Marietta’s City Council meeting played out like a courtroom drama Wednesday.
There was no murder victim, no judge or jury, but two lawyers fiercely debated their interpretation of the law.
At issue was the question of whether to impose term limits of three four-year terms on future mayors and members of the City Council.
In the end, the Council approved the limits 6-1, with Councilman Philip Goldstein opposed, but not after a debate between Goldstein and City Attorney Doug Haynie.
The two took turns quoting city, state and federal code at one another. Much was discussed, but the heart of the matter was whether the city had the legal authority to make the change to its charter.
Goldstein argued it does not.
In February, the council sent a measure to the state Legislature containing language for a term limit bill.
That came months after over 80 percent of Marietta voters came out in favor of term limits during the November election.
State Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, proposed a bill, but was unable to obtain the minimum number of signatures needed by representatives in the Cobb Legislative Delegation for it to move forward.
After that, Mayor Steve Tumlin and Haynie moved to enact term limits without going through the state, invoking the right of local rule.
Goldstein argued that was overstepping the city’s authority.
“The mayor is an attorney and a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives,” Goldstein said. “He knows the process and came up short in his desired result. Can term limits legally be enacted? Yes. However, it requires the act of the Legislature as this is one of the items that the state Legislature reserved to itself and did not delegate to the individual cities.”
Mayor Tumlin was not present at the meeting but listened in on speaker phone.
The debate between the two attorneys covered many esoteric legal issues, but it also bordered on the personal at times, as when Goldstein accused Haynie of not sharing his research into the topic with him.
Haynie was not having it.
“I think it’s safe to say he and I have disagreed mightily over the years, and the normal course is I put the research out, and then Philip picks it apart,” Haynie said. “He asked for it in this instance, and here was my response ... ‘If you have done your own research on this and have reached a different conclusion based on your research, I will be happy to exchange it with you. If, however, the purpose you are seeking my research is to pick this apart, as has previously happened, I will defer to a later time.”
Haynie also accused Goldstein of waving a lawsuit before the city.
“The last two pages provided by Mr. Goldstein basically are a threat to sue you and intimidate you,” Haynie said to the council.
The pages Haynie was referring to contain a section of U.S. Code that outlines civil action for the deprivation of rights and another piece of code stating that the court may allow the winner of such cases to impose an attorney’s fee.
“The right to run for office is a right,” Goldstein said. “The right to vote for folks that are running for office as a citizen is a right ... This charter amendment is taking rights away contrary to state law, and it’s taking it under federal law.”
Councilman Grif Chalfant, who previously voted with Goldstein, voted to support the measure Wednesday. He told the MDJ he came to change his mind after discussions with voters through emails and at town hall meetings.
“After exhaustive introspection and long discussions with many of my constituents, the mayor and many others, I really thing it most appropriate for me to vote with the 80 percent of the people who voted for term limits,” Chalfant said.