A City of Canton council member brought forth an amendment aimed at removing Mayor Gene Hobgood's ability to appoint personal staff members during the tail end of Thursday's City Council meeting.
Councilman Bill Bryan would like to see paragraph F of section 2.35 of the current Charter of the City of Canton removed. This paragraph allows the mayor the ability to "select appointed or employed staff."
Currently, Hobgood has two city workers in his employ: administrative assistant Patricia Fowler and Canton Main Street director Ginger Garrard.
“It’s just not good practice for a part-time mayor to have a full-time staff,” Bryan said, to the Cherokee Tribune before yesterday's meeting.
Bryan began his speech by listing the times he and Hobgood had stood side-by-side on issues such as the decision not to sell the Hickory Log Creek Reservoir after he and Hobgood had eaten breakfast with Sam Olens while trying to figure out a way to sell the property. He also remnided the mayor how they had "met with Dr. Petruzielo in our joint effort to retain the county's largest employer," the Cherokee County School District.
Bryan stated in his presentation to Hobgood, "I don't hate you." He stressed the move as a money-saving action, and not as part of "a personal vendetta." Bryan said he had stopped by Hobgood's office twice recently to reinforce their working relationship, and offered to show the mayor all documentation regarding the proposed charter change.
However, Bryan still felt that it was fiscally irresponsible for a "part-time mayor" to have staff members, especially due to their full-time salaries; according to the Cherokee Tribune, Fowler makes $51,984 a year while Garrard makes $41,202. Fowler's salary is budgeted as part of the mayor's office while Garrard's is not.
"Tonight is only the first step in the deliberative process in this charter change that we have been discussing off and on for three years," Bryan said.
Another council member opposed Bryan's proposal and criticised the motion even being brought forward. Councilman Glen Cummins spoke out about his displeasure.
"The creating of the charter was a highly deliberative process, and should not be changed because a council member or members disagree with the mayor on whose decisions they are dissatisfied with," Cummins said, with applause from the audience.
In his speech, Cummins expressed his disappointment with Bryan for going back on his earlier support of the charter worked out with a citizens' oversight committee. Wording of the charter was altered to appease Bryan and gain a unanimous approval of the new charter.
Cummins also said that a member of the press had asked him why Bryan was bringing the motion before the body when Bryan had told the same press member that he would refrain from doing so as long as the mayor refrained from bringing up his idea to consolidate the Canton Fire Department with Cherokee Fire and Emergency Services, an agreement the mayor had confirmed to Cummins was in effect.
"He's [Bryan] just being vindictive, and you all know it," Cummins said.
Councilman John Beresford said that the speech given by Cummins against Bryan was a prime example of the "back biting" between council members that has plagued the body and given it a poor reputation with citizens.
Beresford felt ashamed that the infighting was continuing between council members, and said the attempt by Cummins to tie the current motion to the fire consolidation issue was erroneous.
"This is not a shot at what you're all trying to relate it to," Beresford said.
Bryan forgave Cummins for his "personal attacks," and said he had nothing but "respect and admiration" for his fellow council member.
For his part, Hobgood defended his appointments by stating that though his job description may only be part-time, he is on call 24 hours a day for the city.
"People come up to me all the time and ask me, 'What are we going to do about speeders on my street?,' or, 'Why can't we get better traffic control at Boling Park?'"
Hobgood gave out his personal phone number, although he thought that most of the audience already had it programmed into their phones.
The motion to approve the amendment to the charter passed 5-1 with Cummins casting the lone dissenting voice.