The Meridian Star
Like most everyone else, we were surprised when Meridian Mayor Percy Bland announced Tuesday that he had fired longtime city of Meridian Chief Financial Officer and City Clerk Ed Skipper.
By all accounts, Skipper has served the city well for more than 35 years.
Under Skipper's leadership, the city's Finance and Records Department earned high marks for sound financial practices.
The city of Meridian website states, "For the 15th consecutive year, the Finance and Records Department was awarded the prestigious Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report."
According to the Government Finance Officers Association website, "The GFOA established the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting Program (CAFR Program) in 1945 to encourage and assist state and local governments to go beyond the minimum requirements of generally accepted accounting principles to prepare comprehensive annual financial reports that evidence the spirit of transparency and full disclosure and then to recognize individual governments that succeed in achieving that goal."
Meridian was among only six cities in the state of Mississippi awarded the recognition in 2012, the last year for which the data is available.
Bland said of his decision, "Mr. Skipper has worked with the city of Meridian for a very long time and at this time I wanted to move the Finance Department into a different direction. It was necessary to seek new leadership at the position."
Skipper said Bland told him the same thing and that he did not know what different direction the mayor was referring to, but "Obviously I am not part of that."
We don't dispute Mayor Bland's right to terminate Skipper. City department heads serve at the will of the mayor.
We would like, however, a better explanation about why Skipper was let go and more details about Bland's new direction for the city's finance department.
As Ward 1 Councilman George Thomas said, "I heard by way of the media that we were going in a different direction. I don't know if any of us have been told what that direction is. I would like to know that."
We would hope that the information is forthcoming soon.
As it stands, residents are left wondering why Bland chose to fire Skipper, much like fans of a football team questioning why a winning coach has been let go.
We are also perplexed why Bland waited until now to make the announcement.
Bland replaced several department heads in July 2013 when he was sworn into office and the mayor asked the council to confirm Skipper as the CFO and city clerk. It would seem that would have been the appropriate time to let Skipper go if that was the decision to be made.
When Bland was asked if there was anything wrong in the Finance Department that led to his decision, he said, "No, nothing at all."
We also question why Bland waited until just hours after the city council approved Bland's appointment of a new chief administrative officer, Mike McGrevey, to make the announcement.
Bland also announced the suspension of four of the five Civil Service Commissioners. He has said that decision was based upon alleged violations of the Open Records Act.
We will wait and see how that plays out.
In the meantime, we hope Bland has a sound plan for ensuring that the city's finances are in as good hands as they were under Skipper.
Time will tell.