One step forward, two steps back. Marion’s city council is to be congratulated for finally accepting that “personnel” isn’t a legally sufficient reason for throwing the public out of its meetings.
For the first time, the council added the phrase “specifically, the city clerk” to its motion to meet secretly Monday night. It’s still not legally sufficient. There must be some indication of what about the city clerk will be discussed — as in selecting a new one. But it was a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, Mayor David Mayfield took two steps in the opposite direction when he decided to cut council members out of interviewing candidates or even knowing who might have applied.
Legally, he did nothing wrong. City government in Marion is a hybrid of multiple different models proposed by the legislature, and this particular model gives the mayor sole authority to nominate officers, from city administrator on down.
Morally, however, the mayor should have done more than invite just one other council member to know that a nomination was pending. Not letting the others know what “specifically, the city clerk” meant until they showed up Monday night isn’t just overly secretive. It’s downright rude.
Which is puppet and which is master never has been completely clear, but the strings between Mayfield and council member Zach Collect were moving rapidly when Mayfield, rather than make the nomination on his own as is required by code, had Collett do it instead.
But Mayfield and Collett aren’t the only ones deserving a bit of admonition after Monday night’s meeting. Council members Ruth Herbel and Jerry Kline both expressed uneasiness outside the meeting chamber over how the selection process transpired, yet neither of them objected during the meeting.
All they would have had to say is that they wanted more than 20 minutes to think about who the next city clerk might be and that they wanted absent council member Chris Costello and perhaps even the public to be able to weigh in, too.
They had the votes. With Costello gone, Mayfield and Collett couldn’t create a majority without them. But they went along with their colleagues’ insistence and made their complaints after the meeting rather than during it — or, at least, during the portion we members of the public were allowed to hear.
It’s not as if this is a slam-dunk appointment. The new clerk, Janet Robinson, was asked to resign from the same position just 3½ years ago in Florence.
That may or may not mean anything. Just ask Kansas City Chiefs fans whether a coach with a firing on his resume might still turn out to be a great hire.
But it does suggest that a bit more public discussion than simply an announcement and vote might have been in order — not necessarily to derail the choice but perhaps to allay fears others might have had.
Even if you accept the anti-democratic notion behind recently defeated Charter Ordinance 22 — that the public surrenders its right to have a voice when it elect officials to serve as representatives — giving the council more than 20 minute to ponder the situation and perhaps inquire more about the past firing would seem to have been in order.
If time were of the essence, a quick special meeting could have been scheduled. Or the name and resume of the candidate could have been included in Friday’s council packet so members would have had time to prepare for Monday’s meeting.
As often happens when elections approach, Monday’s meeting room was unusually filled with potential candidates who rarely have shown up for city meetings in the past.
Whatever value their names or affiliations might have on a ballot, we hope they will see that government in the open — with the public fully informed and fully engaged — may not be as tidy as the secretive methods the council now employs. But in the end it’s much safer and productive — unless the goal is to create a dictatorship.
— ERIC MEYER