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|Blind-sided or just blind?|
About three weeks ago, Winnsboro Mayor Jackie Johnson told a Monroe newspaper that he had been "blind-sided" by the city council when they didn't approve his recommendations for a new city attorney and fire chief.
The matter still not being entirely resolved long after it should have been put to bed makes me wonder if Johnson was really blind-sided or just blind on this issue.
Johnson has had his foot firmly on the accelerator on some issues—like fixing Winnsboro's animal shelter problem— since taking the helm of city government on July 1, but he might be spinning his wheels by not recommending Winnsboro City Attorney Tab Singer remain the city's legal counsel.
Removing Singer has been tried once and fell flat and the same thing will probably happen the next go-round if Johnson's past recommendations are any indication.
To recap, during the council's July 19 regular meeting Johnson asked members to replace Singer with Carol Lexing, an attorney from Monroe.
At the same meeting, Johnson recommended Winnsboro Fire Chief Truman Welch—a man with 40 years experience in the department who has served admirably as chief since 1991— be replaced with a man who didn't bother to present a resume to the mayor.
Johnson's recommendations didn't go anywhere when no councilman offered a motion to approve.
Later, Johnson told me he had made a mistake and would keep to a campaign promise he made to keep current city workers' jobs secure.
In this month's regular meeting, Truman was recommended and approved, but Johnson decided not to grant Singer a recommendation.
No doubt a mayor has the right to choose who he will have to work with, but I haven't been able to extract a good reason to replace Singer from Johnson, although there are plenty of bad reasons to let him go.
Singer has been Winnsboro's city attorney for 33 years. No one is as intimately familiar with the workings of Winnsboro city government or its history in the legal realm. No one would come even close to being able to fill his shoes, especially at the deal Winnsboro is getting with Singer.
Lexing was asking for a monthly retainer of $3,500 to $4,500 plus $150 per hour to work as city attorney.
Singer doesn't receive a retainer and instead lets the city pay for his heath insurance, which is about $920 per-month. Singer charges the city $200 per-hour to work on legal matters.
Doing the math, keeping Singer on the job instead of going with Lexing saved Winnsboro about $37,000 per year.
When I asked Johnson what he had against Singer, he told me "nothing" and called Singer "a great lawyer." Johnson expressed his admiration for Singer just a few breaths after saying that keeping Singer as city attorney was "hampering" him.
When I pressed Johnson for specifics, he gave me platitudes about "moving forward to the 21th Century."
Johnson has some good ideas that could see fruition in Winnsboro if he plays his cards right, but he will have trouble getting things done if he continues to arbitrarily sow seeds of discontent, especially with schemes that would drain city coffers to no good end.
He doesn't have a blank check for his proposals and must work with the city council to accomplish his goals.
If he continues trying to replace a man respected and supported by the council, he runs the risk of creating bad feelings and suspicion among those who he will need to make his stint as mayor a success.
Council members might start to feel he is using his position to grant favors to friends and acquaintances by putting them in city jobs at tax payer expense.
Creating any rift with the council wouldn't be good for Johnson or the city.
If Johnson has someone who would make a better city attorney than Singer that wouldn't fleece taxpayers, he should present that person at the next council meeting.
If not, he should open his eyes and recommend Singer remain in his job.