COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – If you live in Columbus and have looked at your sample ballot available through My Voter Page, you may have been confused by the wording of several items, especially the ones specific to the Columbus charter. WRBL previously reported on the Article VII items. This article will explain items pertaining to Article V, Article VIII and the proposed revision to notice requirements throughout the charter.

Ben Richardson and Tyson Begly were on the 2021 Charter Review Commission that came up with all of the Columbus items on the current local midterm ballot. They and a document called 2021 Charter Review Commission Recommendations have provided clarifications for the following items:

Article V – Proposed Charter Amendment

The proposed Article V – Proposed Charter Amendment is worded as follows on the sample ballot:

“For approval of the change in the existing charter of the City of Columbus to make certain Charter provisions pertaining to Municipal Court and Recorder’s Court consistent with state law.”

There are four such provisions. The first one pertains to an outdated amount of money in Section 5-402 of the charter.

Section 5-402

“Currently, Municipal Court has jurisdiction of civil cases when the amount does not exceed $15,000 including suits for damages, breach of contract, etcetera and jurisdiction in garnishments and writs of possession up to $15,000,” Richardson said. “The $5,000 amount was archaic and no longer valid under current state law.”

The 2021 Charter Review Commission’s recommendation for Section 5-402 is to remove “the sum of five thousand dollars ($5,000.00)” from the current language and replace it with “the statutory amounts as designated by the State of Georgia.”

Richardson explained that the State of Georgia periodically changes its statue amounts for courts, and the Columbus Charter is only reviewed every 10 years. The suggested new wording will ensure that the charter always complies with the State of Georgia.

Section 5-603

Section 5-603 of the Columbus Charter currently has no removal process for Recorder’s Court judges before their terms end in four years. To set removal procedures and term limits for the recorder’s court, the charter commission recommends creating a subsection stating, “Any Recorder or Recorders Pro Tem may be removed by the Council of the Consolidated Government for any of the reasons set forth in O.C.G.A Section 36-32-2.1 (b)(1) and in accordance with the procedures set forth in paragraphs (c), (d) and (e) of the same Code section.”

Section 5-604

The commission’s recommendation for Section 5-604 is also meant to set removal procedures and term limits for the recorder’s court.

The current language says, “The term of office of recorders and recorders pro tem shall be four (4) years and until a successor is appointed and qualified.” The commission recommends adding, “unless such Recorder or recorder pro tem is removed in accordance with the provisions of Section 5-603 (b) above” after the word, “qualified.”

Section 5-605

The charter commission recommends adding to the wording of Section 5-605, which deals with the recorder’s court, “The general intent of this court is to establish cause and perform other statutory duties as provided by Georgia law.”

“The original purpose of Recorders Court was to see if felony and misdemeanor cases had probable cause to have the case bound over to the appropriate higher court and to set bonds at the initial stage of the charged crime, not to try the case at that time for guilt or innocence,” Richardson said. “This is to be done at the next level of court.  Some individuals were confusing the purpose of Recorders Court, which there are not many of these type of courts in Georgia. Therefore, the Charter Review Commission wanted to clarify the intent and original purpose of this court for all to be on the same page going forward.”

Article VIII – Charter Amendment

The proposed Article VIII – Proposed Charter Amendment is worded as follows on the sample ballot:

“For approval of the change in the existing charter of the City of Columbus to refer to the Sheriff as the Sheriff of Muscogee County.”

The rationale behind this, in the words of the recommendations document, is “[t]o more clearly define the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s office in Muscogee County based on geography versus a governmental entity.”

Richardson explained that the Muscogee County sheriff is not just the sheriff of the local consolidated government, but of the whole county.

“So the charter review commission just cleaned up archaic language in the charter to track the State of Georgia Constitution, and the current Sheriff was in agreement with this recommended change,” he said.

Proposed revision to notice requirements throughout the charter

This ballot item is worded as follows:

“For approval of the change in the existing charter of the City of Columbus to update and modernize notice requirements contained throughout the Charter; to provide for digital notification in addition to required published notification; and to allow the Columbus Council the authority to provide an additional or alternate means of notification when a required method becomes unavailable or legally impossible.”

Begly said the purpose of this proposed revision would apply to multiple areas of the Columbus charter, “pushing for more digital/online information rather than just relying on newspaper legal ads.”

“It also provided language that allowed the city alternative publishing methods if there was ever a time in the future where a local newspaper was unavailable for legal ads,” he said.