Officials ponder city clerk’s office change

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, October 30, 2011

Brookhaven aldermen have recently discussedthe possibility of appointing rather than electing the city clerk,but whether any action beyond past discussion will occur remainsunclear.

    The upcoming Nov. 8 election brings with it the possibility of avacancy in city government.

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    Mike Jinks, the current city clerk, is a candidate for the post ofLincoln County tax assessor/collector. Jinks, a Republican, facesDemocrat Rita Goss and Independent Mavis Henderson Stewart on theNov. 8 ballot.

    If he wins the office, Jinks would begin his new job in January,leaving the city clerk position vacant.

    At recent board meetings, city leaders have had brief discussionson the possibility of taking the potential vacancy as anopportunity to make the city clerk an appointed office rather thanan elected one.

    At the Oct. 4 board meeting, Alderman at Large Karen Sullivanpointed out that Brookhaven is one of only four or five cities inthe state to have an elected city clerk.

    In response, Ward Six Alderman Terry Bates expressed strongopposition to the idea. Bates said the practice of appointing cityoffices is prone to corruption.

    “These people who are appointed are appointed by favoritism,” Batessaid. “You don’t have favoritism with elections.”

    Bates also suggested that elected officials are more motivated intheir duties than appointed officials. He offered a personalanecdote to illustrate the point.

    “There are nights I can’t sleep thinking about the citizens,” Batessaid. “This woman called me the other night about a problem. I’mgoing over there tomorrow. I might not do that if I wasappointed.”

    Mayor Les Bumgarner did issue a warning at that board meeting.

    “If you appoint someone you are in uncharted waters,” he said.

    Currently, Bumgarner does not believe the city board is prepared tomove forward with the idea.

    “We’ve had success with the election process, and I don’t thinkthey see any need to change it,” Bumgarner said when asked aboutthe issue Thursday.

    Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell does not feel the issue is decidedthough.

    “It’s something the board is going to have to get into,” Maxwellsaid when contacted Friday. “As far I’m concerned, it’s not a deadissue.”

    Maxwell said the appropriate time to discuss potential changes maynot be until after the board knows whether the office will bevacant.

    “It might be premature to discuss it until the election,” Maxwellsaid. “That’s why I haven’t had too much to say about it.”

    Jinks declined to comment on the matter.

    With the exception of mayor and aldermen, the city’s charter allowsthe board to make elected city offices appointed offices.

    The charter does place some restrictions on this ability.

    Offices may not be made appointed within 90 days prior to anelection. Neither may such an action affect a current officeholder.

    If the city clerk remains elected and Jinks wins in November, thecity board must schedule a special election no sooner than 45 daysfollowing the vacancy and no later than 90 days after the vacancy,according to City Attorney Joe Fernald and Deputy City Clerk MarshaFairman.

    If the board moved to an appointed clerk, a number of decisionswould need to be made, said Fernald and Bumgarner. These includesetting minimum qualifications for applicants, whether the fullboard or a committee would interview the applicants, how manyapplicants would be interviewed and whether the pay would remainthe same.

    “You have to examine all parts of the discussion,” Fernald said. “Iwould just request they analyze every avenue of what wouldhappen.”