Statham residents have turned their city government upside down, and the results are unknown.
The city council will have a new mayor and two new council members in January. With a third council member who was elected in November 2017, a new majority can easily be seen.
The council also has changed the city charter, giving itself more authority and diminishing the mayor’s power. The change mostly deals with personnel. The mayor no longer has the sole power to hire and fire department heads.
The change in the council and the charter results, in large part, from long-time mayor Robert Bridges’ decision to not seek re-election.
Joe Piper, a relative newcomer to the town, is the new mayor. Tammy Crawley and Gary Venable are new council members.
Dwight McCormic, who was a regular critic of the city government and the mayor, was elected in 2017.
The new officeholders will have ample targets at which to aim — unfinished audits, uneven water supply, federal lawsuits leftover from when Officer Marc Lofton was on the police force and more lawsuits about the state’s open-records and open-meetings law.
A new auditing firm was hired recently and the 2017 audit is supposed to be done by the end of the year — one more month. The firm, BatesCarter, has delivered the fiscal year 2016 audit and promised the 2017.
All of the candidates, including the winners, made finishing the city’s unfinished audits a top priority. The question will be what can they do? If BatesCarter, which also does the Commerce audit and has done the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce audit, lives up to its promises, the 2019 fiscal year audit, which will be late come Dec. 31, could be done by June or so.
The easiest and quickest action the council might take is to fire police chief Allan Johnston. That has been whispered and talked about for months.
I have a suggestion for the new officeholders: Start following the state’s open-records and open-meetings laws, religiously. Ask for an expert on the laws come do a one-hour seminar for the city government.
Candidates talked a fair amount about putting more information on the city’s website. That can be done quickly if council makes it a priority. The city does not have a person dedicated to the website. That could be changed with a realignment of duties. It is a question of how much the council wants it to happen.
The city’s agendas for meetings and work sessions should be redone. Residents should be able to talk about items on the agenda. The process for speaking should be changed.
Mayoral candidates talked about “town hall” meetings once a quarter or once every couple of months at which residents could ask question and get answers. The likelihood is that questions will have to be written and answers provided in a week or so. That would be fine. After several such meetings, the number of questions probably would shrivel.
The council should hear residents on any subject they want to discuss. The residents owe the city civil discourse. The new mayor has to be able to conduct a meeting and gavel people down when they speak from the audience. It may require some stricter guidelines for speaking — that does not mean a person should have to say what he or she wants to talk about. It might mean being candid and polite.
The council and residents both have a role to play in public comments. Neither has been very good for months.
The city has serious problems with its water supply and sewer system. It is more serious because they are likely expensive problems. Nonetheless, a detailed look at both is required. That would take a few months; then comes the real question of how to afford big changes?