COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - It's an argument about money. There's only so much to go around, and each side wants the other to cut back on their spending. Now four separate department heads have filed suit against City of Columbus because they feel like they are not getting enough consideration.
The four officials include Sheriff John Darr, Marshal Greg Countrymen Sr., Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton Bishop and Superior Court Clerk, Linda Pierce. The additional court filings were made at 2 p.m. Thursday. To see the full documents on the new lawsuit,
"The reason we're having this lawsuit right now is because the mayor talked the council into adopting that she wanted, not that they needed," said attorney William Stone, representing Linda Pierce.
Mayor Tomlinson maintains that the same issue has come up in other parts of the state and the Georgia Supreme Court has ruled against elected officials making this argument.
"They certainly can submit a budget, but the sole legislative authority for budgeting resides -in this jurisdiction- with city council," said Mayor Tomlinson.
The lawsuit lists Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, Columbus City Manager Isaiah Hugely and the city council as defendants. The suit "is based in large part on the Defendants' failure to follow the law on the budgeting process," according to a press release.
"Plaintiffs, per the city charter, submitted their budgets for 2015 to the city manager through the finance director. The city manager was required to incorporate these specific budgets into the overall city budget and deliver same to the Mayor, whose only job was to present the budget to Council for consideration. That is the law, and it was not followed," the press release said.
The Mayor and these officials discarded these budgets and substituted their own. The Marshal and the Clerk do not work for the Mayor - they work for the citizens and taxpayers who elected them, and these illegal actions are an insult to the citizens of Columbus."
In an email statement Thursday, Mayor Tomlinson said the lawsuit "is a grand embarrassment for the city. The law is clear and well-settled. Every appropriate and well-settled. Every appropriate and deliberate budget step was taken and the citizens will win these lawsuits.
"The citizens will win these unfortunate and ill-founded lawsuits," Tomlinson said.
, says his proposed budget of $26.8 million was changed and approved a $2 million less than requested and later approved by the city council. In changing the budget, Darr claims Tomlinson violated the city charter.
In an interview with News Leader 9 on Monday, Tomlinson said that Darr is wrong and that the lawsuit is "a lot of taxpayer dollars spent to sue taxpayers - that's what's unfortunate."
Tomlinson said Darr is wrong in his estimation that the she overstepped their bounds and that she had every right to amend her budget.The sheriff, marshal, and court clerks consider their services to be essential to the operation of the city and accuse the mayor and council of withholding the limited funds available to pay for less crucial departments like parks and recreation.
The mayor publicly criticized Sheriff Darr when he announced his lawsuit, saying that by taking her to court, he's decreasing taxpayer funds by that much more.
"We're trying not to do that in this case. What we've done is we've sued the mayor individually," said Stone.
They also sued more than a dozen other city leaders, and assuming they win their case, the goal is to force Mayor Tomlinson and the rest to pay the legal fees out of their personal pockets.
"I think that is going to be frowned on by the courts, to say the least. That is a malicious prosecution and there's remedies for that," said Tomlinson.
Mayor Tomlinson accuses Marshal Countryman and Municipal Clerk Bishop of wrongfully making the first payment to their attorneys with a city-issued credit card, and she insists that they give it back. The cards have since been disabled for use.
, the two plaintiffs in the newest suit disagreed with the mayor's assertion and media coverage that they misused city-issued credit cards. Countryman and Bishop said they had no choice but to use their city-issued cards for legal fees, because they were denied counsel by the city.
"As a result, the plaintiffs had no choice but to use their cards to retain counsel. These actions were made necessary by the continuing illegal actions of the city officials involved were done in order to mitigate the damage such actions caused, and continue to cause," the statement said.
"These city officials who are making these threats can ignore the law, and cost taxpayers legal fees, but yet they won't fund our clients' efforts to correct the breaking of the law that they committed. It's insane," said Attorney Charles Miller, who is representing Marshal Countryman and Municipal Clerk Bishop.
"To think that this type of extraordinary effort has been lodged, for budgeting negotiations, or whatever it may be, is a real tragedy for this community," said Tomlinson.
People on both sides of this argument can claim to be legal experts. The mayor has a law degree, and two of the plaintiffs are in charge of local courts. It will be up to a judge from outside of the area to decide who is right about the details.
Darr has yet to comment fully on the lawsuit, but he tells us to expect a written statement from his attorney soon, telling News Leader 9's Barbara Gauthier over the phone on Monday, "There's a lot I would like to say and that time will come."
For more details on Darr's lawsuit, you can click
Stay tuned to News Leader 9 and
as this story develops.