The mayor, who is unopposed in his bid to seek a second term next month, also in his letter lobbies for a set of proposed changes that would give the mayoral office expanded powers. He also encourages residents to vote in the Nov. 8 municipal election.
“We have a choice in this election,” he said. “Do we continue with the status quo with a lack of leadership from the council or do we put in motion a new direction with new ideas and a fresh approach to resolving issues?”
Hobgood then proceeds to encourage residents to consider voting in the Nov. 8 municipal elections, in which incumbents Pat Tanner of Ward 1, Jack Goodwin of Ward 2 and Amelia Rose of Ward 3 are all facing challengers.
“I ask that you study the qualifications of each candidate and make the choice to move this city forward,” he wrote. “I ask that you help me by putting in place a council that believes as I do; that every citizen should be treated fairly with courtesy and respect; that elected officials should be accessible to citizens, that it is an honor to serve the citizens of the city of Canton and that every elected official assumes not only the authority but the responsibility to focus on the issues of the city and protecting its resources.”
Hobgood said he’s “tried hard to make this city an even better place to live where citizens could respect their city leaders.”
“I have tried to ensure that our city operates effectively and efficiently through good management and conservative budgeting,” he added. “Unfortunately, I have been met with opposition, a lack of understanding of the issues, an unwillingness to accept the responsibility of an elected official and sometimes simply apathy. This has tempered the success I have been able to achieve.”
In the letter, Hobgood contends the office of the mayor is “extremely limited under the current charter.”
He wrote that Canton’s current form of government places all legislative authority with the City Council.
Unlike neighboring cities, the office of the mayor has no veto power and does not get to vote on issues before the council, unless there’s a tie vote.
Hobgood said he’s sent the letter out to select areas in the city and plans to send more to a good cross section of the population.
When asked why he sent the letter, Hobgood said the city consistently has experienced low voter turnout and said he wants to see more people participate in the electoral process.
In the Nov. 6, 2007, election, the Tribune reported that 5.35 percent of the city’s 8,145 registered voters participated in the municipal election. A Nov. 4, 2009, Tribune article indicated the city had 10 percent of its 11,046 registered voters participate in the Nov. 3 municipal election.
“It is important this year, as it is every year, to really study the qualifications of those candidates running and make a decision,” Hobgood said. “I wasn’t picking out any particular candidates.”
But many City Council members were critical of the letter.
Goodwin, who is seeking his second term on the council, said he’s “very disappointed” in Hobgood and noted he and the mayor have been on the same page about many items the city is facing.
Goodwin, adding that Hobgood should have “stayed neutral” in this year’s election cycle, said he has also worked to brings jobs into the city and has even talked with companies about possibly relocating museums into the city.
“I’m wanting to get jobs in and I know he does, too,” he said. “I don’t understand this.”
Councilman Bob Rush also had some harsh words for Hobgood.
Rush, who will be up for re-election in 2012, said some residents have called and asked if they can write in his name for mayor when they vote on Nov. 8. Rush agreed, saying he wants “to put this mayor on notice that he is not as beloved outside of Main Street.”
Rush called Hobgood’s letter and his push for the charter changes, “a blatant grab for power,” adding it was “blatantly false” that he and other council members have not been accessible to citizens.
Hobgood, last year, appointed a Government Study Committee to look at inconsistencies in the city charter. The committee in the summer presented a rough draft of the proposed changes it recommends the city enact.
Some of the biggest changes include granting the mayor the power to veto items passed by the City Council, authorizing the mayor to nominate a city manager, allowing the mayor to designate an acting city manager if the current manager is absent or suspended from job duties, the ability to conduct inquiries and investigations into city affairs, prepare an agenda for council meetings and for the mayor to nominate members of boards, commissions and authorities, a city attorney and city clerk.
Another change includes designating the mayor and council to determine the salary of elected officials, prohibiting the mayor and council from taking action on salary or benefits between Election Day and the first meeting in January, and broadening the scope of what’s identified as a conflict of interest.
If granted, the veto power would only serve as a delaying tactic since the item vetoed could be considered during the next regular council meeting.
Ball Ground and Woodstock mayors both have powers to veto ordinances in their charters.
Both city charters stipulate the mayors must provide a written response as to why an ordinance was vetoed and the items must be considered during the next council meeting.
Mayors of Holly Springs, Nelson and Waleska do not have that authority.
Currently, Canton, along with Woodstock and Holly Springs, has a council-manager form of government, one of the two most popular forms of local governments in Georgia, said Georgia Municipal Association spokeswoman Amy Henderson.
In the council-manager form of government, the City Council hires a city manager to carry out the day-to-day operations of the city.
The manager also has the authority to hire and fire department heads, reports directly to the City Council and prepares the city budget.
The proposed changes would create a strong mayor-council form of government, which Henderson said is the second most popular form of government.
That form of government is typically present in larger cities such as Atlanta and Savannah and mirrors the federal government’s make up, with the mayor assuming executive functions while the city council taking on solely legislative duties.
Henderson said the council-manager form is the “most professional” form of government for local governmental entities.
“It does take the politics out of where you’re applying your resources,” she said.
The Cherokee County chairman is allowed to vote on matters before the county Board of Commissioners, but is not granted veto powers.
Rush said the council has already discussed a proposal to clarify some discrepancies in its charter that conflict with its code of ordinances.
He also noted he and other council members are open to the possibility of granting the proposed veto power.
However, Rush contends Hobgood “doesn’t have a vision for the city” and focuses his time on checking expense accounts and phone records of employees at City Hall.
He also said the turnover rate at City Hall “speaks volumes” about Hobgood’s leadership, noting that in the past four years, the city has lost two city managers, two chief financial officers, two city clerks, two city engineers and a reservoir manager.
Councilman Bill Bryan added he believed Hobgood will be “disappointed” to learn that whomever is elected will have a mind of their own and “won’t go along with whatever he wants done.”
Bryan said it was “unfortunate” Hobgood decided to send out a “nonsensical” letter. He also said the letter proved his questions about the Hobgood’s intentions with appointing the committee to be accurate.
Bryan added the council-manager form of government has been the most successful form in the state of Georgia.
“This is not the middle ages where one individual decides everything and this is not Cherokee county 25 years ago,” he said, referring to Hobgood’s role as the sole county commissioner during the 1980s.
Councilwoman Amelia Rose was more tapered in her response.
“Mr. Hobgood has taken on the difficult task of being the mayor of the city of Canton,” she said. “He’s been a good mayor and I look forward to working with him in the future. We as the council have the best interest of the city and the citizens at heart.”
Councilman John Beresford is the sole person on the council who is in support of Hobgood’s actions.
Beresford said he thought the letter was “good,” as there has been a lot of “animosity” on the City Council.
He also agreed that the council has been unwilling to lead on matters. He used an example in which the council last year decided to renew a four-year contract with Waste Management.
The contract, Beresford said, had never been put out for public bid in the previous years and he voted against the renewal.
A few weeks later, Beresford said he was able to find loopholes in the contract, which compelled the city to void the contract.
His digging, he added, saved the city roughly $170,000.
“It was the old way of doing business when (former Mayor) Cecil Pruett was here,” he added.
Councilwoman Pat Tanner also said the letter “saddens and disappoints” her because she and other council members have always been quick to respond to calls or e-mails of residents.
She also said the council, as a whole, works together in solving issues and understands their position as team players.
“I think the mayor is greatly underestimating the citizens of Canton and I don’t think the citizens of Canton are going to be fooled by this type of campaigning for one minute,” she said. “We should all be working together on a common goal…and not trying to pull each other apart.”