"We've failed time and time again"

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By Travis Jenkins

Councilwoman Angela Douglas said she is often asked why Chester City Council moves so slowly.

“Government is slow and deliberate…but we are incredibly slow and deliberate,” she conceded.

Douglas told her fellow members of council Monday that citizens aren’t the only ones fed up with the snail’s pace of city government.

“It’s bothersome to me,” she said. “I want to see my city doing well.”

The city recently hired a new city administrator (Stephanie Guy Jackson) who is slated to begin work on May 15, a full 13 months after the resignation of previous administrator Sandi Worthy. The police chief and public works positions were open for most of last year and it took the council two full years to fill its finance director vacancy.

Douglas said her intention was not just to criticize the council, but to start a dialogue that would hopefully lead to improved efficiency. She said part of the answer was better planning, noting that strategic, long-range planning has been continually pushed back because the selected dates conflict with the schedule of one council member or another. While acknowledging that everyone has other responsibilities to attend to, she said it shouldn’t be difficult for everyone to clear one day to handle the duties they swore an oath to perform. 

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail and we’ve failed time and time again,” she said.

Douglas had some other suggestions. She said the council should plan out its travel and conference attendance well in advance. With the city struggling financially, she said every council member doesn’t need to go to every event. Some can go and share the information they glean with the rest of council upon their return. If any council member incurs costs above what is planned for in advance, they should have to make up the difference, she said. She said she often heard members of council say they don’t want to micromanage the city. She said being involved and knowing what is going on does not constitute “micromanaging.”

Douglas also spoke in general terms about certain tendencies she’s noticed, including that some members of the council only attend community events in their ward or that are staged by their friends.

“We were elected by all the voters to serve all citizens. We should attend events across color and neighborhood lines,” she said.

Lastly, Douglas wondered if some council members sought office for “a check, a title or to hold someone else accountable.” She said it often seemed like city council holds meetings for the sake of holding meetings. She wondered if the council (which is comprised of a mayor and eight council members) was too large and unwieldy to get anything done. Having a smaller council (four council members and a mayor) might improve efficiency, she said. Each council position could likely pay more, which would increase interest in seeking office by members of the public. It would be an incentive for council members to work harder as well, knowing they’d likely face challengers for their seats.

Councilman William King took exception to some of Douglas’ comments. He said he was certain what she said was not directed at him and urged Douglas to name names.

“Call them out,” he said. “Let the rest of the public know who you are talking about.”

Douglas said she was making general observations and was not talking about anyone in particular. As he reiterated that none of the comments made applied to him, Mayor Pro Tempore Annie Reid (who was conducting the meeting) tried to restore order.

“I’m not finished,” King said.

“Excuse me,” she said.

“I try to be at every event. I don’t micromanage anything. The other week, I happened to be at City Hall at 4 p.m. one afternoon. Somebody came in to pay their business license and nobody was at their desk. Nobody was here to take their business license money. I stayed here and waited with them. I help people. I’ve always helped people whether I was in office or not,” he said.

King told Douglas if the size of the council was reduced, she might want to consider giving up her seat. Douglas said she did not have to be on council and that she would be happy to have a capable, qualified person take her place. King then wondered aloud about the racial implications of a reduced number of council seats, noting that the city is “majority-minority with a majority of Afro-Americans.”

“I don’t have to be on council either,” said Councilman Carlos Williams, who said he personally endorses the idea of a smaller council. “I just want the council to be made up of qualified individuals. If they’re qualified, I don’t care if they’re green, black, white or whatever. I think most people just want to see Chester move forward.”

King responded that he did not want “the newspaper” misconstruing his comments.

“I don’t think based on ethnicity. I was raised to help anyone. You don’t read those stories in the newspaper when I help people pay their water and power bills. Don’t anybody think I don’t have the people of Chester at heart,” he said.

Councilman William “Budda” Killian, harkening back to Douglas’ comments about strategic and long-range planning, said, “Everybody’s got something to do sometime.” He wondered about why “certain people can come up here and get money and some can’t” without offering elaboration. He said the council often “does things the wrong way.”

No vote actually arose from the lengthy discussion.