During all the controversy surrounding recall elections and special meetings there is one issue that is going unnoticed and that is Councilman Wade Johnson has publicly expressed doubt in the competence of a city employee.
In his official response to the recall effort against him, Johnson defended his record on the council and also expressed doubt that the recall petition filed with the city would be properly certified by the city clerk.
“I (have) serious concerns with the validity of the petition as to it’s form and the actions of the city clerk,” Johnson said in his statement. Johnson said the fact that a recall petition against Hoss Cooley was thrown out last month indicates the city clerk is, at best, incompetent, and, at worst, being deceitful in her actions.
If Johnson has real concerns with Piedmont’s city clerk he has an obligation to address those concerns with the city manager, mayor and the rest of the council. To the best of my knowledge he has not done so and did not response to a request for comment last week.
But I suspect Johnson doesn’t actually have any real concerns with City Clerk Jennifer Smith. In reality he probably assumes she is capable of performing her duties, and in that case that means he publicly criticized a city employee and tarnished her record to score political points.
You want an excuse for a recall? That might be it.
But let’s assume Johnson isn’t trying to score political points and isn’t carelessly throwing around words in an effort to take the attention off of himself. In that case we have a problem that at least one city councilman is distrustful of the city clerk. In fact, there are at least two that feel that way because Cooley also made public remarks during a city meeting last year in which he questioned Smith’s ability to perform her duties as it pertained to the certification of the recall petition against him.
However, Johnson’s distrust may be valid; it’s just pointed at the wrong person. Smith followed the instructions of City Attorney Tom Ferguson but his advice on how to conduct the certification process was deemed invalid by a county judge last month. Once again, the city clerk is following the advice of the city attorney on this latest recall petition and if Johnson believes there is an error in the process he should first question the role of Ferguson before filing a lawsuit.
It has been no secret in this paper that I have been skeptical of Ferguson’s ability to perform his job as a municipal attorney. Besides the murky advice on the two recall petitions, there have been very few times when Ferguson has been able to provide the council with clear and concise answers on important issues, such as the Williams Foods contract. More than one city official – neither have been named in this column – have also stated that Ferguson can be hard to reach and is slow to return calls and email.
I think it was a loss for the city when David Davis felt he had to resign but I also understand that an incoming council and mayor that is distrustful of the past administration – whether it’s justified or not – may want to move in a different direction with certain members of the city staff, including the attorney. However, so far there has been nothing to show that the city is better off with Ferguson over Davis.
Too many times this council has been crucified for failing to vote on issues they don’t understand. Could they do a better job of researching topics before votes? You bet. But there have also been times when votes have been tabled and meetings have been postponed because a direct question to the city’s attorney was not met with a direct response. Too often the council and mayor seem to be left with trying to guess their way through the legal issues of running a city without the kind of legal advice the city is paying good money for.
This council deserves some blame for delays in the Williams Foods contract and for failing to get a deal done with the school district for a new sewer line. But there is also blame to be pointed at the city attorney.
If Johnson doesn’t believe the city is following the letter of the law when it comes to his recall he may have some valid points, but those concerns don’t deserve to be directed at the city clerk.
But if Johnson doesn’t really have any concerns and was just unfairly putting heat on a city employee to cause a distraction, then all you need to know is there might be an important election in June with Johnson’s name on it.
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