December 18, 2013 9:48:04 AM
In July, Columbus councilmen voted to appoint Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor as vice mayor for one year.
Prior opinions from the Mississippi attorney general office, however, say that once a vice mayor is appointed, he holds the position through the end of his elected term.
During a council meeting Tuesday, Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem said he wanted to discuss the matter because he wanted to find out if the council needed to rescind the action taken in July.
City attorney Jeff Turnage said one of his predecessors, Dewitt Hicks, requested and received opinions in 1983 and 1990 concerning term limits for a vice mayor. It was the responses to those requests that stated a vice mayor holds the position through the end of his elected term, or until he resigns, dies, is disqualified as a municipal elector or is removed by court order.
Councilmen on Tuesday unanimously agreed to request an updated AG opinion on whether the council is allowed to limit a vice mayor's term to one year. Turnage said he did not anticipate in July that any council member would want to change the vice mayor term to one year. It was after that meeting that he was presented with the AG's 1983 response. Turnage found the 1990 response soon afterward.
"I then became concerned about whether the one-year appointment of the council member himself was void or the only part that was void was the one-year limitation," Turnage said. "My gut feeling was the appointment of the vice mayor for one year was valid as to him but the one-year limitation was not valid."
He said he then emailed an assistant attorney general, who said the appointment was lawful but the term assignment was not. The assistant attorney's general response was unofficial, however.
"I would be happy to ask for an attorney general's opinion for them to explain to us whether or not we have to revisit it or whether we need to have another vote so the minutes reflect accurately what the appointment is, but I believe his appointment is for four years unless he voluntarily steps down," Turnage said.
Mayor Robert Smith suggested councilmen request an official opinion. Karriem -- who cast the lone dissenting vote in July regarding the term limit matter -- clarified that he did not want to be appointed vice mayor and his concern involved no personal agenda against Taylor.
"We take the vice mayor position and we all know it's a symbolic gesture, but in the event that the mayor is out...and someone has to sit in that position, we need to make sure that individual is capable of carrying on the city business, no matter who that individual is," Karriem said. "My purpose in bringing this up tonight is to correct the minutes, but I believe that Councilman Taylor is an honorable man no matter what the attorney general opinion comes back and says. I believe he knows the vote was based on a one-year rotation appointment and surely that he considers the rest of the councilmen when that time is up in a year's time and consider whether or not to step down and let somebody else hold that position because he is an honorable man."
Taylor replied that he wanted the council to ensure it was abiding state law.
"I am honorable man and I stand on my word," he said. "That would be up to the council as to whether they want me to serve or not to serve. The attorney has already stated what is unlawful about this. I would leave it at that and let the council make that decision when that time comes to make it."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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