City board needs to resolve long-standing argument on government

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 22, 2015

“What we have here, is a failure to communicate.”

This often quoted line from the Paul Newman movie “Cool Hand Luke” is starting to describe the situation with the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

For some reason, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. and Aldermen Michael Mayfield and Willis Thompson seem, as of late, to have a problem communicating.

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This was apparent Monday when the mayor and the aldermen briefly discussed Flaggs’ most recent proposal to provide some type of accountability in city government. It was a new variation of what the board has discussed, somewhat contentiously, in the past.

The proposal is very simple. The city has nine divisions. Flaggs wants himself and each alderman to have direct supervision over several divisions. Flaggs proposed taking the fire and police departments, the city attorney’s office and finance and administration, which include the city clerk and the city’s finance department.

He wants Mayfield to supervise public works and community development, and Thompson to take information technology, recreation and human resources.

This the same division of authority the board agreed to verbally after they took office in 2013. It is also the same — though slightly altered — plan Mayfield and Thompson objected to rather testily in June. The difference between the agreement in July 2013 and Flaggs’ proposal in June was the provision that gave the officials authority to hire and fire division heads; a proposal that didn’t sit well with the aldermen, because it presented an implied threat that the mayor would dismiss the fire and police chiefs — men the aldermen voted to reappoint in 2013. Flaggs’ new proposal is the same as the June plan, but without the provision to hire and fire.

So why is there an objection? For one thing, the sour taste from the mayor’s June proposal still lingers with the aldermen. For another, Thompson has a problem with the mayor directly supervising the city attorney and the clerk. As far as the city attorney, his point is well taken. The city attorney represents the city and the board — the entire board. She should be responsible to the board, not one official. As far as the other departments under the mayor, there should be no objection, except possibly the fire department, given the relationship between Flaggs and Chief Charles Atkins.

Thompson said Flaggs and the aldermen need to sit down and discuss his proposal and learn exactly what the mayor wants to do and in which direction he wants to go. Flaggs has preached his gospel continuously. He wants accountability and structure in the city’s government — something this form of government doesn’t provide.

Maybe it’s time the board tried one last time. Get together and hash this out. Everyone meets with open minds and ears and gives their opinions. Let the mayor outline what he wants and explain his plan in detail. Let the aldermen give their opinions. Take time to resolve the objections, come up with a workable plan everyone can agree with, and put it in writing. Make it an ordinance so it’s binding and there is no mistake who is responsible for what.

It’s time to stop quibbling over something that seems now to be more a question of bruised egos instead of determining good policy. You’re not children. Be adults and reach an agreement.