• 68°

Aldermen talk separation of powers, liquor

     Mayor Les Bumgarner chided aldermen Tuesday for a tendency to overstep the boundaries of their office and some aldermen discussed feedback they’ve received on the possibility of a referendum by city residents on legal liquor sales.

     Bumgarner told aldermen not to directly call department heads, including the street and water department directors. Bumgarner directed aldermen to call him personally or Public Works Director Steve Moreton with issues they may have.

     The mayor described this as a separation of powers issue.

     “Y’all aren’t supposed to run the day-to-day operations,” Bumgarner said.

     Phone calls directly to supervisors erodes this separation, the mayor believes.

     “They think the aldermen are in charge,” said Bumgarner.

     Bumgarner mentioned an incident that occurred Tuesday in which an alderman called Street Department Superintendent Wilmer Butler directly to complain about an issue.

     “They chewed on him and he pulled a crew and had to get it done,” Bumgarner said.

     Though asked, the mayor would not say which alderman called Butler.

     Fernald echoed Bumgarner, explaining that the state legislature has formalized by law the mayor’s status as supervisor of daily operations.

     “It’s the law, plain and simple,” Fernald said.

     Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell didn’t disagree with the point, but offered the opinion that the statute Fernald referenced did not bar aldermen from calling department heads. After a brief back and forth exchange, Fernald declined to discuss the issue any further with Maxwell.

     However, Bumgarner does want aldermen input on looming hiring decisions. He said the city needs to hire several departmental assistants, including one for new water Superintendent Keith Lewis and he wants a committee of aldermen to interview candidates. Bumgarner asked Dorsey Cameron, of Ward One, David Phillips, of Ward Six, Terry Bates, of Ward Two, and Alderman at Large Karen Sullivan to interview candidates. He dismissed concerns that four aldermen would constitute a quorum of the city board.

     “I know they say if you’ve got four you’ve got a meeting, but I don’t believe that,” Bumgarner said.

     Bumgarner said he wants four aldermen present during the interviews so that two black aldermen and two white aldermen may be in attendance.

     City Clerk Mike Jinks disagreed with the mayor’s dismissal of quorum concerns.

     “If you’ve got four, you’ve got a meeting,” Jinks said. “Somebody has to be there to take minutes.”

     “I’ll be there and take minutes,” Bumgarner replied.

     Cameron was absent Tuesday, but the other three aldermen named by Bumgarner did not object to conducting interviews.

     On an unrelated note, Phillips and Maxwell, who were both absent at the city’s last board meeting, commented on a discussion held that night over the potential of a liquor referendum within the city.

     A new state law allows referendums on alcohol sales to be held within city limits, rather than occurring countywide.

     Maxwell said he’s been approached privately by several residents about a referendum.

     “I told them the board may be open to it, but someone else is going to have to run with it because it won’t be the board,” Maxwell said.

     Phillips said he’s also been privately approached by residents regarding legal liquor sales.