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Mayor’s shutdown of council office an assault of citizens, democracy

Reports that Selma Mayor Darrio Melton has systematically rendered the Selma City Council office in city hall inoperable by shutting off access to the internet and the office copier, refusing to restore phone lines and email addresses, are disappointing, but not at all surprising – quite the opposite in fact, as the mayor has repeatedly indicated that there is no low to which he will not stoop in his pursuit to hamstring the council.

But the mayor’s latest moves are not only an assault on the council, they simultaneously represent an assault on the voting, tax-paying citizens of this city and the machinations of democracy in general.

On one hand, making it impossible for citizens to access their elected officials – including the mayor, whose office has been virtually inaccessible and incommunicado for more than a year – undermines the basic rights of citizens to voice their concerns to local leaders and hold those leaders accountable for the actions they do or do not take.

While blocking citizens from making contact with their ward leaders is bad enough, Melton’s latest move represents a blatant attack on democracy, which only functions properly when politicians are held to account by the people they are meant to stand up for.

Beyond that, the fact that the city’s Information Technology (IT) Department was reportedly directed to take these actions means that a taxpayer-funded office has been weaponized against the very citizens it is meant to serve, which likewise should come as no surprise to those who witnessed the completely unorganized and sporadic “sickout” launched by the city’s Public Works Department late last year.

Further, assertions by Carneetie Ellison – the council’s contracted administrative assistant that has been at the center of these passive attacks – that she is yet again being targeted by the mayor, while an earlier federal suit stating as much is still working its way through judicial channels, seems to hold up.

Ellison has stated multiple times that, in her opinion, Melton’s opposition to her contract is less about the contract and more about the person filling it – one can certainly see where she would get such an impression.

Taken together – the shutdown of the council office and the disconnect it creates between elected officials and constituents; the use of the IT Department to attack the office and, quite possibly more specifically, the person running it – the mayor’s latest display of pettiness is nothing new, only 2018 and 2019 drama playing out in a new year and a new decade.

In the news story on this topic in today’s paper, Montgomery attorney Julian McPhillips, who has represented both Ellison and Selma City Treasurer Ronita Wade in their cases against Melton, stated that the mayor is “violating law and custom and practice” and the council should consider taking steps to remove him from office.

Perhaps McPhillips’ suggestion is strong, but it is certainly time for something to happen that will alleviate the contention between the mayor and the council, which has thus far done nothing but hurt the people of this city, but it is going to require one side or the other to swallow its pride and act in the best interest of the people, even if that means walking away looking foolish.

We are not even half way through the first month of 2020 – surely there is time for our local leaders to turn over a new leaf, commit to addressing disagreements diplomatically and work in the best interest of the people and the city, look at ways to compromise and collaborate, focus more on those things that unite us and put aside petty divisions that have absolutely no benefit to either those in the game or those on the sidelines.

What will be done and how it will be done are anyone’s guess, but the first step is to cast pride aside and work for the common good.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” – Phillipians 2:3 (NIV)