In a 2-4 vote on Monday, a majority of city council members chose not to affirm a motion to switch to appointing magistrates rather than hold a special called election for a judge May 20 as planned.
“I see both sides, and at the end of the day the reasons kind of evened out, so I didn’t see a compelling reason for making a change,” Councilman Rich Dippolito said after the vote.
Councilman Jerry Orlans, who made the motion to rescind the council’s previous call for the special election, said it was in the interest of getting “a more efficient and professional court system.” The motion was seconded by Councilwoman Becky Wynn.
With the failure of Orlans’ motion, the election will take place as called for on May 20. The candidate qualifying period is 9 a.m. March 3 through noon March 7.
Conclusions in a study commissioned by Roswell from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government leaned in favor of appointment over election of a city judge, in part, the study stated, because “it allows for careful vetting of the most qualified candidates by the city governing authority.”
But resident Janet Russell told the council she thought an appointment system would be problematic.
“I’m really concerned about separation of powers,” she said. “I don’t really want a judge who is appointed because if you don’t like what he’s doing, you can get rid of him. He’s going to be your lap dog.”
City Attorney David Davidson said an appointed judge could be under a term contract that would allow him or her to be ousted only “for cause,” the same conditions that apply to elected magistrates.
Mayor Jere Wood, who votes only in case of a tie, stated his preference for an appointment system. But Councilman Kent Igleheart said he’d heard from many residents on this issue and overwhelmingly, Igleheart said, they wanted to keep the election process for the position.
“I don’t know if it’s because they are proud that we are the only system in Georgia who does this or because they don’t want to have their vote taken away,” he said.
Councilwoman Betty Price said she had been against changing the system “from the start…it gives the sense the electorate can’t be trusted. There are good reasons to retain our court system as is. One, it’s in the charter we’ve sworn to uphold. Secondly, state law says we can appoint, but there is not a mandate that we must.”