By Peggy Mackenzie
At the Special Session of City Council on Sept. 30, council was taken aback when Council member Edward “Eddie” Johns abruptly offered up his resignation from the Lewisburg City Council after only three months in office, stating he had “no reason to fight city hall.”
In his written statement, Johns writes, “The recent ‘legal opinion’ rendered to the Mayor and the City Manager by the City Attorney seems to indicate that no change in the city administration or approach to management of the city affairs is required under the amended Charter. I strongly disagree.”
Johns also differed with the City Attorney’s specific advice on law enforcement oversight which he termed as “particularly frightening and presents significant exposure to the city. This ‘legal opinion’ weighed heavily in my final decision.”
In a prepared written statement supporting his opinions regarding the viability of traditional committees, the procedure for agenda setting, what is required for meeting minutes, whether the use of general order by the Police Department is appropriate, City Attorney Tom White stated, “It is my opinion that operating the City under the same procedures as were in place with the prior administration is proper – unless and until the City Council votes to change those procedures.”
Additionally, he writes, “It is my understanding that at the organizational meeting on Council held on June 25, 2019, there was no adoption, re-adoption, or amendment to the procedures regarding agenda setting, meeting minutes, or the use of general orders by the police department. As such, per Section 115.02(b), the procedures uses by prior Council for these matters would remain in effect.”
“With regard to the traditional committees used by Council (finance, public safety and public works), it is my opinion that by appointing members to said committees at the organizational meeting, the committees were ‘created’ and as no specific procedures were adopted at the organizational meeting governing the traditional committees, it is appropriate for them to operate pursuant to the procedures used by prior Council.”
“There is not question,” White concluded, “that Council is the governing body of the City. Further, our Amended Charter makes clear that ‘Council shall determine its own rules and order of business.’ As such, if Council does not like the way the business of the City is being conducted, Council has the power to change that.”
At the start of the meeting, Mayor Beverly White asserted in a prepared statement, “We have a City Charter that lays out how the city has been functioning. It was put [in] place by this council as a reflection of how the city has been doing business, with the understanding that the city was previously operating effectively and successfully… People want to know that the city is still stable – and we are – we are respected throughout this state and beyond for how we have conducted ourselves in the past… If anyone has an agenda to make the city fail because of a preconceived idea that the city is not being managed well, that agenda will hurt our citizens most of all. It will also hurt our employees and their livelihoods.”
The mayor’s statement was in response to Johns’ generally perceived unaccountable and unseemly accusations about the City of Lewisburg and how it is being run during the Sept. 17 Council meeting. Johns’ resignation came as a surprise to all members of Council.
For his part, Johns stated, “It was never my intention to be the source of any unpleasantness in our community. This leaves me in a position where I cannot serve the people as I have sworn to do.” To the end of the meeting, he maintained his perspective that all governing structures “must be changed” and that his position was based on a “purely philosophical one – a fundamental misunderstanding of city government.” Johns will step down on October 31, 2019 to give Council time to select a replacement without any gap in his sworn duty to serve.
The council members went on to discuss formalizing a set of guidelines for committee functions and responsibilities as a way of “shoring up.” Council member Mark Etten stated, “Anything presented or approved [at committee meetings] comes back to the city council.” He said, “We can operate under those guidelines until we opt to change them.” City Manager Jacy Faulkner said she was open to any procedural shifts the city council needed and would supply any and all detailing council required. As far as political or legal procedures are concerned, the City Manager reviews all letters that go out of the office as standard procedure for any managing organization, according to City Clerk Shannon Beatty.