarence Crump: City resident. Nominated by council member Clay Kissner.
Eddie Holland: City resident. Nominated by mayor Lynn Long.
Ron Hodges, one of those appointed to the city’s charter review committee, said he’s pleased with those named to the panel. He said the committee needs “people like us who have nothing to gain and nothing to lose.”
Another committee member, Arlene Walker, who has been a resident of Fort Oglethorpe for more than a year, said she is approaching the charter issue with an open mind. She said she has attended council meetings during the last few months and heard the complaints from citizens, which have made her sad and embarrassed as a new citizen. She said she is taking her responsibility of reviewing the charter very seriously.
The city’s charter committee was originally slated to have eight members. Each member on the four-member city council was asked to nominate two people to serve on the committee. But the council rejected council member Earl Gray’s nominees, which were former public works director Jeff Long and 6th Cavalry Museum executive director Chris McKeever.
Jeff Long was fired in March. He has a lawsuit against the city and is seeking his job back. The council voted 3-1 against Long serving on the charter review committee.
McKeever has been a vocal critic of mayor Long and the March shakeup in city leadership. She is helping to organize an effort to recall the mayor. In the vote for McKeever to serve on the charter review committee, the council tied 2-2. Mayor Long broke the tie by voting against McKeever, saying her alliance with the recall effort would prevent her from being an unbiased member of the committee.
“Gray nominated two people that did not belong on there,” mayor Long said. “McKeever is leading the recall effort and she is just mad at the world and the other is a former employee that has a lawsuit against the city. Why would you nominate someone who is suing the taxpayers?”
Hodges agreed with the council for voting down Gray’s appointments to the charter review committee. “Having Jeff Long sit on the committee would be a conflict of interest,” Hodges said.
In the place of Gray’s failed nominations mayor Long nominated Eddie Holland, a schoolmate of mayor Long who grew up in Fort Oglethorpe and moved back to the area several years ago to retire in his hometown.
“Eddie is going to have an open mind and do a good job,” mayor Long said.
With only one nomination from the mayor, the committee now stands with seven members instead of the originally proposed eight. Seven members will work out better than eight, according to mayor Long.
“They will get a copy of the charter and select a chairperson,” mayor Long said of the next step for the committee. “They will have to be dedicated and work very hard. Each member of council will leave them alone and let them do what they need to do.”
Gray said he was disappointed in the council for not approving his two nominations. He defended both Jeff Long and McKeever, saying they are active members in the community and registered voters.
“I thought that was what they wanted, but they (the council) are going to do what they want,” Gray said.
Council member Clay Kissner, who struggled to find two nominations by May 13, came to the council with the names of city resident Arlene Walker and business owner and resident Clarence Crump, who both volunteered to serve on the committee. His nominations were approved unanimously, along with the prior appointments of council members Louis Hamm and Johnny Smith.
The deadline for the committee’s findings is Dec. 31, the same as the deadline for the charter committee being formed by the state. At that point any changes will be submitted to the state legislature for approval. The state legislature is still forming its 14-member committee and has not released the final names of those appointed, other than the chairman, Fort Oglethorpe business owner Steven Cooper.