Looking to avoid future controversy, the Laurinburg City Council has begun addressing the issue of how replacements are appointed to vacated board seats.
Following an extended debate in August and September regarding the appointment of long-time public servant JD Willis to replace retiring Councilman Herbert Rainer, Mayor Tommy Parker took the blame for failing to install a policy to address the situation.
Willis was appointed unanimously at council’s September meeting.
With few exceptions, council has traditionally accepted the replacement pick of the outgoing member without debate. Last exercised with Drew Williamson’s appointment to the board to replace Parker, this informal policy came under scrutiny when Rainer announced Willis as his replacement choice.
“We definitely need a policy on when council members resign,” said Councilwoman Mary Jo Adams at Thursday’s board retreat.
Upon the suggestion of Adams and Willis, council agreed to assign City Manager Ed Burchins the task of finding out more information about how other municipalities handle board vacancies.
Critical of this decision was Councilman Kenton Spencer, who said that council members have become “experts at kicking the can down the road.”
Encouraging independent thinking, Spencer noted that there are “only a couple of different ways to handle it anyway.”
Among the options available to council are accepting nominations from the floor and then voting on the nominations, with the nominee receiving the most votes being awarded the seat. Council could also choose to vote up-or-down on individual nominees or continue to rubber stamp the outgoing member’s selection, Spencer said.
Burchins is expected to present alternatives along with feedback from other municipalities at a future meeting of council.
Also during the retreat:
Addressing an issue that was popular with residents during council’s regular meeting earlier in the week, council members agreed to continue looking into a funding solution for the city’s housing condemnation program.
Having already exhausted the $30,000 it was budgeted for fiscal year 2012-13 condemning and demolishing 15 houses, the program will need to have its funding extended if it is to continue work during the current year.
At what Parker called the busiest public forum ever during a regular meeting, five Laurinburg residents spoke in support of extending funding to the program which aims to aggressively clean up dangerous, poorly kept homes.
“We have been making good headway (with this program),” Burchins said.
Council is expected to receive a report from Burchins at a later meeting with information about funding that may be available within the current budget to support the program.
Keys to the city
There was a lengthy debate about the city’s philosophy regarding the customary “key to the city” tokens that are often given out by municipalities to honor individuals.
In the past, keys to the city of Laurinburg have been dispensed liberally as a promotional tool, said Councilman Curtis Leak.
With the supply of city keys exhausted, council has now undertaken the task of defining the meaning of a key to the city of Laurinburg.
“What does the key represent?” asked Spencer. “Is it for someone who has dedicated their life to the city? … Someone who has given money to benefit a number of others?”
As Williamson understands it, keys have also traditionally been used to honor visiting dignitaries.
A decision on what keys to the city will mean in the future will be made pending research by Burchins and the city clerk.
Part time help
Council also agreed to authorize the appropriation of approximately $5,000 to hire part time help for the city clerk.
The new employee will assist in the creation and archival of the minutes for city meetings. With more than 40 meetings last year, city council placed a heavy burden on city clerk Jenny Tippett, Mayor Tommy Parker said.
According to Adams, Tippett frequently works late to catch up on her work with city minutes.
“There is something wrong with this picture,” Adams said of walking into the Barrett building one evening to find Tippett swamped with work.
Tippett also regularly answers the phone and performs administrative duties during week days.
“And the phone rings constantly,” Burchins said.