Trenton City Commission Chops City Clerk Job In Stealth Move

Trenton City Clerk Lucretia Houts reads the city's monthly financial report in place of Mayor Alex Case, who was off fighting wildfires on Monday. As the only full-timer among Trenton's elected officials, Ms. Houts does much of the day-to-day work at City Hall. Now the part-time officials are moving to make her position one that they, rather than the voters, appoint.

In a surprise move at its regular November meeting on Monday, the Trenton City Commission requested an alteration to the town charter that would change the position of city clerk from an elected to an appointed position.

The city commissioners--meeting without the leadership of Mayor Alex Case, who in his capacity as Dade County's 911 emergency services director is much occupied with the wildfires currently ravaging the area--had their resolution abolishing the post she has held for 26 years read aloud by current City Clerk Lucretia Houts.

"We're not actually changing her job," said Streets Commissioner Monda Wooten, questioned after the meeting. "We're changing the position from being elected to being appointed."

"Every other city clerk, city manager, whatever, is an appointed person," said Police Commissioner Sandra Gray. "We're just catching up to times."

No other city in Georgia has an elected clerk, they said.

The commissioners did not vote on the measure, which technically was a resolution requesting the Georgia legislature to amend the Trenton city charter to reflect the desired change during the 2017 legislative session. Instead, they placed it on the meeting's consent agenda with other routine matters such as approval of funds to pay expenses, approval of the monthly financial report,et cetera. They explained that this was because there had been no dissension among themselves when the matter was discussed.

And in fact, unanimity is suggested by the wording of the resolution, which reads,in part, "whereas as the mayor and board of commissioners of the city of Trenton believe that the position of city clerk should be an appointed position instead of an elected position..."

When was that belief discussed? At no public meeting this year, The Dade Planet can attest. The commissioners said it had come up at unspecified work sessions and in fact had been in the works since the administration of former Mayor Anthony Emanuel.

In Trenton, the mayor and city commissioners are all part-time elected officials. The only full-time elected position in the city government is the city clerk position. Lucretia Houts has held that job since 1990, easily winning reelection every four years. The charter change notwithstanding, she is up for reelection in 2017.

"The thing about it is, with Lucretia, she's getting older, she's talking about retiring, and you know she's be in there 26 years," said Ms. Wooten. "The city has changed a lot in 26 years."

She added: "It's made us feel a sense of urgency, since Lucretia is talking about retirement."

But is Ms. Houts planning to retire?

"I have no idea," said the widow, questioned by The Planet. "Somebody asked me that not long ago and what I said was, I'll to wait and see how I feel, and second of all it would be financially if I could do it."

Ms. Houts was looking in better health Monday evening, much recovered from the bout of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) that had recently hospitalized her. She said that the matter of changing her job had been brought up to her by the commissioners incidentally and her opinion asked.

What is her opinion? "I like my position being elected because I think it's kind of unique," she said. "But I'm not the one to make that decision."

Who is? Clearly, the mayor and city commissioners have done so; but is it the business of elected officials to abolish the posts of other elected officials? The Dade Planet contacted Trenton City Attorney Ron Womack to ask about the legality of the question, but has not yet received an answer.

The Planet will report further on this matter.

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