Council member questions need for chief of staff

Published 9:32 pm Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Selma City Council could vote Tuesday to defund the chief of staff position in Mayor Darrio Melton’s office.

The idea was discussed Thursday night after Councilman Sam Randolph had it placed on the work session agenda as a business item. After showing up part of the way through the meeting, Randolph proposed voting during Tuesday’s council meeting to defund the position for next year’s budget.

“I put this on here because our city is too small to have a chief of staff,” Randolph told other council members. “I’ve been trying to find other cities the size of Selma that has that but couldn’t find one.”

Email newsletter signup

Randolph said as council members, they are supposed to be good stewards of taxpayers’ money. He told council members he didn’t see having the position as a benefit.

“To me, it’s not benefitting the city. At the last council meeting, the mayor wasn’t here, the chief of staff wasn’t here. We couldn’t ask no questions you know,” Randolph said Thursday. “It’s not personal to me. If it was personal, I’d say get rid of it right now, but I’m saying the next budget. We’ve got some trying times ahead of us.”

The position, which is held by Ollie Davison, was created after Melton took office in November and restructured the executive branch of the city’s government. Melton said funding for the position, which is around $55,000, was already in his budget.

“We basically took the money that we had. We didn’t ask the council for new money at all,” Melton said. “The money that is being paid to my staff is money that’s going to be paid regardless of what title they had anyway. We cut back trying to save the city money.”

Melton said it isn’t unreasonable for the mayor to have his office staffed, as previous administrations have had theirs staffed as well.

“In past administrations, all mayors had staff members. If a title is a problem, I can’t understand [the council’s] thinking,” Melton said. “Mayor Evans, he had two or three people working in his office. Mayor Perkins had people working in his office.”

Melton said Davison’s role as chief of staff is similar to a deputy mayor. Davison fills in for Melton when he is traveling, makes decisions and signs documents to keep day to day operations going when the mayor is not there.

“It was important that the chief of staff position was created. The mayor can’t be all things to all people at all places at all times, and the chief of staff serves in the capacity to represent me when I can’t go to other places and to help me make sure we can push the city forward,” Melton said.

“We can’t hold the city up because the mayor is out traveling on behalf of the city, so we created a position for someone to do that. It’s not unique what we’re doing.”

Melton said having Davison on staff has allowed him to do more work.

“I can travel, I can meet with more people knowing that while I’m out and about there is someone in place that can make decisions who I wholeheartedly trust to make the decisions,” he said.

Melton said he is focused on much larger issues the city is faced with, such as its aging infrastructure and public safety.

“My concern is how are we going to fix the issues that the council created with this $600,000 deficit that we have. That is the battle we should be having, not about an employee. I’m asking for the council to show me leadership,” Melton said.

“Diversion is what people do often times, and I’m asking the council let’s not divert our thoughts on a person. Let’s focus on the issues.”

“I want to vote it up or down Tuesday,” Randolph said during Thursday’s work session.

“We tend to take things personal, you know when it comes to politics, but this is not personal. This is just a conversation for our city.”

Melton said he can’t stop the council from voting to defund the position.

“If the council chooses to exercise their authority to defund the position, I will not let that deter or stop us from moving forward to do what we have to do with our executive authority to move this city forward,” Melton said.