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District posts to change how city elections are done
Election clarifications among proposed changes to city charter
City hall

Citizens qualifying for the Dawsonville city council election this year will have a different experience than past candidates, as they will be vying for specific district posts depending on where they live.

The previous city council voted in December 2017 to amend the city’s charter to contain four district posts, much like the Dawson County Board of Commissioners. In prior elections, council members ran for any open seat. Beginning in this year’s election, citizens can only run to be on the council if the seat in the district where they reside is up for re-election.

This year, the seats held by council members Caleb Phillips and Jason Power are up for re-election, meaning candidates must live in either post 1 or post 3, respectively, to run.

Likewise in 2021, post 2, currently occupied by Stephen Tolson, will be up for election, as well as post 4, currently occupied by Mark French.

The mayor seat is also up for re-election this year, but the mayor can reside in any of the four district posts.

All are elected at-large, meaning eligible city residents can vote for any of the candidates regardless of where they live.

The district posts will go to the general assembly this session to be ratified as local legislation, and though Mayor Mike Eason has said the local legislation is not required for the posts to take effect, he said it will act as a “safety net.”

The general election will take place in November. On Jan. 7, the council voted to set qualifying fees at $279 for the mayor and $257 for council members.

The council is currently looking at revising the city charter to more accurately describe the way council members are elected, among other revisions.

The council held a first reading on Jan. 7 to discuss the charter amendments, and will hold public hearings on Jan. 22 and Feb. 4, after which they could adopt any changes to the charter.

The amendments make it clear that in order to be eligible to serve as a city council member, candidates must reside in their district posts for at least one year immediately prior to the date they take office and continue to reside in that post during their time in office, which the old charter does not specify.

The amendments would also allow for the creation of an ethics board, update the council members’ oath of office, adjust the time of regular meetings to 5:30 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. the first Monday of every month and clarify other sections of the charter in regards to the roles of city employees and defining conflicts of interest, among other changes.

The amendments would also update the amount that council members and the mayor are paid each month.

Council member Mark French stated during the Jan. 7 meeting that he would not support increasing the compensation of the mayor and council members as outlined in the proposed amendments because he did not think that the council’s duties had increased to account for it.

The mayor was compensated $2,000 a month until December 2017, when the council voted to reduce the compensation to $600. Council members are currently compensated $500 a month.

The proposed changes would increase the mayor’s compensation to $1,000 a month and the council members’ compensation to $600 a month. The changes would also increase compensation paid to the mayor and council for each city council meeting as well as other pre-approved meetings other than the first regular city council meeting of the month from $100 to $150.

In keeping with the new district posts, the council amended ordinances in December that pertain to how the members of the planning commission are appointed. Members will now be selected to represent the district posts in which they live, which was not a requirement before.

The council voted 3-1 Jan. 7 to appoint new members to the planning commission, with French voting against the motion.

Appointed are Troy Lindsey (post 1), Ken Goines (post 2), John Walden (post 3), Anna Tobolski (post 4) and Matt Fallstrom (at large).

The terms of Lindsey, Goines and Fallstrom will expire Dec. 31, 2021 and the terms of Walden and Tobolski will expire Dec. 21, 2020.

French objected because he wanted to ensure that several people on the new commission had served previously.

“We’re going to be having a good deal of growth here in the community and I don’t want to throw away years of wisdom that people have had that really would benefit us,” French said.

Only Walden was a member of the previous planning commission.

The first public hearing on the charter amendments will be held at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 14 in the second floor meeting room at city hall.