ROSWELL, Ga. – Jere Wood will likely finish his fifth term as Roswell mayor while he appeals a judge’s opinion forcing him out of office.
The longtime mayor says the reason he is out is because state Rep. Betty Price sabotaged the City Council’s attempts to have the City Charter amended to “clarify” a recent amendment for term limits on the City Council.
Wood said he fully expects Price to take advantage of the situation and run for mayor herself.
But, Price says the changes Wood and the council tried to pass to fix the charter just were not legal.
When Price was asked if she was thinking of giving up her seat in the Legislature to run for mayor, she didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Absolutely I’m considering it,” she said. “I would be happy to serve. It is tempting.”
She and Wood are in agreement about one thing. Both said the next mayor should be paid a “full-time salary.” They both agreed the office of mayor is too demanding to be only part time.
Price said she would bide her time, and if no “consensus” candidate appeared, she would consider getting in the race.
Roswell’s qualifying period is Monday, Aug. 21, through Friday, Aug. 25.
Wood pointed out Price was a member of the Roswell City Council in 2010 when the charter amendment was crafted and sent to the Georgia General Assembly. So she was in a position to know what the council’s intent was at the time term limits were instituted.
When the lawsuit was filed to declare Wood’s fifth term violated the charter, Price had left her council seat and was a member of the Fulton Legislative Delegation in the Georgia House.
Thus she was one of the arbiters over the “fixes” the current members of the City Council tried to implement that would keep Wood lawfully serving his current term and eligible to serve one more.
Wood said she had to know the City Council’s intent at the time was to allow him two more terms.
In the arcane rules of the Fulton Delegation, a legislative matter that concerns just one city is left up to the senators and representatives who represent that city, i.e. have voting precincts in them. By rule the vote must be unanimous.
So the City Council’s attempt to change the wording of the city charter – they said clarify – never made it to the floor of the General Assembly.
“Betty Price gets a lot of the credit for hastening my exit,” Wood said on a call from the South Carolina beach where he was vacationing. “She blocked the passage of the amendment to the charter that would have saved us all this time and expense.”
He also said the lawsuit filed by Roswell resident Michael Litten was really the work of Price.
“Litten’s name was on the lawsuit, but Betty was passing him notes to pass on to the attorney,” Wood said. “Betty wanted to get rid of me, so she found other means.”
Price said that simply was not factual.
“He’s way off base, I don’t operate that way,” Price said. “For the Roswell delegation to move that amendment forward, it must be unanimous.
“There are four members of the Roswell delegation. One vote can stop it. But Jere did not even have a majority,” Price said. “He did not even have half [the votes]. I’m not sure he had anybody.
“If he wants to blame me that’s fine. But it is not reality.”
Even the “corrections” from the City Council sent down for approval were not clear, Price said.
The City Council never sent down a correction that the Roswell delegation thought would pass muster, she said.
Price said she offered the city one solution that was clean and concise – to resubmit a charter amendment abolishing term limits altogether.
Then at a later date, the city could resubmit a clean version of term limits, she said.
“But no one wanted to do that at the city. To me, it was the only clear way out and end a costly lawsuit for the city,” she said.
Once the matter was under litigation, Price said it would not be appropriate for the delegation to intervene and take any action.
“The judge wrote in his opinion that the case was political. Why would the legislators want to weigh in on the case that was politically motivated and in the midst of a lawsuit?” she said. “All we were trying to do was to be helpful, save the city some money and get the city out of this quagmire which was of their own doing.”
Price called into question how the mayor was allowed to qualify in 2013 for his fifth term after the charter’s change had already gone into effect.
“According to the charter, Jere was ineligible. How did he get on the ballot? That’s never been explained,” she said. “Did he or somebody give instructions to the city clerk that the charter didn’t apply? The charter is pretty clear Jere wasn’t eligible.”
Wood said no one told the city clerk to do anything – and for good reason. At that time – and even now – the sense of the council was that term limits were not to be retroactive to his previous terms.
“Everyone understood what the council intended – and Betty was on council then. Everyone acted on that intent. We just didn’t say it very well,” Wood said.