The issue came up early on in the City Council meeting, with three residents speaking out against the city manager form of government, and one resident speaking in favor of the issue.
“Many people feel that it’s unfair to use this type of power to unseat a relatively new mayor,” Austin Leedom said during the citizens remarks segment of the meeting. “He’s been with us just a short time and most of the people that I talk to on the phone, and that I get emails from, they like the mayor. They feel he should be given time to do his job — he should be supported — not crowded out of office. And because of his race, many people feel racism is crowding in again in this. Your government is using this to crowd the mayor out because of his color.”
Portsmouth Mayor David Malone is the city’s first black mayor under the strong-mayor form of government. However, the ordinance would not set the city manager form of government into place until Jan. 1, 2014, which would be after Malone’s current term would end.
“I highly resent any suggestion that this move has any racial connotation. That’s disgusting,” First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson said. Johnson nominated Malone to become president of council during the organizational meeting in January 2010.
“Having worked in government for a long time under both strong-mayor and city manager forms of government, I can honestly say that I would rather work in a city manager/council form of government,” Johnson said.
Malone responded to the discussion about the change of government operation.
“To me, its a slap, personally, and I don’t think you meant it for personal reasons,” Malone said. “But to me, I feel it’s somewhat of a personal thing for me simply because I happen to be sitting in the chair. There didn’t seem to be any official discussion about it until last week.”
Malone was out of town at the meeting in which Third Ward Councilman Nick Basham introduced the discussion. He took the opportunity Monday night to clarify his motives.
“How I look at it — this isn’t about you (Malone),” Basham said. “I even said this at the last meeting, bringing this up has nothing to do with your job performance or you personally or professionally. I looked at this — and a lot of people talked about this back when Jane Murray was in office — and one of the reasons you are in the seat now is that there was a recall. So I look at it as the system is broken, not David Malone.”
Malone said he will openly oppose the measure if it is passed.
“I just want to share my position,” Malone said. “I am very much opposed to the city manager form in whatever form you all adopt. If it goes to the community on the November ballot, I will personally campaign against it.”
Before the ordinance could receive first reading, Johnson introduced several amendments.
The first amendment dealt with Section 5 of the City Charter and would set in motion a system of using a deck of cards to determine the positions of president and vice president of Council. That amendment passed by a 4-2 vote. The second amendment would change some wording in Section 30, adding, “The city manager may designate, by letter filed with the clerk of council, any qualified administrative officer of the city to perform his duties during his temporary absence or disability. If such a designation has not been made, and the city manager is unable to perform his duties or to make such a designation, the Council may, by resolution, appoint any qualified administrative officer of the city to perform the duties of the city manager until he shall return or his disability cease.” That amendment also passed by a 4-2 vote.
A third amendment to Section 31, which deals with the responsibility of the City Manager-Power of Appointment and Removal, failed to garner enough votes for passage. The final vote was 3-3. That vote was not taken until Portsmouth City Solicitor Mike Jones asked for an addition to point 2 of that section. That point gives the city manager the power to “appoint, and when necessary, remove any officers and employees of the city not selected or appointed by Council in the manner provided by this Charter.”
Jones asked Council to change the amendment to read, “any officers and employees of the city in departments under the city manager...”
It was decided that Council would look that section over and bring it back for consideration at the next meeting.
FRANK LEWIS may be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232, or email@example.com.