Council says mayor has gone too far

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 20, 2002

Mayor James Perkins said he knew it was coming. Members of the Selma City Council say Perkins had it coming.

Last week, Perkins issued a new order for the way members of the city council communicate with department heads in city government.

“Communications and requests from council members are to come to department heads through the mayor’s office,” Perkins said in his inter-office memo. “In other words, if you receive a written request from a city council member, you are to forward that written communication to the mayor.”

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Perkins anticipated the council’s response.

“I’m sure you’re going to hear that the mayor is trying to micromanage again,” Perkins said from Washington, D.C., where he is attending a mayoral conference.

Yes, some do accuse the mayor of micromanagement. Council member Glen Sexton said exactly that, in those exact words.

“It just goes back to his way of micromanaging,” Sexton said. “He doesn’t want us talking to department heads, and it’s become kind of a joke” around city hall.

Some council members have gone a bit further than accusations of micromanagement. Some say the measure was put into place because the mayor has a grudge against members of the council.

Last Monday, at the council’s regular meeting, Council President George Evans presented budgets from the last two fiscal years to members of the council. He said he wanted to help council members when they prepare the 2003 fiscal year budget, which begins Oct. 1, 2002.

Council member James Durry said the move by Evans sent Perkins into a tirade.

“When George told [Perkins] he was going to give out a copy of the budget to each council member, the mayor didn’t like that one bit,” Durry said.

Council member Rita Sims Franklin remembers the look on Perkins’ face when Evans handed out the last two budgets.

“He was so angry he couldn’t talk,” Franklin said. “He had no idea George was doing that.”

Evans said, at the council meeting, that he simply want to help council members when they begin preparing next year’s budget.

While council members have a litany of reasons for Perkins’ new mandate, Perkins said he made the order because department heads feel threatened by council members.

“They came and told me that council members have said, ‘Don’t forget who appointed you,'” Perkins said. “I don’t want to get into a name-calling thing, but a few of them have tried to do that.”

And though council members say Perkins’ communication rule makes no sense (According to Durry, “I don’t have an inkling of an idea why this happened.”), Perkins said he is well within the guidelines of the law.

Perkins presented a section of the a book from the League of Municipalities that says the mayor is in charge of department heads.

“Council committees are advisory only and cannot supervise or give directions to city employees,” the handbook says.

The book also says “council committees” are not administrative bodies and “have no authority to exercise any executive power over the administrative branch of the municipal government.”

Though repeated comments are made about “council committees,” there is no reference in the obtained handbook that deal with actual “council members.”

There is concern among many council members who say they often call department heads and ask for things at odd hours of the day.

“Late at night, I’ve heard shots fired around my house, and I usually pick up the telephone and speak with a shift commander at the police station,” said council member Jean Martin. “If I understand this right, I’ll have to write it down and take it to the police station.”

Franklin said she often drives around town and notices things that need to be fixed.

“We had some major sewer problems off Dixie Drive,” Franklin said. “Had I not been able to call [Public Works Director] Tommy Smith to get crews out here, we would have continued to have sewage coming up in the sinks and dishwashers.

“We’ve got to be able to do that with department heads,” Franklin said.

Council members Bennie Ruth Crenshaw and Sam Randolph could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.