published Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Lyerly, Ga., may cut number of council posts

By Jimmy Espy
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LYERLY, Ga. — Plagued by a lack of interest in public service, the Lyerly Town Council is studying doing away with two of its five council positions.

“It’s something we are considering,” Mayor Josh Wyatt said. “The attorney is very busy right now, but that’s one of the things we have asked her to look at.”

“We will probably talk about it at our next work session [in July],” he said.

Changing the number of council seats will require the approval of the Georgia Legislature. But Wyatt thinks that will get done if the council is united on making the change.

State law also requires the town to advertise any proposed alterations to its charter and vote on them at a public meeting.

Wyatt said other language in the city charter needs to be “updated,” as well.

“There are some things in there that don’t make sense anymore,” he said. “For instance, the charter calls for council elections every two years, but since then state law has changed that to four years. Those kinds of things need to be updated.”

The town of 500 in western Chattooga County has been without its full complement of elected officers since Mayor Jessica Eller and Councilman William Thompson resigned in April. Wyatt stepped into the role of mayor, leaving his and Thompson’s seats open.

“We haven’t heard from anyone qualified who wants to be on council,” Wyatt said. “The one person who mentioned it was not eligible because of some tax issues and a delinquent water bill.”

Wyatt said neither he nor the three current council members — his wife, Ellen, Robert Thompson and Holly Burrage — have been recruiting new members. The town has not advertised the openings, either.

“We want someone to come to approach us instead of us having to beg them to be on the council,” he said.

The town charter specifically calls for five members, but it does not say how quickly the council must fill open positions.

The last time Lyerly had an unplanned opening on its council it was several months before Burrage came forward. The job was advertised several times, and council members actively sought a replacement.

Former state Rep. Johnny Crawford, who served as mayor of Lyerly and later as a councilman, understands why reducing the number of council seats is appealing.

“Sometimes finding somebody who wants to serve isn’t easy,” he said. “I think a lot of people don’t like to be involved in controversy, and being in politics can get a lot of people mad at you.”

Crawford said he was unaware of any town councils in the area that seat only three members, but added, “I don’t think there is any harm in it.”

Jimmy Espy is based in Dalton. Contact him at hoodcsa@aol.com.

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