Thursday, November 18, 2021

Councilwoman protests appointment procedure

Virginia Williams
Following the 20th official inauguration ceremony Nov. 8, members of the Romulus City Council met to establish the meeting calendar and make official appointments for the current terms of office. Voters chose to reelect all seven incumbents during balloting Nov. 2, and elected Robert McCraight as the new mayor. McCraight, the former director of public services and economic development for the city, was the choice of 2,483 or 59 percent of the voters.

Controversy erupted during the meeting regarding the naming of the council chairman pro tem, a position traditionally filled by the second-highest vote getter in the council race. This month, incumbent Virginia Williams with 2,344 votes, received the second highest vote total, with current council Chairman John Barden receiving the highest number of votes at 2,530.

After the adoption of the meeting calendar and Roberts Rules of Order along with multiple appointments to various city committees and commissions, the next item on the agenda was the naming of the chairman pro tem. Barden, as chairman of the council, said he was in agreement with the historic procedure of appointing the second-highest voter getter to the job. The chairman pro tem, according to the city charter, acts as the chairman of the council in the absence or disability of the chairperson and assumes those official duties.

“I'm in agreement with that,” Barden said, “Let's continue doing what we did in the past. If we want to change that procedure, we can look at it in the future.”

Councilwoman Tina Talley, who served as chairman pro tem during the last term, asked City Clerk Ellen Craig-Bragg to detail the duties of the chairman pro tem as dictated by the city charter and also asked if the position is usually by a vote of the council members or by appointment.

Williams responded that historically there had been no issue in the appointment of the chairman pro tem and that when the position was awarded to Talley in 2017, there was “no issue.” She said that it was “wrong to even be discussing this.”

“The people have spoken, why is this on the agenda to change,” she asked. She then questioned the seating arrangement at the council table claiming that “to my knowledge every chairperson pro tem sits next to the chairperson but when I approached the chairman about the seating he said we will keep these seats.” Williams went on to question the propriety of having the issue on the agenda and insisted that it was a personal attack on her.

“How much do I have to take?” she demanded and insisted that she had spoken with other members of the council who agreed with her opinion that she should be named to the position without a vote. “There are wicked, evil, hateful things going on. It's not fair,” she said. “How dare this even be a vote when it never has been before?”

Barden responded that the seating at the council table was his choice and within his authority to which Williams responded that she had the right to make a motion to vote on the issue.

Councilman William Wadsworth, the longest-serving member of the council, interrupted the shouting match to explain that he sat in the same seat at the council table for five terms, serving terms both as chairman and as chairman pro tem.

“As the number two vote getter, I never left this seat,” he said. “Since 1983, it has always been done this way.”

Craig-Bragg, in response to Williams' assertions, said that the city charter dictates that the council members vote on the naming of the chairman pro tem.

Councilmembers Talley and Kathy Abdo cast no votes on naming Williams to the position which was approved on a 5-2 vote.

The issue then prompted comments from audience members who crowded the council chambers for the first meeting of the term.  Sherry Hester told the council members, “We come here for city business, not to hear you bicker.” She also told the council that the city needs businesses and stores.

Her comments were reiterated by long-time city resident Byron Butler who told the council that “the voters have spoken. You can't go against what the voters have said. We have bigger fish to fry,” he said. He also noted the need for better schools in the city to attract potential residents and businesses. Resident Linda Michell noted that Williams was only about 100 votes behind Barden in the totals while Harold Cummings told the council that “It saddens me as a resident to see what's going on. To see the council so divided. We have a lot of residents being dumped on by your decisions.” Cummings also criticized the current procedure of having the council vote on issues before the public comment portion of the agenda. “We need to be allowed to speak before you vote,” he said.

Wadsworth again cautioned his colleagues that the “bickering and finger pointing has to stop.” “Nobody does this (serves on city council) to get rich. We all have a vision for our city. Maybe it is a different vision from others here, but we all have to respect the others' vision,” he said.

Councilwoman Eva Webb said the council members needed to communicate their concerns and questions more openly with their colleagues.

 “We're here to take care of our residents,” she said, and urged the council members to call one another to discuss issues. Webb also commented on the number of people in attendance at the meeting and urged them to continue to attend. . 

In closing the meeting, Barden thanked the public for their comments, their patience and for adhering to the 3-minute rule in speaking to the councilmembers. “I want to thank Byron Butler. We need to take care of business,” Barden said.