Editorial: City Council trouble
“Ya got trouble, my friend, right here. I say, trouble right here in River City.”
The words to a song in Meredith Wilson’s 1957 Broadway musical The Music Man come to mind to anyone who is closely following Clinton City Council.
It has been whispered and talked about with a hand in front of the mouth so no one else can see or hear. Council Member Shirley Jenkins brought it up and out in public at the end of council’s Feb. 6 meeting. (See story on Page 1A.)
She said there are things being done on council that are underhanded. She did not name names. She didn’t say how many of the seven members of council (the mayor and six single-member district council members) she was referring to.
Jenkins said some of the candidates in the March 7 municipal election were recruited by someone on council to run against the three incumbents. Someone is trying to stack the deck.
Jenkins, who has been on council since 1994, is not up to re-election this year.
Norman Scarborough, Mary Byrd and Danny Cook are.
Split votes have become more frequent on council than in many years. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There should be differences of opinion.
“But you shouldn’t hold a grudge because I disagree with you. We can agree to disagree,” Jenkins told The Chronicle.
A good many of the split votes are either being passed or are failing on 4-3 votes with Jenkins, Scarborough, Byrd and Cook taking the same side. Mayor Bob McLean and council members Gary Kuykendall and Jimmy Young are often the three votes on the other side.
And beyond Jenkins’ allegations about interference in ward politics by current council members, city council meetings are getting bogged down in the details.
Council is asked to approve the purchase of a mid-size truck for the utility department and has a long discussion about how many doors the truck should have.
Council is asked to approve the purchase of a right-of-way clearing machine and has extended discussion about who will be trained to operate the equipment.
Council is asked to approve the purchase of a new fire truck and gets bogged down in a lengthy discussion about where the new truck will be housed.
As an aside, during talk about how many people will be riding in the new utility truck and how many people will be riding in the new fire truck, some of the same council members took a side in one discussion and then the opposite side in the second discussion. (The two votes were months apart.)
In Clinton’s form of government, the seven council members each have an equal voice and an equal vote. The job of the mayor and each of the six council members is to set policy and direction for the city. Their job is to approve large purchases and to set rates and fees. Then, they need to step back and get out of the way.
Council was asked to approve the purchase of a fire truck. They weren’t asked where that truck should be stationed or which current truck should be taken out of rotation and sold. Council has provided money for people to work in the Department of Public Safety who are trained and qualified to make those decisions.
It is, in fact, illegal for council members or the mayor to become involved in the day-to-day operation of any of the city departments. It is illegal for them to tell a city employee what to do or what not to do.
If any of them are doing that, they must stop today or they should be removed from office.
It may just be coincidence that City Manager Frank Stovall is one of the three finalists for the job of city administrator in Conway. Maybe Stovall is wanting to move near the beach. He hasn’t said why he sought out the job and we won’t put words in his mouth.
We think the members of Clinton City Council are good people who want to do what’s best for the city they all love and for the residents of that city. Maybe some of them have just become too zealous in wanting to accomplish those admirable goals.
But, it’s time to pull back. And we admire and appreciate Shirley Jenkins for speaking up.