By Zachary Hansen, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga
A judge ruled in favor of a Stonecrest councilwoman after a citizen-led lawsuit tried to remove her from office for missing two council meetings.
Councilwoman Jazzmin Cobble has been at the center of three legal battles after being absent from meetings on Sept. 23 and Oct. 14 last year. The ordeal highlighted several ambiguities in the city’s laws about forfeiting office and abandoning city duties.
The city and Mayor Jason Lary previously tried to obtain a restraining order and take Cobble to court over the issue but dropped both efforts in February. A group of 18 residents picked up the baton in July and filed a lawsuit against the councilwoman, asking for her removal.
On Monday, Superior Court Judge Mark Scott dismissed the lawsuit, seemingly putting the issue to rest.
“I am grateful that Judge Scott has affirmatively ruled that I remain a member of the Stonecrest City Council,” Cobble said in an emailed statement. “We have too much ahead of us to be distracted by petty political disputes.”
The basis for the legal battles lies in the city’s charter, which states that a seat becomes vacant if a council member fails “to attend one-third of the regular meetings of the council in a three-month period without being excused by the council.” Stonecrest holds council meetings about once every two weeks, meaning about six every three months.
The lawsuits claimed that Cobble’s two absences took place within a three-month period, so she had legally forfeited her seat.
Scott, in his ruling, disagreed.
“Councilwoman Cobble clearly attended two-thirds of the regular meetings of the Council, because she attended at least four or more meetings in every three-month period. Moreover, her absences were in two different quarters, which are generally the three-month periods into which the year is divided,” he wrote. “The Court urges the City of Stonecrest to create processes or adopt procedures to address these ambiguities going forward.”
Cobble said city leadership has not begun to discuss changing the charter’s language.
The judge also found that none of the councilmembers objected to her absences at the time. Cobble informed the council of the absences, which she said were work-related, in advance, but the council never voted to excuse them.
The city’s mayor took issue with Cobble’s absences in hindsight, saying that he was denied time off when he was bring treated for prostate cancer in 2018 and had to attend meetings.
“How do you not let a person off for cancer?” Lary said in February 2020. “How do you not vote for that? Then you turn around and somebody else is ‘busy’ and they can’t make it and you’re going to retroactively vote for them to be off? Oh, hell naw!”
After the citizen-led petition was filed, the city declined to comment on the lawsuit, calling it a “private matter between a group of citizens and Councilwoman Cobble.” City spokesman Adrion Bell did not reply to a request for comment Wednesday.
Attorney Dwight Thomas, who represents the residents listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, has 30 days to file an appeal. Thomas called Scott’s order “clearly wrong” and said his office is considering an appeal.