Council cuts off mayor’s ability to employ staff
by Erin Dentmon
edentmon@cherokeetribune.com
November 17, 2012 01:37 AM | 2554 views | 7 7 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CANTON — The Canton City Council, in a heated meeting, voted Thursday 5-1 to remove the mayor’s ability to employ a staff.

Since the power is included in the city’s charter, the council will need to approve the change again at the December council meeting for it to take effect.

Council Member Bill Bryan moved to change the charter during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I don’t hate you. I don’t have some sort of personal agenda against you,” Bryan said to Mayor Gene Hobgood before making his motion.

After the motion was made in the meeting, Hobgood said he felt the matter should have gone through a work session before coming for a vote.

“That is a policy the council voted on and approved to install. They violated their own policy,” Hobgood said Friday.

According to the city’s charter, the Canton mayor is allowed to employ a staff that reports directly to him. Hobgood’s staff includes administrative assistant Patricia Fowler and Canton Main Street director Ginger Garrard.

Hobgood has said that Garrard takes most of her direction from the Main Street board.

Council Member Glen Cummins said changing the charter would be insulting to the 15-member citizens committee that reviewed the charter over an 18-month period. This committee’s work was approved by the council in April.

Only Cummins voted against the motion.

“It should not be changed because a council member or council members disagree with the mayor,” he said. The remarks were met with applause from the audience.

“This is not about money. Three months ago, we all voted to fund the mayor’s office unanimously. This is being vindictive, and we all know it,” Cummins said.

Cummins requested that Bryan withdraw his motion, which Bryan did not do.

During the meeting, Bryan referred to Cummins’s remarks as a personal attack.

Council Member John Beresford said the infighting among the council is a “classic example” of the backbiting the council has been accused of by the public.

“Let’s stop this craziness. Let’s get on with city business,” he said.

Hobgood criticized the council members for apparently deciding on the vote outside of open meetings.

“It appears they reached their decision long before the public knew it was being discussed. That violates, to me, at least the spirit of the open meetings law,” he said Friday.

“If we’re dealing with the business of the people, that ought to be open, every bit of it, to public scrutiny,” he continued. “When you have a group that gets together by some means, communicates, and reaches a decision outside any public scrutiny, to me, that’s a problem. That defeats the purpose of a good, honest, open government. We’re going backwards in that respect.”

Bryan said the cuts have been discussed off and on for three years.

“Frankly, if I should be criticized for anything, it’s allowing this position to carry on as long as it has,” he said Friday, noting that he’d felt for at least a year that the mayor’s assistant is unnecessary.

Bryan said he wanted to time his motion to allow the mayor’s assistant, Patricia Fowler, to be vested in the city’s retirement plan.

Council Member Bob Rush said that he had stood by his position for some length of time.

“I have been saying for three years that I think it’s bad management to have a part-time mayor with a full-time staff,” he said.

Hobgood contended that his office has full-time needs.

“Because the mayor is part-time, that’s exactly why we need someone full time,” he said, garnering applause from the residents in attendance.

Bryan has indicated that he does not intend to eliminate the Main Street director’s position, but to have that position supervised by someone other than the mayor.

After the vote, the council voted 5-1 along the same lines not to allow public comment. Murmurs of “That’s disgusting” and similar comments were heard throughout the audience.

A second vote will be held in December.

Hobgood said he would “certainly consider” vetoing the ordinance changing the charter if it passes a second vote. The mayor’s veto can be overridden by a later council vote.

“(A veto) doesn’t really stop anything. It just delays it a couple weeks or so,” he said.

Bryan said he has offered to meet and discuss the issue with the mayor and his staff.

Comments
(7)
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Susan Lowe
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November 20, 2012
We, the voters in Canton, applaud the City Counsel for saving the citizens of Canton $51,000 annually, of tax payer monies and the elimination of this unnecessary position. Seriously, in today's economy can we really afford $51,000 for a secretarial position to service a part time elected official? I think not, and I am sure that my fellow tax payers would agree. So we applaud you. Thank you!!
Pat Gold
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November 21, 2012
Susan, if the amount of one salary was the only point to be made, I could understand your response. Unfortunately, it goes so much lower than that. Our city council has lowered themselves to back room politics and backbiting, which isn't helping any of us. Also, just so you know, they have already come up with new ways to spend the money some think they have saved, including raises for themselves. Granted, they are grossly underpaid, but proposing to give themselves a raise while potentially taking away two jobs was bad form, even for them. I respect some of our council members as individuals, but as a group they have a long way to go.
Jeff Brown
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November 21, 2012
Susan, I respect your response but please study up and get to know the issues. Do you attend coucil meetings regulary? The council is already spending the money that was "saved"...therefore, the tax payers will not have any savings.
Great Sky
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November 20, 2012
I moved to Canton several years ago. I was attracted to the quaint, small town charm, but I saw lots of potential. I met some very nice and intelligent people after moving here, and I started to get involved in local organizations. Now, however, I am beginning to think I may have been mislead. This Council has done nothing but destroy the genteel and civilized character of this city. I am shocked by their lack of respect for one another and for the citizens they represent. I am at a loss on what can be done, and that makes me very sad. They should be ashamed for breaking the collective spirit of those who love, or used to love, this town!
Pat Gold
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November 17, 2012
I was at the council meeting on Thursday evening. After Mr. Bryan's motion, which was presented in grand fashion, and after reciting an off color and inappropriate poem, he stood before the two employees, whose jobs had been effectively done away with, smiled, laughed, and said "this is fun, I'm having fun." Fun, Mr. Bryan? Seriously? Mr. Bryan has made his intentions clear for some time. Why he voted to accept the proposed charter changes and clarifications, which retained the mayor's ability to hire staff, is beyond me. He has made this personal and he should be ashamed. Mayor Hobgood has done an exemplary job for the City of Canton. He is not perfect, none of us are, but he can be proud of the way he handles himself. We can't say the same of some of our council members.
Bill Grant
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November 19, 2012
Pat, I agree with your comments. I was also in attendance, and I am appalled by the Council's decorum. It was painfully obvious that the 5 Councilmen who supported this vindictive motion had met separately and vowed to take this action outside of the regular meeting. From their comments, it is also clear that it was a retaliatory move against the Mayor for his stance on the fire district. These five Council members are acting on their own personal agendas with no regard to their constituents. While it may be "fun" for them to eliminate positions, harass City employees and disrespect the Mayor; it will, once again, be at the cost of Canton's citizens.
Jeff Brown
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November 20, 2012
I would like to agree with both your comments Pat and Bill. Our council should hold every meeting in the public eye. Back room decisions are how we got in the mess we are in now. The people of Canton need to hold this council honest. One of the council members had already told a citizen that this vote was "already done" the day of the meeting. These kind of thing can't happen....Save Canton!
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