Judge may decide if councilwoman in DeKalb city loses seat over absences

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Jazzmin Cobble speaks at a candidate forum at Salem Bible Church in 2017.

By J.D. Capelouto

A councilwoman in a DeKalb County city may lose her seat after missing two council meetings last year.

The discussion prompted four council members to walk out of a later meeting on Monday in what the city said was an “assumed protest.”

Cobble did not attend council meetings on Sept. 23 and Oct. 14, the city said in a statement after Monday’s meeting. Officials said that may have violated the city 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 city plans to ask a Superior Court judge to decide whether Cobble must vacate her seat.

Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

In an email Tuesday, Cobble said that “I am a sitting member of the Stonecrest City Council and will continue to represent the constituents of Stonecrest District 3.”

A judge’s ruling could settle several arguments that were brought up during Monday’s meeting, which became complex and contentious at times.

For example, the councilmembers debated what constitutes an “excused” absence and how absences should be handled. Cobble emailed the city clerk on both days of her absences and said she was out of town for work-related reasons, the city’s statement said.

Councilman Rob Turner proposed a motion that would excuse Cobble’s two prior absences. That prompted another tense discussion.

City attorney Winston Denmark said he believed the council could not retroactively excuse absences. But he acknowledged that parts of the city’s charter are unclear.

“I have labored over this charter provision, and reasonable minds can differ,” Denmark said. He added that “I don’t think that doing nothing is a viable option.”

As the council took up Turner’s motion, Councilwoman Tammy Grimes was barred from voting after Mayor Jason Lary said she should not be allowed to vote because she joined the council in December, after Cobble’s absences.

Cobble, who was elected in 2017 as one of the first members of the new city, also did not cast a vote on the issue because Lary said she had a direct conflict of interest. 

Turner’s motion failed 2-2 after Lary joined Councilman Jimmy Clanton in voting not to excuse the absences.

Lary brought up his September 2018 announcement that he was being treated for prostate cancer and wanted to take some time off. He said he attended meetings throughout his treatment after the council did not OK his absences. Lary said he got off “a steel table with my gut burning to get here and chair every meeting. … I just sucked it up and came.”

Mayor Lary speaks to residents at Monday’s City Council meeting after four council members walked out.

A few hours later, minutes into the city’s regular City Council meeting, four councilmembers including Cobble got up one by one and walked out of the council chambers, leaving just Clanton and the mayor. Without enough elected officials to take any formal votes, Lary gave several presentations and spent about 15 minutes explaining the prior saga to residents.

“How do you not let a person off for cancer?” Lary said. “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!”

In an interview Tuesday, Lary said that “we don’t want this type of thing. We don’t want ambiguity. We want to be able to follow the rule of law.” The court, he said, “now has to make a decision on where we are.”

Read the original story on AJC.com.