Even strong ties often have several knots in them

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 16, 2004

Commentary by Jonathan McElvy

There’s an underlying reason for the biggest change in Demopolis city government since a new administration took office. It has nothing to do with improper conduct; it has everything to do with politics.

Last week, the city clerk in Demopolis, Vickie Taylor, was told to leave her office by our public safety director. The problem there, of course, is that our public safety director does not serve as the city clerk’s supervisor. Instead, Jeff Manuel was asked to do the dirty work of our city government – the mayor and council.

From what I hear, Taylor was given a short explanation about her dismissal a day later; she was told a day before not to worry about her job.

Here’s the reality of Taylor’s dismissal, from what I can tell. First, when a new mayor and city council were elected by the majority of citizens in Demopolis, Taylor had as much a right to her job as you did. She is not elected; rather, she’s appointed by the city council. Every four years, the city clerk is either appointed or not appointed, and this year, Taylor was not appointed.

The manner in which a two-decade employee of the city learned that she had not been reappointed to her position was classless, at best. If she really had no employment infractions, then city administrators – the mayor and council – should have handled the appointment process in a much different manner. Mayor Cecil P. Williamson, who supervises the city clerk, should have called Taylor in her office, thanked her for her service, and asked her to leave. This story would have been much easier for everyone to understand.

The reason it is so difficult, though, is because politics played the biggest role in Taylor’s non-appointment.

For at least the past eight years, Taylor has handled the “grunt work” for former Mayor Austin Caldwell. She was asked to apply for grants – some of which a strong minority didn’t like. She was asked to confront sticky issues, and she naturally rubbed people the wrong way.

A number of months ago, a member of the city council indicated that Taylor probably wouldn’t have her job under a new administration. Many suggested that Taylor had stepped on too many toes over the course of her tenure at city hall.

That’s a decision the toes have to make. What we all must understand is the reasoning behind the decision and the effects of that decision.

I believe Taylor did a darn good job as our city clerk. I haven’t worked a day in city hall, and there may be an entire file full of employment problems. If that’s the case, we don’t know about them.

Elected officials in Demopolis, though, deal with the constituency on a daily basis (kind of like newspapers do). Our elected officials are swayed by influential members of Demopolis (kind of like newspapers aren’t supposed to do).

The decision to not reappoint Taylor to her post had as much to do with the politically powerful in Demopolis as anything else. Enough people didn’t like Taylor, and enough elected officials had heard enough of it.

By nature, Taylor is a tough cookie. She’s one of those people who can get anything done, but she – like many of us – often uses a less-than-palpable approach to accomplishing her task. (So does Donald Trump.)

No matter how disappointed Taylor is in not being reappointed, the reality is that our mayor and city council had every right to show her the door. Some Demopolis citizens are happy about the decision; others haven’t quite grasped how and why it happened.

Simply put, Taylor was eliminated from the city payroll because she developed into a political liability for too many elected members of our local government. Taylor, for all her dedication to this city, must accept that. Citizens, as well, must understand that.

You can be sure that Taylor – in some manner – will fight this decision just as she has fought for the past 19 years to help the former mayor and this city.

You also can be sure that our elected officials won’t let the position of city clerk become as strong as it was a few months ago. In the future, I suspect mayors and councils will not allow the clerk to face difficult situations that have the ability to become political fights. That’s what happened to Taylor, and that’s why she doesn’t work for the city of Demopolis anymore.

In a sense, Taylor was a victim of former Mayor Caldwell’s popularity. As a person who didn’t allow confrontation in city government, Caldwell often dispatched Taylor to handle the tough tasks.

Caldwell, just like Mayor Williamson and the city council, isn’t to blame for Taylor’s dismissal. In the world of politics, tough things happen to good people. Vickie Taylor is a prime example.

Jonathan McElvy is president and publisher of the Demopolis Times. Contact him via e-mail at jonathan.mcelvy@ demopolistimes.com.