How could elections for City Hall go?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 16, 2007

With national primaries only six months away, presidential hopefuls have been beating the campaign trail trying to increase their recognition among voters. With the large amount of coverage the election has already received it is hard to forget that a race for the White House is soon approaching.

On the local level and receiving less recognition, the city leaders of Demopolis, too, face an election next November. Since the race for City Hall is not quite on par with the national election in the interest of voters, it has not received much attention as of yet with Demopolis natives.

No opponents have come forward and publicly announced their intentions to challenge current office holders, but if ever there was a year to do so this election is it. Council members and the mayor have worked hard to better the city and help their constituents, working on a comprehensive 25-year plan for the city, expressing interest in a countywide industrial development board, committing funds for a new athletic complex for Demopolis High School, authorizing matching funds for a Theo Ratliff Center expansion and a number of other projects over the past two and a half years.

Unfortunately for the mayor and some members of the council, the group has amassed a number of black marks against themselves recently, which will ultimately come to play in the upcoming election.

As Times publisher Sam Hall has previously noted in his own editorials, the legacy left by this mayor and council looks as though they will not be remembered by their works for the city and its inhabitants but, rather, for their lack of communication, which has spawned the numerous blunders with which they have had to deal and have darkened the image of the city.

Most notable among these blunders is the chain of events leading to the indictment of Mayor Cecil Williamson. While I must decline to venture an opinion on whether or not the mayor is guilty of the charges brought against her, I will say that, if there is any guilt on her part, there must also be guilt on the part of the council.

Perhaps the mayor did knowingly take health benefits from the city to which she wasn&8217;t entitled. If that is the case, where was the cry of disproval from the council member sitting on the utility board, the forum in which the request for insurance was initially denied and then subsequently brought up at a later date, prior to the request by the board to District Attorney Greg Griggers that the mayor be indicted?

The council&8217;s meeting calling for the indictment, too, should be a concern, as a private meeting by all of the council with Griggers to call for the indictment appears to violate Alabama&8217;s sunshine laws, which regulate meetings of government entities.

The mayor and council have also had a time hiring new city employees this term, which again can be blamed on poor communication. The city clerk position saw the council hire an applicant only to discover that the applicant wanted more than the price tag placed on the position. The council voted to reopen the position to applicants rather than raise the salary, something they also did with the fire chief position, though they raised the salary the second time around for the fire department post.

In the case of the clerk, the council reopened the position saying that the salary range was listed in the original posting for the position. But the original posting also asked that the clerk live in the City of Demopolis, which the council overlooked for their eventual hire.

In the case of the fire chief position, the council again reneged on their reasoning for turning down their initial candidate. Capt. Tommy Tate was refused the job after asking for more than the council listed as the salary for the position. Yet the group upped the salary range for the position on its next solicitation for applicants and eventually hired a candidate for $4,000 a year more than the salary requested by Tate.

Then, of course, after hiring Ron Few as fire chief, questions came to light about the chief&8217;s past that raised the eyebrows of several council members who claimed to have no knowledge of the controversies, again pointing to a lack of communication. The mayor and two council members on the Personnel Committee responsible for advising the entire council on which candidate they felt best fills the post said they knew the background of the candidate, but were hazy as to whether or not that information was passed on.

This latest debacle leads us to the mayor and council bracing already for the upcoming election (all of which is speculation on my behalf). Following the mayor&8217;s indictment, it is safe to assume she lost some support among the community, though the charges have yet to go to court. In both the city clerk and fire chief positions, she seemed to back the black candidates. This move can be construed as an attempt to rally favor for the mayor among black voters, a group she courted in her first election and needs next year to remain in office.

If race becomes an issue in the next election, the controversy surrounding Few and the following reconsideration of the chief after two members of the council said they were first apprised of the situation could become a factor. Those wishing to rally the black vote who stood behind Few will be able to point at certain council members&8217; opposition to Few and twist it into a racial move.

Council members who called for a meeting after the information came to the public&8217;s attention, whether they were in fact informed of the controversies prior the hiring or not, cover their butts by saying they were not told of the chief&8217;s past and are working for the public good.

Again, this is just a guess at some of the finger pointing to come in the next election, which I postulate could bring the removal of several people currently situated at city hall. Anyway, it will be interesting, and the mayor and council are going to have to work some magic soon to keep a house cleaning from happening at City Hall.

Brandon Glover is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached by e-mail to brandon.glover@demopolistimes.com.