Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

TOP STORY >>Sherwood showdown

Leader staff writer

In a showdown between the Sherwood City Council and the mayor Tuesday night—the mayor lost.
Mayor Dan Stedman was told, in a 6-1 vote, to fire the person he had recently hired to run the city’s public works department.

Stedman called it a “sad day for the city.” The council called for the 6 p.m. meeting in a letter Monday to the city clerk, and after listening to the mayor and a full room of resident who mostly supported him, aldermen quickly voted against the mayor without publicly offering any reason.

After the meeting some aldermen said the concern was that the person the mayor had hired to run the department, Lee Church, was a problem in the city’s fire department and it wasn’t right to move a problem from one department to another.
Yet other council members were upset because they had not been consulted as they had been in the past when other mayors ran the city.

Once the meeting opened, Alderman Charlie Harmon, the son of former Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon, quickly made a motion to rescind Stedman’s hiring of Church as the public works director. No one was fired to make the hiring of Church possible.
An engineer on the city’s payroll had temporarily filled the department’s top job since last year. That person is still with the city.

The mayor started his defense, saying he was voted in by 62 percent of the residents and carried every precinct to run the city. Harmon interrupted, “Is any of this relevant ?” “Yes, it is,” Stedman said, adding that the alderman would have an opportunity to respond. But when it came time for Harmon to respond, he along with the rest of the council sat quietly, waiting to cast their vote.

Stedman told the council that in the 65 days that he had been mayor that he had worked every day. “I’ve been in the day-to-day trenches,” he said. “I have the authority to obtain my own department heads.” He called the council’s decision “government at its worse. Neither I as the mayor, or Lee Church, have been given the opportunity to succeed or to fail.”
After the mayor spoke, the public was given a chance to weigh in on the debate, according to the agenda. Harmon again spoke up and asked that public comment be limited to about 10 minutes, so the question could be voted on at 6:20 p.m. The council agreed.

About 10 residents spoke, nine backing the mayor, including his wife. She called the council “cornbread mafia” for their backdoor attack on the mayor. “Other than Tom Brooks, who even called me to get the mayor to change his decision, who have you heard from?” she asked the council.

“Several other people,” Alder-man Becki Vassar said, but refused to release any names. Resident Mike Anderson said, “I support the mayor. He should have the choice.” Anderson’s wife, Doris, was more succinct. “You all asked me last year for help to get Sherwood to vote in four-year terms. I can change that.”

She said she called some of the aldermen to see what the problem was. “All I was told was we have the votes and we’ll do what we want,” she told the council and audience. “How do you know you had the votes? Did you have an illegal meeting?” she asked.

“I support the mayor as the city’s CEO,” said resident Julann Carnes. “To politicize the Public Works Department is very, very inappropriate. To do so jeopardizes the service.” Herschel Bowman said he also thought the mayor should make the hiring decision. His only question was if the mayor’s choice was qualified.

“Church has all the qualifications. I did all the interviews and he was the most qualified,” Stedman said. Richard Seville gave the council a stern warning. “Don’t go to the good-old-boy system. Leave it alone.” Local businessman Mike Presson was the lone dissenter during public comment, saying that it was a disgrace that a “small disgruntled group was stopping the council from doing their job. I take it personally.”

After the public had its short say, aldermen were given a chance for discussion and rebuttals. No one on the council said anything and Harmon called for the vote. The only alderman to support the mayor was Butch Davis. Aldermen David Henry missed the meeting.