Politics & Government

Countryman, Creigton-Bishop seek court action to restore funding to their departments

More than a week after Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson presented a proposed $265 million budget for fiscal 2016, two elected officials already suing the city over alleged insufficient budgets are seeking court action to restore their funding.

A motion for mandamus was filed Friday by attorneys for Marshal Greg Countryman and Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton-Bishop, two of four elected officials already suing the Columbus Consolidated Government over budget funding. In a joint statement, Countryman and Bishop are asking Stone Mountain Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller to require the mayor to follow the charter on budget submissions and discontinue her efforts to circumvent the law, they say.

"We are profoundly disappointed that the mayor, who is a lawyer and also familiar with this law, would so callously disregard it yet again as she did for fiscal year 2015," the officials said. "Her conscious disregard for the plain law is causing a waste of taxpayer dollars in legal fees and hampering the efforts of law enforcement at a time when crime in Columbus is at an all-time high under her watch."

In a response to the complaint, Tomlinson said the marshal doesn't submit a budget but budget requests as stated by the charter.

"Those requests are considered and incorporated into an overall balanced budget of the Columbus Consolidated Government," she said. "In no event is any department or elected official required to get what they ask for. The charter and state law are clear on this point. The mayor's proposed budget, together with the marshal's requests, are provided for council's review and consideration. Council will be make the decision as to what is ultimately in the approved budget. To the extent the marshal contends otherwise, he is in error and that matter is fully before the court."

In the proposed budget presented March 31, the motion states that the mayor unlawfully and in complete derogation of her duties submitted her own proposal to Columbus Council. The budget calls for removing $327,322 from the marshal's office and transferring five deputies to the Columbus Police Department. Vehicles used in the operation of the Marshal's Office also would be removed.

The motion also states that the budget prevents Bishop from fully funding her personnel needs.

Other than the mayor, defendants in the action are nine members of the 10-member council, City Manager Isaiah Hugley, Finance Director Pam Hodge and City Attorney Clifton Fay. The motion states that nothing in the laws or Constitution of the state of Georgia nor the charter authorizes the mayor, the city manager, finance director and city attorney to pretend they have incorporated the budget requests submitted by the clerk of the marshal when they have submitted proposed budgets in place of actual budget requests submitted to the city manager by the municipal court clerk and the marshal.

Countryman said the mayor can't treat the budgets of elected officials that way. "You can't do that for elected officials," Countryman said by phone while attending a conference in Tucson, Ariz. "And to cut five deputies from my office you never set one foot in is not fair."

The mayor's budget letter noted the years-long inquiry and information on which the proposal for reallocation of duplicative funding are made.

"Any law enforcement capacity the Municipal Marshal has emanates from the limited jurisdiction of the Municipal Court and is ancillary to the chief law enforcement agency of this county -- the Columbus Police Department," the statement said. "The Columbus Consolidated Government is not obligated to fund three SWAT Teams, three Tactical Operations units, three Traffic Enforcement squads, or three criminal investigative units. The law enforcement resources we have need to be directed primarily to our chief law enforcement agency for the most effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars."

Countryman said he personally doesn't think this budget battle is a good thing.

"Elected officials are elected by the public," he said. "One elected official is not over another elected official. I sent my budget in and nothing I considered is in the budget."