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  • Last modified 4 days ago (Jan. 25, 2023)

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Silence isn’t golden

After everything Marion has gone through in recent months, nothing should come as a surprise.

Yet Monday night, the city council astounded us by meeting for just nine minutes — nine whole minutes — and not spending even a single second of that time discussing the elephant in the room: how it might replace the city administrator it fired a month earlier.

Last summer, when Roger Holter announced plans to retire, the council nearly panicked at the thought of being without an administrator until his replacement could be selected. So it voted to give Holter a 25.7% raise for him to stay on for six extra weeks until Mark Skiles could replace him.

Now, a full month and portions of three meetings after firing Skiles, city council members apparently haven’t spoken a word about replacing him or about paying him the up to $75,000 it probably owes him for terminating his contract early without specifying a cause.

When our reporter asked Monday night what council members thought about finding a new administrator, not one of them was willing to say anything. Only Mayor David Mayfield, who normally ignores our questions, would talk. And much of what he said was wrong.

He said the position was being advertised on the city’s website. It wasn’t — and still isn’t, as of this writing. An employee said it was being advertised with a state agency and with a state group. It wasn’t — and still isn’t, as of this writing.

He spoke instead of the need for giving priority to hiring subordinates — a city clerk, several police officers, and others. We wonder whether he’s heard the rule of thumb among sports teams. Don’t hire assistant coaches before hiring a head coach. Don’t hire a head coach before hiring his boss, the athletic director or general manager. Otherwise, you’re likely to create a dysfunctional team — something with which Marion has had more than enough experience.

When pressed outside the meeting room, many council members seem to understand this. But they also seemed willing to let the mayor decide how to proceed. That’s a shame. We thought we elected council members to be leaders, not followers.

We can understand why city staff might prefer to do things backward. It lets them get entrenched in positions and thus immune to reforms a new boss might attempt.

We can understand why the mayor might prefer a backward approach. It creates a power vacuum into which he can step.

What we can’t understand is why council members accept it. The mayor has only one vote, just as each of them does. He’s not a great and powerful wizard whose edicts they must follow. He is, instead, a great magician, diverting attention with verbal sleight of hand.

Why the council has spent more time worrying about selling a police dog than about hiring a new administrator is mind-boggling. Part of that is attributable to how the mayor has mischaracterized dog negotiations, in which he legally should have had no role because of city conflict-of-interest rules.

After having suggested, along with council members Zach Collett and Jerry Kline, in November that the city needed a written agreement with the county about how the dog would be used, Mayfield acted incredulous in December when Skiles had a draft agreement prepared for Sheriff Jeff Soyez and, eventually, the council to consider.

Soyez, who in November told the council he had no objection to having an agreement, apparently changed his mind in December. Without any guidance from the council, Mayfield unilaterally tore up the agreement, which he contended imposed undue restrictions that Soyez couldn’t accept. In fact, the agreement talked only about cooperation and specifically said it imposed no new requirements on either the sheriff or the city.

What the discussions did was divert attention from part-time prisoner transport officer Mayfield’s violation of city ethics rules by talking to his boss, the sheriff, about the deal. And the whole dog discussion managed to divert attention away from filling the power vacuum created by firing Skiles.

Skiles may have done some really bad things — using the “n-word” and displaying a sexy, though not pornographic, image to a worker. But nowhere has it been alleged that he violated city code or tried to amass personal power through harassment, intimidation, or delaying tactics.

Perhaps the city fired the wrong person.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Jan. 25, 2023

 

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