Yesterday, I went to the Selma Town Council Meeting as an interested observer. Other than the news report from "The Selma News" article from their web site (below), there are a few items of noteworthiness.
First, there were few people attending the meeting. I was a bit disappointed that with all the publicity of this meeting, there were so few people in attendance.
The next thing was that after a prayer, a pledge of allegience, and a monologue, the councile went into executive session. The prayer was more like preaching than a prayer. I really dislike that. When someone prays and preaches to the people intended to be the recipients of the grace of God, the prayer is usually just someone trying to either get in a "dig" at the listeners or a method of propaganda to manipulate the hearers. I have seen it for years. It is a weapon, not a supplication. Let God be God and stop playing Holy Spirit and conscience for others.
The monologue was basically more preaching. Charles Hester talked about how the town needs to be fiscally responsible (in that we are in complete agreement), about how people need to be held accountable for mistakes made (again, we agree), and how the town needs to start charging people for the financially hurtful problems such as a well being too close to a cemetery, the water main breakage we had a few months ago, etc. On those items, we agree. He also brought up about how the town paid about $6000 over the problems we had with Hester and others filing for election. I do believe that some of this was simply a justification for firing the town manager. Yes, firing. The monologue was not directly relevent to layoffs, but was entertaining none the less.
After all of this, Mr. Hester wanted the council to go into "executive" or closed session to discuss the business of applicants for the town manager position. In all of my years of going to different town council meetings, civic groups, etc., I have never seen a meeting start out by going into closed session. Everyone in the audience was asked to leave for an hour and come back if we wanted to watch the rest of the meeting. That was completely inappropriate. To have an open meeting begin, close the open access, and then reconvene after about an hour (we were told an hour, and it was about 55 minutes or so) is rude and obnoxious behavior. It shows a lack of consideration and leadership.
I am glad that Charles Hester is showing a good amount of leadership in some areas. It is good to see that someone has an idea of exactly what he wants to accomplish and a direction in which to head. For that, I am glad. However, leadership also entails due consideration for the methods of operation, being mindful of the order in which things are done, ensuring that all things are done properly, legally, and ethically, and do not impose unreasonable demands upon those who would be in attendance of an open meeting.
I personally believe (as do others) that this was a political tactic to get audience members to just leave and not witness the remainder of the meeting. It did work to some extent in that a reporter for "The Smithfield Herald" did not return for the re-opened session. A few reporters, myself, the police chief, and a few others stuck around for the remainder of the meeting.
What I witnessed during the meeting was not surprising to me, but was discouraging. There seemed to be a lack of leadership amongst the elected leaders of this town. Only Jeff Weaver and Charles Hester seemed to have sufficient courage to take the hard decisions. Whether you agree with the lay-offs or not, whether the move to reduce staff was right or wrong aside, an elected official needs to have the "spine" to do the hard things that the job requires. Nobody promised that being on the council would be easy. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. If you rise to the level of leadership, more is expected of you. The sorry part is that few witness what their elected officials are doing and therefore have an uninformed mind on election day. To Jeff Weaver and Charles Hester go my thanks for having the spine to show leadership on the tough decisions.
I believe in being fair. When kudos are deserved, the are given. When criticism is deserved, it comes. Also, this blog is my space to write as I see fit. It reflects my opinion and nobody else's, unless I choose to share them. That being said, I do have a few more "negatives" to share.
Earlier, I wrote about my bit of research into the mayor, council, and town manager form of government in North Carolina, since that is our town's charter form. I wrote about this in an earlier post, since I was witnessing the mayor make motions and vote on issues, even if the vote is not a tie. The same thing happened again last night. The mayor made a motion and voted outside of a tie vote. In the instance of a tie vote, it was never a tie, since the mayor voted with the "ayes", making it a three vote majority before a tie could occur. I am concerned that this may be illegal and the town could eventually face legal challenges if it continues.
Jackie Lacy expressed dismay in the meeting with the process and the way things have gone on the council. She said something like, "With all due respect, Mr. Mayor, it doesn't matter what the rest of us think, you are going to have your way, anyway. In the end, you have the final say." That may not be the exact verbiage, but it is close. Basically, she was saying that Mr. Hester has the support of two others and on "touchy" issues that she disagrees with, she will be voted down. Also that Mr. Hester tends to be a bully on a few things. With that sentiment, I agree to an extent. I have thought the same thing. Perhaps we see it from different perspectives, but do see it. I agree with a lot of the agenda thus far, but not necessarily with the methods used. There are things on the agenda with which I know I will disagree.
I don't mind if things happen by council vote, even if I disagree with the vote. At least it was by a representative majority vote. I may not like the outcome, but at least it would be done by the correct process. In this case, even though I have agreed with the outcome, I have a problem with the process. Let's do it correctly or not at all.
Here is the summary on "The Selma News" web site. I wrote all of the above summary since I don't know whether or not you will see it anywhere else.
Selma Council terminates 4 employees
Selma Town Council made good on its promise to reduce the town's budget Friday afternoon by eliminating four employees.
Council eliminated the town's planning department along with its director, its administrative assistant and another planning employee.
Also eliminated was the librarian position but on a 3-2 vote.
A motion to downgrade the town clerk's position failed because no one on Council would second the motion to do so.
Council members also agreed not to fill a lineman's position in the electrical department.
In eliminating the planning department, Council agreed to keep two part-time employees to handling building inspections. One of those positions will be eliminated when the Sysco plant is completed.
Council set the stage for Friday afternoon's firings last Tuesday when it met to talk about staffing levels. Council seemed ready to begin eliminating employees then but delayed the action until Friday afternoon on the reqest of two council members who said they wanted to study the situation more.
When Council met Friday afternoon in its two-hour session, it spend the first hour meeting behind closed doors discussing town manager candidates.
Then it opened the doors and began to eliminate employees.
Interim Town Manager Jim Vones told Council that once it hired a permanent town manager, he would be willing to cut his hours to 8 to 16 hours per week to help the town cut its expenses. He was hired as the town's finance officer and was promoted to interim town manager when town manager Jeff White was asked to resign in January.