The dramatic (really) special-called mayor and commission meeting on June 19 that Blake elucidated so tellingly last week (with an addendum this week) could be a preview of coming attractions at City Hall. It has all the elements. (Enjoy it here.) This a plot you’re likely to see repeated: The mayor takes some action with no public input; her allies on the commission jump to her defense and criticize those who don’t; the opposition can’t muster the votes.
You’ll note that in this pilot episode District 3 commission candidate Melissa Link, the only person to speak during the public comment, kicks off the fun by criticizing the mayor’s appointment of a county auditor placeholder after a year of foot-dragging and with no national search for the best auditor candidate.
Here’s the background. A year ago the mayor and commission fired the county auditor. The Athens Downtown Development Authority also fired its director. The apparent connection was that the auditor, contrary to expectations, blamed not the ADDA director for a dirty downtown, but blamed the mayor and commission for skimping on financial support for cleanup. So, the auditor failed to provide cover for the authority, which happened also to include as members the mayor and Commissioner Hamby. Exit auditor.
Our auditor is not a financial guy. Our auditor studies the operating efficiency of government departments and makes recommendations for improving them. To be effective, our auditor has to cast a cold eye on how departments are run. Our auditor can only function with the support of the mayor and commission. If the mayor and commission don’t want somebody poking around in their government, well…
So, anyway, a year has passed in which there have been promises that we’d have a new auditor any day, but it didn’t happen until that televised meeting of June 19. But, even then, we didn’t get a new auditor. What we got, after a year, was an interim auditor handpicked by the mayor—a really nice guy, a retired, 30-year veteran of our local government bureaucracy. But not an auditor.
So, when the June 19 TV show opens, Melissa doesn’t mince words. She calls it a shame that the mayor has handpicked a man who has no experience as an auditor, instead of opening a national search for the best candidate. That sets the tone for the rest of the meeting. Two commissioners, Bailey and NeSmith say the same, that there should have been a search for a real auditor. That brings earnest testimony from Commissioner Hoard about the interim auditor’s credentials and the same from Commissioner Hamby. Commissioners Girtz, Sims and Lowry say they’re okay with the interim guy if he really is only interim and there really will be a national search next year, and they are assured by the mayor that there will be a search. Commissioner Herrod attacks Commissioners NeSmith and Bailey for grandstanding to embarrass the mayor. Commissioners Wright and Maxwell are absent. The vote is 6-2 to confirm the auditor.
That show strengthens my belief that we need Melissa Link in there debating and voting with the commission instead of only being able to speak during public comment.
Do the math. Herrod, Hamby, Sims and Hoard are solidly in the mayor’s pocket, as will be Hoard’s replacement, Diane Bell. NeSmith, Bailey and Wright are not in the mayor’s pocket. It’s too soon to say where Lowry’s replacement, Sharyn Dickerson will be, and Kelly Girtz these days mainly gives a lot of thoughtful and principled reasons why he’s going to go along with the mayor ’n them. Meanwhile, he’s out going door-to-door trying to help Rachel Watkins, whom he has endorsed, beat Link for the District 3 commission seat. One has to assume that means Rachel would be a sort of Girtz-like middle-of-the-road, don’t-rock-the-boat commissioner, doesn’t one?
I love Kelly Girtz, and I love Rachel Watkins, but I believe we need as never before Melissa Link’s strong, clear progressive voice on the Athens-Clarke County Commission. It’s no accident that the developers are trying to beat her. It’s no accident that the mayor is trying to beat her. It’s no accident that some of the other commissioners are trying to beat her. They don’t want her in those meetings behind those closed doors, because Melissa will kick those doors open. Even more than we need an auditor, we need Melissa Link.