“One City, One Vision,” the signs say.
Thus far, Annistonians largely got what they wanted. The Stewart City Hall is nothing like its predecessor, thankfully so. But an infantile issue — the rotation of the council’s vice mayor position — is bubbling underneath Gurnee Avenue like a cracked water pipe. It needs addressing, and quickly, so that it doesn’t infect an otherwise healthy elected body.
Details matter, and in this case those details revolve around Councilman Seyram Selase’s vice-mayor title and Councilman David Reddick’s desire to rotate the spot between the council’s four members, each serving a one-year term. Anniston’s council has often rotated the position going back at least into the 1990s. To say Reddick and Selase, in their first terms as councilmen, have strong and differing opinions on this issue is a huge understatement.
Problem is, the council-manager act under which Anniston’s government operates stipulates that the council elect a vice mayor for the entire four-year term, not on a rotating basis. “The Mayor and Assistant Mayor when so elected, shall hold their respective offices until the next Council takes office,” the act reads.
Clearly, City Hall has taken a different approach.
Throughout The Star’s files are stories documenting rotation of the title. In no particular order, here are a few who’ve served as vice mayor since the 1990s: Pink Junior Wood, Chester Weeks, Jerre Ford, Jeff Fink, Ben Little, Debra Foster and John Spain. In 2005, for example, The Star wrote that the council “appointed Ben Little as vice mayor. The post rotates annually among council members.” This week, I found no mention of the council-manager act, or of any significant disagreements, in The Star’s coverage of the vice-mayor rotation in the last 20 years. The outlier is Spain, who was vice mayor the entire time he was on the council.
Enter Reddick. He wants the post rotated and is not shy about his displeasure over Selase’s refusal to resign as vice mayor so that other members can have their turn. Reddick claims that most recent councils agreed to a rotation, and that the current council did the same in essentially a gentleman’s agreement. He also says Selase “changed his mind” at rotation time. It’s “J. Spain all over again,” Reddick tweeted in a response to my query.
As for that agreement to rotate a position that is little more than ceremonial and padding for a politician’s resume?
“I never agreed to rotate the position,” Millie Harris wrote in an email.
“It was my understanding that it would rotate based on my memory of events from our initial retreat. (But) no formal action was ever taken and ordinance on (the) books clearly states position is to be for (the) full term,” Jay Jenkins wrote in an email.
“Yes (I agreed to the rotation). David wanted to rotate it. I deferred it to them,” Stewart said.
And Selase? “I left with the understanding that there possibly could/would be a rotation of the position, but there was no formal agreement to my knowledge,” he said via email. He also believes a rotation would likely violate the council-manager act, a position formed after talking with the city attorney.
“An agreement to rotate the position of vice mayor, as has been suggested, would violate the plain language of the Council-Manager Act and, specifically, the express directive that the assistant mayor shall serve for the term of the council absent a vacancy stemming from the mayor’s and/or the assistant mayor’s cessation from their office as members of the council. In other words, there is question whether I have the authority to vacate the office of assistant mayor while maintaining my office as a council member,” Selase wrote.
Minor issues can get sticky. And this one, to be brutally honest, is as minor as it comes. Unless something happens to Stewart, heaven forbid, the position is the definition of irrelevant. That Reddick is adamant about it, given the pertinent issues before the council, says a great deal.
For clarity’s sake, I asked the councilman why he felt so strongly about the rotation and Selase’s stance. He responded, via Twitter:
“It’s simply a tradition that the council has shared since 92. All about keeping one’s word is all. The honor of integrity …”
“(It’s) not a big deal position @ all. But staying true to one’s word is never small in leadership.”
“I’m concerned about elected officials willing to compromise on their word. Is there a small lie in politics?”
“Maybe I’m just old fashioned. I still believe that a person’s word is important. Part of being raised by strong people …”
Selase, when asked for a response to Reddick’s tweets, said, “I choose to focus my time and energy on positivity for the City instead of making possible slanderous remarks about other Councilmembers. Thanks.”
There you have it. Make of it what you will.
Annistonians know what happens when Gurnee Avenue descends into personal agendas of local politicians. It’s ugly, and it’s damaging.
In this case, Stewart’s “One City, One Vision” mantra has briefly imploded over a silly row about who gets to play vice mayor for a year. Whoop-tee-do. What’s truly disconcerting is having a councilman question others’ integrity. On this, Stewart is spot-on right: “We have bigger fish to fry.”
Phillip Tutor — email@example.com — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.