Council members respond to mayor’s address

Published 4:25 pm Wednesday, January 16, 2019

On Monday, Selma Mayor Darrio Melton held his annual “State of the City Address” in which he blasted the local media as “fake news” and berated the Selma City Council for not adopting “common sense solutions.”

Simultaneously, the mayor called for the council to adopt a spirit of collaboration and work with him in “building a more vibrant city for the future.”

“He’s the one that doesn’t want to work with the council,” said Councilman Sam Randolph. “He needs to start by bringing all of our employees back and our city treasurer back. Other than that, there’s not much to say.”

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Among the allegations Melton made in Monday’s address was the assertion that he has proposed three budgets that were flatly rejected by the city council without serious consideration.

However, Randolph said that all three of those budgets were unbalanced, requiring more expenditures than the city had taken in and therefore putting them at odds with a state law that requires cities to pass a balanced budget.

“As councilmen, we have to show good stewardship with money,” Randolph said.

The mayor spent a large portion of Monday’s address discussing local law enforcement and the failure of the council to provide them with adequate resources.

“That’s not true at all,” Randolph said, noting that the council approved the purchase of body armor for the Selma Police Department (SPD) but the mayor has not yet released the funds required to purchase that equipment.

Additionally, Randolph took exception with the mayor’s assertion that he doesn’t attend council meetings because councilmembers engage in insults and name-calling.

“Nobody calls him names at council meetings,” Randolph said. “People want to hear from their mayor. It’s not fair to the constituents.”

Councilman Carl Bowline, who was in attendance for the address, took a much milder stance to the mayor’s address, noting that he is willing to compromise and work with the mayor if the sincerity showed in Monday’s address is genuine.

“I hope we can move forward together and find compromise to meet the needs of our constituents,” Bowline said. “The city needs us to work together.”

However, Bowline emphasized that such compromise would not include the 1-cent sales tax Melton is set on implementing – such a tax could not be stomached by local people and businesses.

“I don’t mind compromising,” Bowline said. “We’re in a stalemate right now and nothing is getting done.”

Bowline also took exception to the mayor’s assertions that the council baselessly rejected his budget proposals, which Bowline says were all predicated on the assumption that the council would pass the mayor’s sales tax increase.

Further, Bowline noted Melton’s assertion that the city has initiated a “record number” of federal indictments for local criminals – to date, neither the council nor the public has seen any documentation to back up such claims.

Councilwoman Miah Jackson, who also attended the mayor’s address, resented his jabs at the council and the local media, which began at the onset of the address.

“Many of his criticisms of both were unfounded and hostile,” Jackson said in an email.

The major concern for Jackson was Melton’s suggestion that the city raise gas taxes.

Jackson cited many concerns over this plan, specifically that such a move would do more harm than good for the local community and put an undue burden on the poor.

“The level of dysfunction within the administration and between the Mayor and Council is unprecedented in Selma,” Jackson said. “Even now, the Mayor refuses to communicate with the Council on financial matters, does not attend Council meetings and has disconnected the Council from the financial office.”

Jackson noted that Melton cites the council’s responsibility over city finances, yet the mayor refuses to provide financial information to council members.

Further, Jackson said, the mayor claims the recent lay-offs have saved the city nearly $2 million but supporting documentation for this claim has not been provided.

“It is easy to raise taxes,” Jackson said. “It is easy to continue to spend.  But with increased taxes will simply come increased spending, not necessarily increased solutions.  When the Council refused to raise taxes, it marked the beginning of the Mayor’s disconnection from the Council, and finally his refusing to allow the department heads to even communicate with the Council on any matter.  There has been no collaboration from the Mayor with the City Council on a corporate strategy to identify problems or solutions.”

Jackson also noted that if the council approved additional taxes there is no evidence that the revenue would not be “mishandled, mismanaged or misappropriated” by the mayor’s office.

“The state of the City will remain in dysfunction until the Mayor satisfies these three essential practices:  communication, collaboration and transparency,” Jackson said. “He cannot address the challenges of the City without first improving communication with the Council.”

For his part Councilman John Leashore, who also attended the mayor’s address, agreed with much of Melton’s address and hoped that the council and the mayor could find a path forward.

“I think the mayor made it clear that the executive branch and legislative branch of our city should be working together,” Leashore said. “The constant bickering between the mayor and city council isn’t doing our city any good.”

Councilman Michael Johnson was unable to attend the address because he was addressing a personal issue, but he received text of the mayor’s address and called it a “powerful message.”

“The council needs to sit down and put their differences aside,” Johnson said. “We need to come together and do what’s best for this city.”

Johnson said the priority should be on returning the laid off city workers to their jobs but noted that the perceived financial issues facing the city are a “fact” and should not be argued about any further.

“We need more revenue,” Johnson said. “If we don’t tighten up, we’re going to fall further and further in the hole.”

Councilwoman Angela Benjamin and Council President Corey Bowie declined to comment and Councilwoman Jannie Thomas did not return a request for comment by press time.