The Sandy Springs Charter Review Commission considered raising salaries for the mayor and City Council, and discussed term limits and the city’s millage rate at its virtual meeting on April 15.

The commission is tasked with reviewing the city’s charter to make sure that the document that set up the city government is serving its purpose, and to determine if changes are needed. The first charter review was completed in 2011. Recommendations will be presented to the council and the city’s legislative delegation. The delegation members can submit changes for legislative approval, reject any or all, or make their own changes.

Councilmember Andy Bauman offered his insight about the city’s charter and its operations and answered questions.

Commission member Chip Collins asked Councilmember Andy Bauman about salaries and term limits.

“If this commission does nothing else I think it should, as the prior commissions have done, is reset the pay and compensation for the council and mayor. And I agree, it is not so much compensation as its loss mitigation,” Collins said.

He asked Bauman what he thought would be a fair amount of pay and what he thought about term limits.

Bauman said any number he picked would be pulling it out of thin air. The initial salary for the part-time jobs of councilmember and mayor were $12,000 and $25,000 in 2006. The state legislature raised those to $18,000 for councilmembers and $40,000 for the mayor and added a provision for a cost-of-living increase.

Rather than term limits, Bauman said, he thought the people who get elected need to set self-imposed limits on themselves while also developing a pipeline of leadership. After serving as a council member people get better at understanding policy. He said he struggled with the decision on running for another term this year.

“Now the voters may decide to flip me out this year, which is fine,” he said.

Setting term limits would take away the rights of voters to make that decision, Bauman said.

As the commission went through the charter’s first two sections, Collins said he favors a two-term limit for mayor but none for City Council. Turnover for the council seats has been regular.

“But the mayor position seemed to be one that’s harder to let go of,” he said.

Blad said the 2011 Charter Review Commission proposed term limits of eight consecutive years for mayor and council. That proposal was not adopted by the legislature.

“I think that decision should be made by the voters, and not by us putting some kind of cap … in the charter document, that’s my feeling on term limits,” said Andrea Settles, another commission member.

Commission member Tricia Gephardt favored term limits.

“I do think that term limits are healthy. I agree with Chip that I think that a two-term limit for the mayor would be wise. I disagree a little bit on the City Council having no term limits whatsoever,” she said.

Gephardt suggested a limit of three consecutive terms – or 12 years –for council. Council members could run again after sitting out for a term.

“I guess we’ve been lucky enough to get this natural rotation where people step down and other people step up,” said commission member Melody Kelley, who is also a candidate for the City Council District 2 seat in the November municipal election. “But with no term limits, there’s no way to guarantee that we’re actually going to regularly generate new leaders, new faces. That inclusion we like to talk about, this severely compromises that if we don’t have term limits.” 

Sterling said he didn’t think the commission had a full consensus on term limits yet. More discussion will be held before members formulate any motions about term limits.

Tochie Blad, the Charter Review Commission’s vice chair, asked about removing the provision of the charter that sets the maximum millage rate at 4.731. The City Council would set the millage rate based on budget needs and not an artificial rate, she said. The city has never lowered the rate, she said.

“Personally, by removing the voters from that I think that’s a terrible idea. And I doubt you’d ever get the people in the legislature to do that,” Commission Chairman Gabriel Sterling said.

Sandy Springs is unique that it’s up to voters if they want to raise taxes, he said. Passage of a referendum is required to increase the millage rate. The council can always lower the millage rate with nothing stopping them other than getting enough members to vote for it.

Collins said if Blad was suggesting having a referendum every year on the millage rate it’s a non-starter.

“I’m pretty sure Sandy Springs has to establish their millage rate every single year,” he said. The charter provision just sets a maximum rate.

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.