COVINGTON – For the city's Finance and Administration committee, there are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of power to regain.
During a meeting on Thursday, June 19, members voiced their disapproval for a proposed new municipal code that seemingly causes a shift in the power the board is not willing to accept.
"The board is supposed to dictate the policies of the City of Covington that the mayor carries out," said alderman Tommy Black. "If we adopt this, the mayor's telling us, 'Well, if you want to come to the meeting you can, but I don't need you. Department heads? I don't need department heads.'"
Though they made it clear they were not making personal attacks against Covington Mayor David Gordon, who was not in attendance, they noted that it was Gordon who was one of the advisors overseeing the revision of the municipal code.
"I didn't see a board member work on these at all and they shoulda had a board member, at least one," said alderman Bill Scruggs.
He, Black and alderman Jere Hadley said the removal of key terms such as "with board approval" did not go unnoticed and that they'd like to maintain the current form of government.
"What I hear and what I see, what I read, it gives the mayor a awful lot of power," said Scruggs, "and this has always been a weak-mayor type of government, board's always made the big decisions. What you've got here, more and more, is a strong-mayor type of government which ever one you want … I prefer the board, myself."
Other issues, such as the suspension of employees by the mayor and an disciplinary ordinance that names the fire chief only were points of concern.
"(It reads) 'the chief may be suspended up to 30 days by the mayor but may be dismissed only by the board of mayor and aldermen," Black said. "Public Works ain't listed, fire, uh, police chief ain't listed, park and rec ain't listed; Why's that one department head listed? And I'm not saying that it's something wrong, it's an agenda … I'm just saying … why's the only department head is listed is the fire chief? See, it just makes me think 'Why?'"
Additionally, the members questioned whether or not it was appropriate to allow the mayor to vote in committee meetings as it may influence votes.
"His job is to implement the wishes of the board," Black said, "but like Bill said, the way it is now, the mayor says, 'Well, we gonna do this, boys, I just need four votes, hurry up!' We don't need that."
Committee members expressed their opinion that the approval of the proposed municipal code, in the works for "four-and-a-half, five-and-a-half years," according to Black, was being pushed through too quickly.
"We're still operating under the ordinances, if we don't ever pass this, we're still operating under the old ordinances, what's the rush?," Black asked. "When somebody tells me, 'I got this mule, it's a good plowin' mule and I'll let you have him, he's a $2,000 mule, you can have him for $300, but you gotta get him by noon,' I'ma pass –"
The committee decided to invite Ronnie Neill, an employee with the Municipal Technical Advistory Service who is credited with rewriting the code, to a July meeting to explain the changes made.
The hundreds of pages, said committee chairman John Edwards, are "nothing to gloss over."
Black said he'd like to have the opportunity to read through it in its entirety instead of passing legislation and reading it later.
"I think it was a lady named Nancy Peloski [sic] said, 'Well, we just passed it, we gon' come back and read it and get it straight later …' the Affordable Care Act … that didn't seem to work out well."
Also a concern for the board, because next month they will begin holding budget meetings, is more involvement in each department's budget before they're cut by the mayor.
"It's supposed to be our decision as to what gets cut," Black said. "It's our decision to balance the budget. He don't have a vote on it. The board needs to know what the department heads think they need. Six heads can make a whole lot better decision, normally, than one person."
The committee voted, effective immediately, that each committee chairman should receive a budget request from the department head before any cuts are made.
Black said he's eager to be able to make cuts that benefit the safety and well-being of the city as a whole.
"If the mayor comes back and says, 'We can't afford it, what do we need to cut?,' let the committees get involved with the department heads. 'What else can we cut, chief?' 'Well, we can cut back on travel, we can cut back on building … we'll have to cut something else, but we've got to have (the police department more) cars.' Instead of saying, 'Well, we'll buy one and hopefully Mike Howard will keep 'em goin' with some duct tape,' Just get the board involved."