Columbus citizen Carl Lee came before the mayor and council to voice his request for the council to reevaluate annually all city contractual professional services and department heads, as well as his preference for police chief.
“We come before the Council and Mayor to identify, suggest and request several policy considerations. Specifically, we ask the Council and mayor to reevaluate all city contractual professional services and department heads. Moreover, we believe the City Attorney, Chief Operations Officer and City Treasurer positions among others should be evaluated immediately.
Additionally, we believe we should allow other attorneys to apply and be seriously considered to provide the City’s legal services. In regards to the Chief Operations Officer and Treasurer appropriate evaluations should determine if the current position holders should remain. We are concerned that these positions are taken or seen as electoral when they are appointed and not attached to the elected officials’ terms. Finally, in as much as, our present City Attorney, Jeff Turnage is also the attorney for the City of Columbus Housing Authority, we believe this is representative of one person monopolizing these services or at least indicative of greed. While this (practice in some form or another) has existed for decades, we believe it is now time for a change. Moreover, allowing for all contractual services such as City Attorney to be annual rather than allowing the attorney to hold the position for at least four years has the potential for a monopoly. In addition, attorneys holding multiple contracts with both city and county – commissions, authorities and/or agencies creates the impression of a monopoly.
The second policy issue for your consideration is the pending appointment of a Chief of Police. Specifically, many of us in our community would like to see Interim Chief Selvain McQueen appointed to this important position. Among our reasons for supporting Chief McQueen are one (1) he is presently and has been a long-time member of the force and, he demonstrates a commitment to our whole community. (2) He is qualified in every regard and is African-American. To appoint Chief McQueen will end a vestige of segregation hopefully forever. It appears that once African-Americans became the majority of the City and we finally have African-American officers with long-term tenure, then we changed the selection process thereby continuing a discriminatory practice. Again, we have an opportunity to change the status quo and move forward as an all-inclusive community. While, we do not contend because the community is majority African-American that the chief must be African-American, we do believe racism has been the primary reason why no African-American hes yet been named Chief.
Further, we would like to implore the Council and Mayor to immediately begin the process with elected and economic development officials in Columbus (Lowndes County) Starkville (Oktibbeha County) and West Point (Clay County) to secure a regional mall. There is as you each know a tremendous need to stop the sales tax drain to Tupelo, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Meridian and Jackson. We believe that new revenue sharing rules, policies and structures can be created to allow the entire Golden Triangle to benefit.
In conclusion, we want to encourage you, our elected leaders, to find the courage to move out of the box and continue our journey to progress which allows for the opportunity for everyone to benefit from our government. We will be back soon.”
Former Chief Joseph St. John was originally scheduled on the Citizens Input Agenda, but was scratched after the city recognized his publication, Real Story Publishing www.realstorypublishing.com as a legitimate news organization. His publication now has full access as a local media outlet.
Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong was asked to update the mayor and council on the latest about the police chief search. He spoke of the sub-committee and asked Birney Imes, the sub-committee chairman, to come forward and address the council.
Imes told the mayor and council that the sub-committee had met four times in the past couple of weeks. (The sub-committee is made up of Imes, Steve Rogers, Bobby Jordan and Representative Esther Harrison, with Armstrong and City Human Resources Director Pat Mitchell as advisors). Imes also said that the committee worked individually and in pairs. He said that the committee members called the communities where the four finalists now have worked and talked with their associates and civic leaders for references. He added that they did not speak with the candidates themselves.
“We’re providing you with a one page report for each of the four candidates,” said Imes. “The reports serve as an introduction to the candidates and suggest area’s to explore. An introduction…a sense of what these men are like. It’s not a research project into their past.”
“You’ll be conducting the interviews and making the hire” Imes told the mayor and council. “The committee encourages you to read what we’ve given you and formulate your own questions. I’m sure you’re aware that there’s skepticism in the community about the search. There’s a perception among some that the decision has been made already. We know the mayor and council will approach the interviews with an open mind and give each candidate equal scrutiny and equal opportunity to succeed.
There’s also a concern among the committee that the city, by law, cannot pay for travel expenses, not all of the candidates will be able to participate in the interviews. The committee hopes funding can be found to cover, or at least defray expenses.
We think it would be difficult to overestimate the importance of this hire. The committee has spoken with dozens of people and heard encouraging words about all the candidates. That said, we also think the mayor and council should reserve the right to restart the process if in the unlikely event after meeting with the candidates face to face…you feel you do not have a suitable prospect.”
After finishing the statement, Imes said he’d be glad to answer any questions. Ward 6 City Councilman Bill Gavin had one, “Mr. Imes, does the committee feel very comfortable in the choice of these four (candidates). Is there any reservations about any of these four individuals? As you just stated, it’s a very, very critical hire. And do you feel that any one of these four individuals would hold the public’s trust?”
Imes answered, “We feel that’s for you to decide and not to pass the buck…”
Gavin interrupted, “I’m not passing the buck…but you-all have done a lot of research on these people…”
“All of these men have performed well in the communities, as far as we can tell, in the communities that they now work. The people that we have talked to had very favorable comments about them.”
“We didn’t try to rate them…we didn’t try to say yes or no on the candidates…we just tried to get a sense of who they were.” Imes said.
Mayor Smith said that the next step was to conduct a criminal background check on each candidate. The mayor thanked Imes and the committee once again. No action was taken.