In the wake of Marshal Greg Countryman's op-ed piece in Sunday's Ledger-Enquirer that made allegations against Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and others in city government, the mayor said it was time to clear up some misconceptions that have arisen from it and from statements made concerning current lawsuits against the city.
Speaking during the Mayor's Agenda at Tuesday morning's Columbus Council meeting, Tomlinson did not mention Countryman by name, but she addressed allegations made by him and three other local elected officials who are suing the city over their budgets and the city's budgeting process.
Tomlinson said allegations that she is in violation of the city charter by not passing along officials' budget requests are "simply in error." She pointed to state law that gives her, as the city's chief executive officer, the right to "exercise the initial budgetary policy-making function."
"That is what state law provided," Tomlinson said. "When our charter was enacted, Columbus-Muscogee County Consolidated Government decided to adopt that initial executive budget policy making process."
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She pointed to Section 4-201 of the city's charter, which states, "The mayor shall have the power and duty to submit to the council the recommended annual operating and capital budget and capital improvement program as required by Article VII, Chapter 4 of this charter."
Tomlinson said, "This is, of course, classic proposed policy-making function, and it is precisely the type of executive initial budgetary policy-making function that the governor of Georgia has and that the president of the United States has. It is a very common thing in our representative democracy to have this executive policy making budgetary process."
Countryman, responding to a request for comment by email, said Tomlinson is selective in following the law.
"The mayor has demonstrated that she follows the law the way she wants to, not the law that applies," Countryman wrote. "If she doesn't like the clear language, she decides to reinvent it, be it the budget or otherwise."
In his op-ed piece, Countryman said Tomlinson is the first mayor he has worked with who has reduced his requested budget before giving it to council, which he says is a violation of the city charter.
"Regrettably, Mayor Tomlinson's disregard of this one simple, clear sentence (in the charter) has already cost the taxpayers legal fees of well over $1 million, and this figure will likely top $3 million before this is over, which seems to be of little concern to her. The mayor is wasting taxpayer dollars because she can't admit she is wrong and the charter is right," Countryman wrote.
Tomlinson said the city did not instigate any of the lawsuits, and it had no choice but to defend itself once the suits were filed. The cost of the litigation is at the feet of those who filed it, she said.
Concerning Countryman's contention that she is the only mayor to present reduced budgets for elected officials, Tomlinson presented a list from the last eight budget years, her first four and former Mayor Jim Wetherington's four. In each of the eight, the mayor's proposed budget was less, at times substantially, than the marshal's budget request.
In fiscal year 2008, Wetherington's first budget, the marshal requested $1.87 million and the mayor proposed $1.14 million.
In fiscal year 2009, the marshal requested $2.34 million and the mayor proposed $1.18 million.
In fiscal year 2010, the marshal requested $2.6 million and the mayor proposed $1.18 million.
In fiscal year 2011, Wetherington's final budget, the marshal requested $1.96 million and the mayor proposed $1.62 million.
In three of the four years, council approved the mayor's proposed budget for the marshal's office. In fiscal year 2010, they added about $80,000.
"We have these numbers for each of the offices that are engaged in litigation and the pattern is exactly the same," Tomlinson said. "So it is not true to say, not accurate to say, that no mayor has ever proposed less than was requested."
Countryman said he would not comment because he had not seen the numbers Tomlinson presented to council.