April 22, 2014 9:54:25 AM
The state Attorney General office said the position of vice mayor in Columbus is a four-year term but declined to say a vote councilmen took in July to put councilman Gene Taylor in that post for one year was void.
Councilmen asked city attorney Jeff Turnage in December to seek an AG opinion on their vote. Two prior opinions on the same topic sought by former city attorney Dewitt Hicks in 1983 and 1990 conclude the appointed post is to run for the duration of the term unless he resigns, is removed from office or dies. Councilman Kabir Karriem asked during the December meeting if the board needed to rescind its July action to come into compliance with state code.
The AG opinion states the council can repeal or amend the action previously taken but the opinion can neither validate nor invalidate a previous council action.
Columbus is one of 16 municipalities in Mississippi that was set up as a special charter, referred to in the AG opinion as a private charter. The city charter is silent as to the term of the vice mayor's office, so that stipulation would be dictated by general state law by default, Turnage said. He added that the opinions from 1983 and 1990 were more firm in their conviction that state law requires whoever is elected vice-mayor to be done so for a full term.
"I didn't see the rescind issue in the prior opinions," Turnage said. "It looked to me like it can't be rescinded because the term is the term and except for dying or voluntary resignation or being run out of office, there was no alternative in the way I read the prior opinions. It doesn't make sense to me to say it has to be four years unless he dies, quits or gets removed from office and then turn around and say you can just rescind it. That's what it said, so I don't know what the council may do with it."
If the opinion had stated specifically that the council's vote in July was void and should be readdressed, Turnage said he would have brought that to the council's attention as soon as he received the opinion last month. Given the response that an opinion can't make a decision, Turnage said he would leave it up to councilmen to readdress vice-mayor term limits.
The vice-mayor has the responsibility and duties the mayor would hold in his absence or incapacity to serve.
Taylor took over the post in July. Prior to his appointment, Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin held the position for four years.
Karriem was the only councilman to vote last July against appointing Taylor as vice-mayor for one year. In December, he said his reason for bringing it back up was to correct council minutes but that the vote was based on a one-year rotation appointment and, no matter what the opinion stated, Taylor should consider voluntarily resigning in July and letting somebody else hold the position.
"We need to make sure that (the vice-mayor) is capable of carrying on the city business, no matter who that individual is," Karriem said at the time.
Taylor said it would be up to the council to determine if it wanted him to serve as vice-mayor for more than a year.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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