Living in a historical railroad town we’re not fond of train wrecks, and that includes a doozie Tuesday at City Hall.
At the risk of making readers wince at a replay of that awful sight, Meridian City Council voted 3-2 to reduce the pay of Chief Administrative Officer Richie McAlister to $0. Council members Weston Lindemann, Tyrone Johnson and Kim Houston voted yea while council members George Thomas and Fannie Johnson voted nay.
A startled Mayor Percy Bland vetoed the order Thursday.
The derailment is the latest and maybe most drastic spark to fly since a feud began maybe the day after Bland’s second inauguration/revival on July 5, 2017 when everyone sang Hallelujah and chanted “One Team, One Dream, One Meridian” in a packed Temple Theatre.
Lindemann suspects corruption and mismanagement by the administration, much of it around personnel and payroll issues, with McAlister at the heart of his suspicion.
There is smoke around some of Lindemann’s allegations if, as of yet, no fire has been confirmed.
The state auditor has been called in to examine city operations. His findings can’t arrive soon enough.
The train has been rocking back and forth at a nauseating pace, with Lindemann regularly contending irregularities, pressing the administration for emails and documents only to be stonewalled and admonished to “stay in his lane.”
Without a consensus between the administration and council, the mayor has seen his choices for a parks director and a school board member rejected. Probably more damaging, the city appears dysfunctional to anyone wishing to do business here.
To be clear, we believe Lindemann plays an important role in keeping the administration honest. If his suspicions are corroborated, he has done a great service for the city. Our problem with the councilman is that his relentless cries of wolf leave us shrugging off potential real problems.
And, also, to be clear, the administration needs to be able to set an agenda for the city and manage operations without interference. Our problem with the administration is its stonewalling of Lindemann, who despite his relentless drumbeat, raises valid questions.
The mayor’s veto at least temporarily resolves the problem of the council on one hand acknowledging that it needs an administrator to keep our railroad running, but on the other hand short-sightedly voting to say that conductor won’t be paid.
This isn’t the end of the line, though. Lindemann tried to have McAlister removed in December and on Thursday he said would look for an alternative means of removing him. If that fails, we have no doubt there will be trouble ahead to match the trouble behind.
We remind the council and the administration that they work for residents and businesses of Meridian who have the right to expect a functional government that moves the city forward.
Lindemann has lodged his charges and the state auditor is investigating. We eagerly await the findings and hold hope they will resolve all questions. If proper procedures aren’t being followed, they should be corrected. If anyone acted illegally, they should be removed.
Council, meanwhile, should decide if it has legitimate questions about an individual or the structure of city government.
If council merely dislikes McAlister, they need to get over it and learn how to work with him. If they believe he acted improperly, prove it – or wait for the auditor to do it for them – and take the proper course in removing him.
If instead the council believes the organization of city government no longer is functional for Meridian, take the steps to change the city charter.
The administration, meanwhile, should be committed to transparency and consider the council as a partner in leading the city. Treat council members with respect. Lindemann raises serious questions. When questions are raised, answer them. Keep council members informed, rather than surprising them with proposals on meeting days.
Meridian has made progress toward a comeback in recent years. Along with all citizens of Meridian, we expect city leaders to keep this train running on a clear track without the embarrassment of a train wreck such as the one we experienced this week.