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Monday, January 11, 2010

 

Math mistake costs attorney his job

Gwinnett County News

5:37 a.m. Monday, January 11, 2010

Math miscue costs Snellville city attorney his job

Shane Blatt
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

 

A numerical blunder has cost the Snellville city attorney his job, officials said.

Mike Williams, who was hired in 2008, won’t be reappointed at tonight’s City Council meeting. In late September, he miscounted the number of days required between the call of a Sunday alcohol sales referendum and the actual vote.

“We need a city attorney who can count to 40,” said Councilman Tod Warner, noting that Williams’ miscalculation meant the city was three days shy of the state-mandated time period. “He screwed up.”

The blunder led to the council changing its liquor laws by council vote, rather than referendum. Although Williams told the city it was on firm legal ground to do so, the vote prompted a lawsuit and temporary restraining order against Snellville. The matter is being heard later this month.

Williams offered his resignation after the Sept. 28 mistake, but Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer wouldn’t talk about it until after the November election. The city appoints or renews the contract for the city attorney each January.

“I thought Mike did a good job as the city attorney,” Oberholtzer said. “The issue in my book was we needed someone who understood the politics of Gwinnett County.”

But, Oberholtzer added, he knew the city needed to make a change after the miscount.

Williams, who is managing partner of a law firm in Jonesboro, did not return phone calls Friday seeking comment.

Although Williams’ numerical mistake was the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” there were other issues, Warner said.

Namely, Warner said, the city attorney took part in crafting a group homes ordinance that cost the city about $10,000 in legal fees but couldn’t pass constitutional muster.

Williams also had trouble standing his ground against a divided City Council, officials said.

“I’ve enjoyed working with Mr. Williams,” Warner said, “ but we need somebody who will champion what’s right, and not what the council wants. He just wasn’t forceful enough.”

Although Williams won’t be the city attorney, he’ll still be on the payroll handling the city’s ongoing battle over Sunday liquor-by-the-drink sales.

Three weeks ago, an attorney working on behalf of eight residents requested a temporary restraining order against Snellville. He argued that city leaders acted unlawfully Dec. 14 when by council vote rather than referendum, they opened the tap on Sunday alcohol sales to help struggling restaurants.

A magistrate judge on Dec. 28 issued the order, which temporarily prevents the city from handing out any additional Sunday alcohol licenses.

Tonight, Oberholtzer said he will recommend Tony Powell, Lawrenceville’s once-longtime city attorney, as Williams’ replacement.

Powell recently led an investigation into allegations that Lawrenceville Mayor Rex Millsaps violated the city’s ethics code 18 times, mostly by presiding over deliberations or voting on contracts involving a local architectural and engineering firm where he works. Last week, the Lawrenceville City Council absolved Millsaps of any wrongdoing.


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