COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) – A legal conflict over inadequate funding for the Muscogee County Superior Court Clerk's Office is heating up.
A judge heard arguments Thursday in Linda Pierce's lawsuit against the City of Columbus, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, city council members and other officials working in their individual capacities.
Attorney Bill Stone of Blakely, Ga. told the judge he and his client are asking him to review the budget process for 2015 and if it doesn't line up with the city charter, he should void it and order another one under Pierce's discretion.
The big area of dispute, Stone added, is a capital budget that was not included in the 2015 budget.
"It's about $200,000 in additional operating budget that she requested because there are some additions that she needs," Stone said. "She's operating on a budget right now that less than it was in 1996; that's almost 20 years ago."
Some of the contributing factors for the increased funds include the extra number of judges added, which increases her workload.
Columbus has grown during that period of time - that increases her workload, according to Stone. Speaking on behalf of the defendants, City Attorney Clifton Fay said he thought the hearing went well for all the defendants.
Attorneys for Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr also claim his department will run out of money before the year is out. This claim is the basis of Darr's lawsuit filed in November against more than a dozen defendants, including the city of Columbus, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and city council members.
Attorney Kerri Howell says the $27 million budget handed to Darr by the mayor for 2015 is insufficient. Darr claims he needs $2 million more to effectively run the department.
Defense Attorney Carter Schondelmayer says Darr's case is requesting the court to act outside of its jurisdiction.
The judge will make a decision at a later date.
It's clear from listening to the arguments of the four plaintiffs (Marshal Greg Countryman, Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton Bishop, Sheriff John Darr) hearing the arguments from the plaintiffs that they want this court to intervene and grant basically four blank checks to four elected officials and of course that is not what Georgia law provides.
It does provide that the council and legislative authority exercise their discretion. The judge is taking all matters under advisement and is expected to make a decision at a later date.