By Peggy Mackenzie
Lewisburg City Council approved Council member Ed Johns’ resignation in a unanimous vote, including Johns himself at the Tuesday meeting.
With his appearance on the city council, Johns has made it abundantly clear he had opinions and disagreements about the city’s form of government. In his “farewell address,” Johns said that being on the council “was not what I expected, – and I am not what the city council expected.”
As a means to address the need for a “mechanism for the council to act with authority” on information and communication procedures, Johns presented a resolution, titled, “Requirement for Complete, Candid, and Timely Disclosure by the City Manager to the City Council of All Potentially Meaningful and Substantial Information and Communications Received that May Be Relevant or Material to Management of any Municipal Matter or Affair or to the Governance of the City of Lewisburg.”
Johns said the resolution was a result of an interaction between himself and City Manager Jacy Faulkner. “I was told in front of staff that city council will be told when, if, and how much the executive branch decides that city council will be told. This resolution addresses that fact. I resigned over it, but it’s still a fact.”
Faulkner responded stating the discussion was a specific incident involving a police matter still under investigation, that the conversation was taken out of context and that the police department is under the direct authority of the mayor.
Johns admitted his resolution was in fact punitive and very aggressive, but “somehow we have to develop a mechanism for the council to act with authority.” He said he was also dismayed that he had to learn about other events involving city management in the papers.
Assistant City Administrator and Human Resources Director Misty Hill rose to express frustration about the “aggressive” language and “almost accusations” in the resolution. Council member Sarah Elkins stated, “I have never seen an instance of our city manager not providing information when asked,” and added that the reprimanding language in the resolution was not appreciated. Council member Heather Blake said she thought that the charter speaks for itself. Council member Mark Etten said as a suggestion that with a more timely presentation of the directors’ meeting minutes to reinforce the level of communication, the city council would be kept informed. Council member Aaron Seams moved to indefinitely postpone the passage of Johns’ resolution as an inappropriate and unenforceable means. That motion failed, but a second resolution to delay it until the next meeting did pass unanimously. Etten said, “There is some value to consider in the resolution.”
In a parallel issue, which appeared to share Johns’ viewpoint, public commenter Jim Morgan Jr. posited four “plain-speak” questions to the council. Question One: “Is the City of Lewisburg currently being governed in full accord with the proposition that each and every action or failure or refusal to act by the Mayor of Lewisburg on any public matter involving the City of Lewisburg is always and in every instance subject to the ultimate authority of the Lewisburg City Council to approve, modify or reject each such action or failure or refusal to act?”
The three other questions referred to the actions (and non-actions, etc.) of the city manager, and generally, the staff, the city clerk and directors of the city commissions. Morgan spoke with many pauses for emphasis and quickly ran out his 10-minute time limit. When the Mayor announced “Time,” Johns intervened, stating Morgan’s questions “had depth,” and required council’s consideration and response. Etten’s response was to call them “run-on” questions designed to entrap the responder. “These are not fair questions. How can an eight-line question be a yes or no? I would have to qualify,” he said. Johns and Etten engaged in a brief, heated discussion compelling Mayor White to pound the gavel, crying, “Point of order.”
Johns maintained that Lewisburg’s “new form of government” had “zero legal foundation,” which, he declared is fundamentally in disagreement with West Virginia State Code and the Municipal League.
Referring to Lewisburg as a “Brigadoon,” a place that is remote from reality, Johns said should anyone cross the bridge out of Brigadoon, they would find, “It’s a nasty world out there.”