The Watkinsville mayor only gets to vote in a rare case when the five-member Council, because of an absence or recusal, would evenly split its votes.
What current Mayor Bob Smith can do is guarantee that he gets to talk at the meetings. He holds the gavel and runs those meeting.
Smith has been using that power more assertively of late, and he used it aggressively at the session of the Mayor and Council last week.
No member of Council showed any interest when Smith proposed once again to conduct a forensic audit of city activity before he became mayor.
None of the Council members was willing to give a first reading to Smith’s proposed new city charter.
But before Council could act or comment on these or other agenda items, Smith spoke at length and dominated the little interchange with Council members that followed.
It was a quite a show, and one that Smith has captured with a video on his Facebook page, replete with a short clip of him looking up slightly and slamming down the gavel noisily to end the meeting.
More Than Show
Smith’s control of Council meetings is more than a show.
Smith ran his campaign last November–which he won by two votes--against incumbent Mayor Dave Shearon and Council.
In a letter dated July 9 but received by at least some of the city’s residents only after last week’s Mayor and Council meeting on the 15th, Smith said “I urge you to contact your local council member and ask them to support the Mayor” in his conflict with the Council over the budget.
Smith also asked citizens to volunteer “to help me improve YOUR Watkinsville” by contacting him directly, rather than city staff or other Council members, to deal with a number of issues he said are facing the city.
If Smith can wear down Council so much that Marci Campbell, Dan Matthews or Christine Tucker don’t seek re-election in November, he can more likely get candidates he recruits to gain seats and support him on Council.
Council members Brian Brodrick and Connie Massey were elected last year with Smith and also for two-year terms.
Smith clearly is in his fight with Council for the long-haul.
The meeting last week had only begun (1:53 in video below) when Smith objected to the summary of his comments in the minutes of the called meeting of the Mayor and Council on June 25.
He said his comments about Ring Central (which he called Ring Circle) were incorrectly recorded, that his comments about sidewalks were summarized incorrectly, and that what he said about street lights was not accurately reflected.
The objections continued, and that took about five minutes. In the end, Council voted to table the minutes.
Smith said repeatedly during that early discussion, as he does throughout most meetings, that he could not hear at least some of what was said.
The city has installed equipment in the Council Chamber to assist Mayor Smith and others with a hearing impairment, but, particularly with the use of Ring Central, major problems have arisen.
Council Member Tucker was linked to the meeting remotely July 15, contributing to the problem. The mayor and the other four Council members were together at Council Chamber in City Hall.
About an hour and fifteen minutes into the meeting (1:17:21 in the video), discussion turned to the budget.
On June 30, Smith had attempted to veto the budget for Fiscal Year 2021, which began the next morning and had been approved unanimously, over Smith’s objection, on June 17.
Smith went over his arguments for a 12 percent reduction of the budget. He also said the budget as approved was missing key exhibits and thus not properly passed.
Twenty minutes into the discussion (1:28:04 in the video), Smith asked Council Member Brodrick to explain how the Council voted lacking those exhibits.
Brodrick said it wasn’t necessary to vote to override the veto because, for technical reasons, it had no impact, but “Out of an abundance of caution, I’m going to make a motion to override the budget.”
“You’re out of order,” Smith replied. “I’m not through with my discussions.”
More Discussion Of Budget
After speaking for another five minutes, Smith paused, and Brodrick again tried to speak.
“You’re out of order,” Smith said.
“So you’re not going to let me speak?” Brodrick said.
“I haven’t recognized you,” Smith replied and went on to speak for another eight minutes.
When Smith paused Brodrick asked Julie Sanders, city clerk and finance director, if the documents that Smith said were missing had been present and given to the Mayor and Council before the vote.
She said they had, but the answer had no impact on Smith, who continued the discussion.
Brodrick finally was given a chance to respond (2:00:19 in the video).
“Let’s more forward. Let’s move forward and work on this together,” he said, referring to future budget discussions.
The whole discussion took just less than one hour.
Smith turned immediately to his proposal that the Council vote to do a forensic audit of city activities before he became mayor (2:16:11 in the video).
“I probably have this out of order on the agenda,” he said. “I should have asked to put this in a different order.”
He said he has asked for a forensic audit three times before “in a public forum.”
As he has said in the past, he wants to “drill deeper” than what a traditional audit does.
“I’d like to know what it is about a forensic audit that we can’t have,” he said.
He asked for comments and got none.
“Gone, no forensic audit,” he said.
Next, Smith turned to “discussion of the proposed new charter” (2:18:39 in the video).
“This has been done, I think, three times too,” he said.
He said he had requests from two members of Council for a redline version of the changes he is proposing.
“I don’t have a redline version,” he said. “I know what a redline version is, but this is a totally different charter. The last charter was done in 1983. 1983. A lot of things have changed since 1983.”
“Anybody want to discuss maybe going to a first reading of a new charter?” he asked. “Hearing none we’ll move to the next one.”
The next agenda item was labeled “Discussion of metamorphosis of proposed ESP improvements to Harris Shoals Park” (2:21:06 in the video).
“I’d like to know how it began and how it got to this point,” Smith said. “A Reader’s Digest version of how we get there,” he added.
City Manager Sharyn Dickerson said she would offer a summary and took about five minutes doing so.
Smith then took about 12 minutes to complain about the process that had been following in making a decision at the last regular last Mayor and Council meeting to move forward with discussions with ESP.
Smith had objected to that action of the Council that night as well.
Harden Hill Sidewalk Project
Smith next turned to the Harden Hill Sidewalk Project (2:41:40 in the video).
|Smith Adjourning Meeting 7/15/2020|
“My questions are going to be is how we got from the beginning to the end,” Smith said. “How did a sidewalk project go from $908,000 to nearly $1.8 million and I’m just trying to get my arms around that.”
Dickerson, summarizing a six-page document on the history of the project, responded by saying that the original $900,000 estimate was made without formal construction plans. She said the final plans doubled the length of the sidewalk from those original plans.
Smith wasn’t satisfied with the short summary, and he began a recitation of his own history of the project, focusing repeatedly on the original estimate of $908,000 for the project (at 2:45:11 in the video).
“I’m trying to get my arms around why it was $908 and then it jumped to 1.7 million,” he said again near the end of his nine minutes of talking.
City Attorney Joe Reitman said that the report that had been prepared and given to the mayor and Council answered many of his questions.
“I’ve gone through and I’ve circled those paragraphs in the report that address your questions,” he said.
“Well, we got the public forum and got some answers,” Smith said in concluding the 30-minute long discussion.
The meeting lasted almost exactly four hours and came to an end a bit unexpectedly and dramatically when Smith calmly called for a motion to adjourn (4:00:05) and then slammed down the gavel without a vote after receiving the second.
I did not attend the meeting, though I did watch it live-streamed on Ring Central.
Sarah Bell and Philip Ashford did attend the four-hour session and produced the video below.
Dennis McDaniel also recorded a video for Smith. Smith has his own video on his Facebook page. (Smith has said previously he does not want people to go to the video on my Vimeo site to watch meetings.)
The video clip of Smith looking up slightly and slamming down his gavel dramatically is separate and featured on his Facebook page.