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Monday, June 20, 2011

Council fails to overturn mayor's veto on cutting judges; delays pension vote — UPDATE

click to enlarge Felicia Moore - JOEFF DAVIS/CL FILE

A few weeks back, the city auditor issued a report saying Atlanta could make do with fewer municipal court judges. CL responded with an editorial basically asking the Muni Court to shape up. The judges, in turn, came to City Hall to blast the audit and submitted a follow-up op-ed to CL explaining how their work has been misrepresented and devalued.

Despite the judges' protests, Council members passed a proposal by Felicia Moore reducing the city's bench from 10 to 8. However, Mayor Kasim Reed, a lawyer himself, vetoed the change, arguing that Atlanta would need all its judges to deal with the upsurge in tickets that's expected once the APD steps up its traffic enforcement, as he clearly plans.

And now, just minutes ago, the Council failed to muster the 10 votes necessary to override the veto — then took a re-vote and failed again. In fact, Moore couldn't even persuade a simple majority to back her up. The first vote came up 6-7 in favor of overturning the veto, but someone apparently was in the rest room, so they tried again and bettered that tally to 7-7.

UPDATE: Moore certainly can't be accused of giving up easily. Tuesday morning, she sent out a press release announcing that she had re-submitted her original legislation.

The eliminations, which would bring the number of Municipal Court Judges to eight, would be achieved through attrition after the recent retirement of two judges. The Council adopted Ordinance 11-O-0788, which called for such action at its regularly scheduled meeting held June 6. The measure, however, was vetoed by the administration on June 14.

It doesn't appear she has modified her proposal in any way, so I can't imagine why she would expect a different result this go-around.

In other news, the Council just agreed not to vote on employee pensions today. This action was widely expected, since there are still discussions and negotiations going on behind the scenes. Specifically, we're hearing that the mayor's office is talking to C.T. Martin, who got his nose out of joint last week when he realized he'd been left out of the huddling that led to the Adrean plan.

Interestingly, some Council members were concerned about rumors that there was an effort afoot to merge Adrean's pension proposal, which shifts most city employees to a 401K-style system, with that of Moore, who has offered a plan to keep the city largely on the hook for investment risk.

"They are two diametrically opposed plans that don't lend themselves to being stitched together," says Councilman Howard Shook. "If the mayor compromises too much, I could actually find myself voting against the result."

Not to worry, says a source who explains that the mayor's office is only considering tweaking some of the numbers that factor into calculating pension payouts, but does not plan to back down on shifting some of the market risk off the backs of taxpayers.

So, does the Mayor have his needed 10 votes? Perhaps so, but some Council members still aren't willing to say they've made up their mind. When I bumped into Kwanza Hall on Saturday and asked about his vote, his answer was: "I'm still listening."

Hall likely will have to decide soon. A final pension vote could come as early as Wednesday.

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