Our opinion: City council members must be held accountable

Published 2:56 pm Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Americus City Council’s 4-2 vote to terminate the employment of city manager, Steve Kennedy, last week was shocking in more than one way.
The main question is: Why?
Being that no one gave a reason at the April 19 meeting, we contacted the four who voted for his termination to find out why. You can read their responses in a front-page story in today’s edition. Three of the four Council members — Daryl Dowdell, Kelvin Pless and Juanita Wilson — really didn’t give an answer. Nelson Brown failed to return a phone message.
City attorney Jimmy Skipper advised the council that the termination action was not done according to the city charter, and advised that there would have to be a redux. That was the purpose of the called meeting of April 25 — to adopt a resolution to terminate Kennedy’s employment and to decide to award his severance package.
It is apparent that the termination had been planned long before the city council meeting of April 19.
Don’t these four council members realize that secret meetings are in violation of state law, and punishable by hefty fines and even jail time? Did they not think that citizens would notice?
Kennedy has made a dramatic difference in Americus since he came on board in early 2015. He brought in a successful downtown consultant known for her success who studied the area and recommended hiring a Main Street director and a tourism director. Kennedy has hired some excellent people such as Patrick Kay, Main Street director, who is putting Americus on the map with special projects and events such as the Hot Glass/Craft Beer Festival held earlier this month, and the upcoming, Red, White and Blues coming in June.
Just last week, the city’s tourism director, Nicole Thurston Kirksey, was recognized with a prestigious award from the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Regional Visitors Information Centers.
Plans are moving ahead for more projects included in the Renaissance project which the city adopted several years ago. Improvements in the downtown area have included façade grants, bistro lighting, repaired sidewalks, and more. Plans are in the works to make downtown parking angled between the “viaduct” and Prince Street. This will serve to encourage more people to stop in the downtown area and shop, and dine, and otherwise spend money to support the local economy.
Kennedy served on a committee with One Sumter working on the rebranding of the community, which culminated in the unveiling of the new concept and logos.
There are other things that Steve Kennedy did that helped the city of Americus and its citizens such as rewriting, at the direction of the mayor and council, the alcohol beverage license ordinance to make license holders more accountable and to ensure that the downtown area is a safe and orderly place in which to live or visit. Of course, some council members have been dismantling the ordinance over the past year and if not stopped, will completely gut it, and we will be back in the same place we started: loud, obnoxious drunks meandering the streets at all hours causing fights and litter, underage drinking and customers being overserved. Do we really want that?
Kennedy hired the police chief, Mark Scott, who has done more to improve the morale at the Americus Police Department than any chief in recent history. Under Scott’s leadership, crime has decreased to a 20-year low, and there is a general feeling of cooperation between citizens and police.
The sudden decision to get rid of Kennedy makes us wonder: could it be that some council members come to the table with their own agendas rather than working for the common good of all citizens?
The four city council members owe a thorough explanation to the taxpayers of Americus as to exactly why they fired Kennedy. They are accountable to the taxpayers because the taxpayers are who elected them. If they refuse to give an explanation, they do nothing other than to propagate their reputation as arrogant politicians who are only in this for themselves, not public servants working for the good of all.
Which will it be?
Claiming that they chose to fire Kennedy for “no good cause” so he can collect his severance package does not explain the why.
The public has a right to know.