Thursday, October 5, 2006
Mayor, board at odds over roles
By SUE WATSON
A tug-of-war over who is in charge in the City of Holly Springs was racheted up a notch last week with a second veto by the mayor in two week’s time of the board of aldermen’s unanimous vote to offer the positions for vacant department heads.
Some members of the board and the mayor are using Section 21-3-15 of the Mississippi State Code to leverage their positions.
DeBerry, in notifying aldermen last week he was vetoing the board orders to hire a police chief from a northern state and a general manager for the utility department from Tennessee, said in his memo that the recommendation for these two positions should have come from himself.
DeBerry said he made one recommendation for each position; he did not rank his recommendations according to first, second and third choice. But with just one recommendation, his position is tantamount to asking the board to accept his recommendation or face a veto. He said the statutes do not state the specific number of times a mayor can veto a board order.
“It just says any order can be vetoed by the mayor within 10 days,” DeBerry said.
He said his vetoes reflect his belief regarding the authority given to the mayor by state law.
DeBerry said he believes the mayor and board will get through this impasse.
Alderman Russell Johnson said Monday, the mayor has a right to recommend and in an aldermen form of government, the board has the right to accept or to reject the mayor’s recommendation.
“He’s disagreeing with our vote and when we as aldermen override the mayor’s veto, the action taken by the board becomes law,” Johnson said.
Johnson agrees that the mayor is the person responsible for carrying out the will of the board of aldermen.
He believes the public may be confused about the law.
“I think the confusion we have is people are misunderstanding the form of government we have - a mayor/aldermen, not a mayor/council form of government” Johnson said. In the mayor/council form of government, the mayor has more authority, he said.
“The bottom line is we are there to serve the people of Holly Springs,” Johnson said. “It’s not about us as aldermen (personal agendas). We have to do what is best for the community according to the state statute.”
Johnson believes the mayor and board will get through this difficulty.
“This, too, shall pass; it’s my philosophy in life,” he said.
Alderman Tim Liddy said he has researched numerous Attorney General’s opinions on matters similar in nature to this one.
“This has happened before in lots of other places and the AG opinions pretty much say the board may consider the mayor’s recommendation, but the board does not have to follow the mayor’s recommendation,” he said.
“I’ve got some AG opinions I’ve read that say as soon as the board votes to override a mayor’s veto, the board’s motion becomes law. I don’t think you can veto something the second time. You’d never get anywhere. I see nothing in the law that says the mayor can veto something more than once.”
Liddy said the mayor did have veto power over the board’s motion to offer the general manager’s position to a second candidate last week.
“The mayor would have the right to override that because he was a different candidate,” Liddy said.
“On the first go around the mayor did recommend someone for utility manager and we voted 5-0 to go with the mayor’s recommendation. He vetoed that.”
Of the three candidates in the general manager’s pool, one called to withdraw his application during the summer. The one approved unanimously by the board withdrew his application and aldermen voted to offer the job to a third candidate.
Liddy said the confusion came because the mayor vetoed the board’s first 5-0 motion to offer a candidate the general manager’ss job then came to the last meeting of the board of aldermen and said the candidate withdrew his application.
“The mayor does have the right to recommend and to veto,” Liddy said. “What we have to decide Tuesday night is who can call and offer the job. It’s the mayor’s job, clearly in the law and if he refuses, someone else will have to do it.”
Liddy said the separation of powers by the founding fathers of the Constitution created a system of checks and balances.
“It needs to be a group effort,” he said. “I’ve had employees of both departments coming to me and saying, ‘we need to hurry up and get this over with because we need leadership.’ ”
According to Mayor DeBerry, the positions were advertised, the police chief’s position first advertised last fall and then readvertised again this spring by order of the board. His recommendation for the police chief’s position was in the first round of applicants and again in the second round, he said.
The board did not accept his recommendation for police chief, DeBerry said.
The general manager’s position was advertised in late spring to early summer.
He said the applications were received in all cases and he did not look at the applications until the deadline for receiving applications, as advertised, had passed.
Then he stacked the applications based on whether the candidate met minimal qualifications as published in the advertisement.
About 19 applicants out of 24 met minimal essential requirements for the police chief’s position, he said. About 22 out of about 37 applicants made the cut in the general manager’s pool.
From there the mayor narrowed the applicants in each pool further to about seven or eight candidates to show the board of aldermen.
When DeBerry called these applicants to arrange interviews, some applicants declined interviews after they discussed questions such as salary requirements, he said.
The remaining applicants in each pool were invited for interviews with the mayor and board of aldermen.
The mayor said of the board’s request for a second round of interviews with the applicants, in his opinion, “they (the board) were becoming the search committee.”
When the board asked to readvertise for the police chief’s position last fall, he said that added another six to eight months to the process for selection of police chief.
The mayor said he was not foot dragging.
“You can’t blame me for the process taking too long,” he said.
“When I vetoed the general manager (second veto), I vetoed the process. He’s acceptable to me. I vetoed the action.”
DeBerry said some board members are trying to manage the city at the first and third Tuesday night board meetings.
“Some (aldermen) are trying to have operational control of the city,” he said. “That’s not their job; that’s the job of the mayor.”
DeBerry said the board of aldermen’s job is not to create the pool of applicants.
“They hire from the pool,” he said. “I created the pool, but I cannot hire.”
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