Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

TOP STORY >>Mayor chooses commissioners

Leader staff writer

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams’ decision to replace city commissioners when their terms expire to give more residents the opportunity to serve came as a surprise to the first commissioner to lose his seat and angered two city council members who say the mayor preaches teamwork but doesn’t practice it.

Alderman Teri Miessner said during a budget and personnel committee meeting this week that when it was time for the mayor to appoint a new member to the parks commission, he asked council members for suggestions. But no one knew that Planning Commissioner Matt Webber was about to be replaced and that included Webber.

Questioned by Miessner, City Attorney Jim Taylor explained that the mayor appoints commissioners and the city council approves them. By state law, he said, the council doesn’t get to consider anyone that the mayor doesn’t want to appoint.

Miessner conceded that the mayor might have been within his statutory rights to replace Webber, but his actions did nothing to promote the teamwork he espouses. Alderman Becky Lemaster agreed.

Webber, who attended the meeting at Miessner’s request, told the aldermen who were present that he felt like he had been blindsided by the mayor’s decision. He heard “through the grapevine” that his term had expired Aug. 10 and that the mayor intended to replace him, he said.

Contacted Friday while he was on a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia with Metroplan to look at mass transit systems, Williams said his intent was only to bring new blood into the city’s commissions. “I sent a letter out when I first came in (to the commission chairs) so there wouldn’t be any surprises,” the mayor said, adding that eight years was long enough for Webber to sit on the planning commission.

“This city is full of great people who will bring new ideas and who want to serve,” he said.

Webber explained in an email to The Leader how he felt about being replaced: “I fully understand and appreciate the state statute, which allows the city mayor to select for appointment whomever he wishes,” Webber wrote. “That has not been the main issue with what has transpired over the past month or so. The biggest contention, that I have had, was the manner in which this whole matter was so poorly handled. I am very disappointed in the lack of respect that has exuded throughout this dilemma.

“Unlike elected officials, commissioners, in my opinion, do not pay as close attention to their terms of office. Since there is not an election process, the term length may go unnoticed by the individual, until they are courteously notified that a re-appointment is being considered or not-considered. If a commissioner has served the community well, has worked harmoniously with fellow commissioners and has not created any discord or problems…why not give that commissioner the option to continue serving. The experience-level is very valuable. If he/she declines, then by-all-means, a replacement should be sought.

“At the August City Council meeting, there was an individual being considered for appointment to the planning commission.

Chairman Ron Craig approached me and asked if I knew who this person was. At that time, I had no idea that my term was either expired or soon-to-expire. At about the same time that I told Ron that I didn’t know who the person was, the council was called to order. If it had not been for one or more alderman asking for a bio on Chuck Prater (and subsequently being tabled), he would have been voted on that night. I don’t know if he would have been voted onto the planning commission, but the possibility is very likely. Again, I had no idea, at that time that this person was to replace me.

“Let’s just say that Mr. Prater had been voted on that evening and the vote passed. Had I not gotten wind of this, in the next couple of days following the council meeting, and I had not confronted the mayor, I would likely have shown up at the next planning Commission meeting and there would have been someone sitting in the chair that I usually occupy. Can you say ‘awkward’?

“It is no secret that I have occasionally butted-heads with some engineers and developers in the past. I take the planning of our community very serious. I have never been one to just rubber-stamp something that is presented to me. I am going ask questions. If something doesn’t seem right, I’m going to dig. Evidently some folks don’t like that. To some, I am considered an outsider – an enemy. I have been accused of being anti-development. What a bunch of malarkey! Nothing could be further from the truth. What I want is smart development!”

Williams said Prater, whom he intends to appoint to the planning commission, is retired from the Air Force. He runs a cabinet shop and is not involved in development.

“He’s very methodical,” Williams said. “In his line of work, he understands how important it is to get it right the first time. And he doesn’t have an agenda.”