Do it the right way

Published 5:23 pm Thursday, December 13, 2007

By Staff
Belhaven’s new Town Council made a mistake Monday.
It wasn’t the firing of Tim Johnson, the veteran town manager. No problem there. The council was well within its rights to fire Johnson.
It wasn’t Mayor Adam O’Neal’s decision to “gavel down” Johnson when he attempted to speak during the council’s meeting. If Johnson didn’t have the floor, the mayor was within his rights to stop Johnson from speaking.
The mistake came when the council voted to approve Councilman Steve Carawan’s motion that the town “no longer requires the services of Town Manager Tim Johnson, and I would like to make the motion that he remove himself from these premises immediately.”
Firing Johnson wasn’t the mistake. Prohibiting Johnson, a member of the public, from attending the council’s meeting, open to the public under state law, was the mistake. As much as most council members and the mayor don’t like or even despise Johnson, they can’t prevent him from attending council meetings. Unless Johnson disturbed the meeting, he had the right to be there.
Hopefully, what happened Monday is not an indication the new council will try to keep people who disagree with it or people it doesn’t like from attending and participating in the council’s meetings, which are open to the public. The definition of public must include all people, whether those people support the new council, oppose the new council or are indifferent when it comes to the new council.
O’Neal and the new council will have many opportunities during the next two years to unify Belhaven. They appear to be sincere when they say they want what’s best for the town. They must remember that other people have ideas about what they believe is best for the town. Those beliefs must be respected. The mayor and new council don’t have to agree with those beliefs. If the mayor and council want their beliefs and wishes respected, they must return that respect to others who have differing beliefs and wishes.
The mayor and council members were elected by voters who want to give them two years to make a positive difference in the town. O’Neal and his supporters on the council know first-hand what it’s like to try to have their voices heard by other people who did not particularly want to hear those voices or have others hear those voices. Hopefully, the mayor and the new council will allow all voices to be heard when it comes to taking care of the town’s business.
If voters like what the mayor and council say and do during the next two years, those voters are likely to reward the mayor and council by re-electing them in two years. If voters don’t like what the mayor and council say and do during the next two years, those voters can go to the polls and remedy that situation.
Belhaven residents, including those who did not vote for the mayor and his supporters on the council, should allow the town’s new leadership to show what it can do. That new leadership, now that it is in place, must turn campaign talk into actions to benefit the town. One of its first actions must be opening a line of communication between town residents — that’s all Belhaven residents — and the new leadership.
That line of communication should prove beneficial to the mayor, council and town residents. Those parties must remember to talk with — not talk at — one another. Those parties also may have expectations of one another.
The council should expect town residents to respect its right to fire the town manager. The council has that authority. The mayor has the right to support the council’s decision to fire the town manager.
The mayor and council must always be aware that any member of the public has the right to attend a council meeting and participate — in a proper manner — in that meeting, even a fired town manager.
Belhaven residents should expect their mayor and council to respect that right.