It was two years ago when Slidell voters put a new group of leaders into office to make decisions for our community.
Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan was elected in July, 2010, along with a new Slidell City Council.
There was much talk during the campaign about the less than ideal relationship between former Slidell Mayor Ben Morris and the council. And while it was talked about only occasionally, the working relationship on the council, among the nine members there, was not so cozy either.
Let’s face it, this is politics at its best—or maybe I should say at it’s worst.
No matter how you slice it, politics is politics, and a man or woman suddenly having the power to make important decisions for a city or parish finds themselves getting pressure from different people.
In the campaign two years ago, there were a lot of promises about how “different” things would be on the new Slidell City Council, and especially in their relationship with the mayor.
But here in the summer of 2012, the City Council put the icing on the cake for their deteriorating relationship with a recent public showing of obvious discord, when it came time to renew the 6-month terms of the council president and council vice-president.
The Slidell council has an unusual way of electing officers in that they do so every six months, rather than just put officers in place for a year. In 99 out of 100 occasions, whoever is elected to start the year is re-elected with little fanfare when the six-month vote comes up.
The recent council meeting was a time for the six-month renewal and Kim Harbison was nominated for her second six-month term as president. Although she won again, there were two “no” votes from Joe Fraught and Buddy Lloyd. Harbison was clearly going to win re-election, but Fraught and Lloyd apparently felt the need to make a public statement with their votes. A simple 9-0 vote might have done more than they thought to bring a small step in the direction of unity, but it was not to be.
The election for president, however, didn’t hold a candle to the clear dissension on the council that was shown in the vote for vice-president.
Bill Borchert was elected vice-president six months ago, but had recently upset some council members with a public comment about his colleagues after a grant for the city was voted down. Borchert had worked over a year on the grant and was clearly upset the night the grant did not get the support of the council, something he fully expected since the council had drafted a resolution months before, agreeing to support it.
The week after Borchert’s public comments, to his credit, he publicly apologized in a letter printed in The Slidell Independent. To many, that action should have been enough to convince other council members to move on.
But not so.
Borchert was nominated again for vice-president, but in a surprise move, Lionel Hicks was also nominated. Instead of Borchert being re-elected, all five council members who had voted against Borchert’s grant now backed Hicks for vice-president, taking the position away from Borchert for the next six months.
The officers’ vote was just the latest in several public events at council meetings that have made it clear there is much dissension among the City Council, not to mention a divide between some members and other administrative officials.
At times it seems there are council members who are using the public forum of the meeting to personally embarrass city administrative employees, rather than discuss issues privately before the meeting.
That was evident at the last meeting when Fraught questioned Slidell Chief of Police Randy Smith about a $21,000 expenditure, which was spent to pay an insurance premium on city police cars.
Smith, like others in city government, has had to keep his department operating with a tightened budget. He had the support for the money from longtime Finance Director Sharon Howes. But Fraught publicly questioned Smith about the money for several minutes, bringing a cloud over the chief’s decision in a matter that normally would have been routine. It was yet another matter that should have been handled days before, when Fraught already had gotten the agenda.
Fraught, a councilman who seems to have a comment for virtually every issue at every meeting, also had a handful of questions for Howes about the second supplemental budget. It again raised questions that should have been addressed earlier that day, yet simply left the public seeing contention and questions, where there really should have been none.
If Fraught believes there are matters where a public official is clearly doing something wrong, then by all means bring it into the public light. But none of the questions raised that night warranted the 20 minutes he extended the meeting, clearly agitating the few visitors who do make an effort to attend the City Council meetings.
Fraught is just one example of a City Council that seems to be looking for a fight rather than seeking ways to work together. As one councilman told me recently, “we need more communication and access to information.”
If that is the case, then council members wanting information need to press to get it. Drennan has yet to come across as a mayor trying to hide anything, and it should be the council members’ responsibility to seek it until they get it.
Perhaps that would be the start to the council working better together, and moving past their personal differences. If not, this council will go down with the same reputation as the past one, unable to work together among themselves, or with the city’s leaders.
Kevin Chiri can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.