November 23, 2014

City council members should have cast votes

Posted

During the last Au Gres City Council meeting, a motion was made and seconded to remove longtime City Manager Pat Killingbeck from her position. Although all five council members were in attendance, only three voted on the motion — two voting “yes” and one voting “no.”

We believe that the two council members who abstained from voting — Keith Edmonds and Cliff Warr — should have cast a vote. By opting out of the vote, despite giving reasons — Edmonds saying he was unable to make a decision either way and Warr not wishing to leave office with this issue hovering over the head of a new council member — we feel the council members ignored their responsibility to make a tough decision.

Also, according to some attorneys with experience representing municipalities, it appears not voting could raise a question of legality. Elected officials, unless a charter says otherwise, should only abstain from voting when there is a conflict of interest or if the matter could benefit them personally. If this were the case, the council members should have said so.

Voting either way would have had consequences. A “yes” vote from one of them would have forced the city council to begin a search for a new city manager while simultaneously taking on a defensive position against Killingbeck’s supporters. “No” votes could have potentially caused the two “yes” votes to feel isolated and divided from the rest of the council.

Such is life for an elected official. Sometimes issues are taken up concerning millages and taxes, zoning and developments that have the potential to divide the voter base of a city. At times, a decision might have to be made with seemingly no support from the public. Ask township or city officials who have instituted trash pickup or school board officials who have had to vote for cuts to popular programs about it.

Certainly in a time when funding is hard to come by and tax bases have shrunk, being a city council member in a small town is not easy. It is not a position that we envy, because of issues like this one the that Au Gres faced.

But in the end, by not voting, we feel the two council members will only add to the distrust and lack of communication between city employees and council members that was discussed after the motion was made. Instead of putting an end to the issue, it can continue to simmer — at least until the next meeting, as we have been informed that the issue could very well likely be on the table again due to legal concerns.

If the issue is in fact brought before council again, all present should cast a vote. And, if there is uncertainty as to how one wants to vote, we believe a “no” vote is the correct vote to cast.

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