ROSWELL, Ga. — A Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled Aug. 3 that Jere Wood must be removed as Roswell mayor, an office he has held since 1997. But if Wood appeals the decision he will continue to serve while that appeal is heard.
Judge Craig L. Schwall found that Wood, now in his fifth term as mayor, was in violation of the City Charter’s term limits and called for his immediate removal.
However, Schwall said the order could be stayed should Wood decide to appeal the decision to the Georgia Supreme Court.
“I have decided to appeal the court’s decision in this matter,” Wood said Thursday in response to the ruling. “However, I will not be seeking re-election this coming November. I will continue to serve the city until my current term comes to an end or the appellate court rules on Judge Schwall’s decision.”
The ruling sided with Roswell resident Michael Litten, who brought the legal challenge and who also plans to run for mayor this fall.
The City Charter was amended in 2010 to create term limits for the mayor and council, limiting them to no more than three consecutive terms totaling 12 years.
The resolution was passed during Wood’s fourth term, but the City Council agreed the term limits were to begin “to count” only after the passage of the charter change. Under that interpretation, Wood would have been able to run for a final term in 2021.
But there was no wording in the charter to that effect. it was not spelled out in the charter as presented to the General Assembly for approval. That was the key factor in the challenge to the legitimacy of Wood’s current term.
Schwall in writing his opinion stated that the meaning of the charter is plain. In judge’s opinion he wrote that when a court is considering the meaning of a legislative act “It must presume that General Assembly [which approves requests for charter changes] meant what it said and said what it meant.”
Thus Schwall ruled Litten’s appeal of Wood’s election was upheld. The charter passage stands on what it explicitly states. No other interpretation could apply, Schwall said.
Litten said he is satisfied to see Wood stripped of his office.
Despite Schwall’s quoting Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz to describe the lawsuit as being brought about by “political enemies,” Litten said he did not bring the case out of animosity.
“My reason for [the lawsuit] was to hold officials accountable to the same thing we are accountable. It’s pretty clear to me in a 27-word sentence that Jere should not have run in 2013,” Litten said.
“It’s poetic justice for the man who ran on term limits in 1997 to be hoisted on his own petard.”
Litten said politicians should follow the example of George Washington by serving two terms and stepping down.
Asked to sum up Wood’s 20-year tenure, Litten said, “Jere well overstayed his welcome.”
Many voters did not agree, electing him five times. Wood did survive a narrow runoff election in 2005 but won handily in 2009 (Litten was one of his opponents) and then had no opposition in 2013.
Councilman Don Horton, the mayor pro tem of the Roswell City Council, will preside over the governing body.
The 2017 race for the mayor’s seat is set for Nov. 7 during Roswell’s general election.
Qualifying for Roswell elections opens Aug. 21 and closes Friday, Aug. 25.