Mount Airy’s elected officials are seeking expert help to learn how to work better as a group, and in turn do their best for citizens.
They plan to enlist the services of a specialist from the University of North Carolina School of Government to meet with the mayor and Board of Commissioners in the coming weeks and address concerns raised recently by Mayor David Rowe.
Earlier this year, Rowe — who has been in office for only about 10 months — referred to the city board as “broken,” and the passage of time apparently has not upgraded that assessment to any great degree.
Rowe again broached the subject of alleged strained relations still existing among the commissioners at their last meeting on Thursday, saying this is “something that has come up on a number of occasions.”
City government possibly is still feeling the pangs from a bitterly contested municipal election last November in which a controversial redevelopment commission was a central issue and caused division among incumbents and candidates for council seats.
The redevelopment group was dissolved in January, but the mayor apparently believes the city council has remained somewhat dysfunctional since.
“We can’t let it be as it is,” Rowe said during last Thursday’s meeting, when the idea of seeking outside help was mentioned to help city government, in his words, “go onward and upward.”
“This city deserves the best,” the mayor remarked.
Not all bad
Board members were quick to respond last week to Rowe’s concerns, saying friction and independent thinking among board members isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a city government that has been accused of acting too rubber-stampish in the past.
Commissioner Jim Armbrister said the five board members are individuals, and believes that’s why the citizens voted “to put us in these chairs.”
Steve Yokeley, a fellow commissioner, echoed that.
“I don’t think we necessarily need to like each other, or be friends, which would be great,” Yokeley said.
It generally was agreed that having diverse board members with different points of view is healthy, but a sense of unity ultimately must prevail.
Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said the board should be unified in every decision made by its majority, whether those on the losing end of a 3-2 vote, for example, agree with the outcome or not.
“Yes,” Mayor Rowe concurred. “The two shouldn’t undermine the three.”
The commissioners did have a show of unity last week in voting 5-0 to have someone from the UNC School of Government come here to help the council learn to work better together.
Their consensus seemed to be that it couldn’t hurt.
“I don’t know that it’s going to help us work any better, which I think is important, but it would give us a better idea of what we legally can and can’t do” as board members, Yokeley said.
“It would also help the public understand what we can do and not do.”
Yokeley said that unfortunately, no manual exists to guide people on how to be council members.
“That book that Commissioner Yokeley mentioned is definitely non-existent,” Armbrister agreed regarding such a means of educating those elected to the board and addressing rifts that might occur.
“I wish there was a book that came with it,” he added.
It is uncertain when the outside expert will meet with local officials.
They already have a special session scheduled for later this month to discuss budget priorities for the next fiscal year. That meeting was set during 2016-2017 budget discussions several months ago, when the commissioners struggled for days to iron out spending and taxation issues.
Yokeley said the budget meeting should be held first, then the session with the School of Government representative as soon as possible after that to improve the board’s functions in getting things done.
“It seems OK to me,” Commissioner Dean Brown said of that plan before the unanimous vote.
It is uncertain how much it will cost to have a government specialist come to Mount Airy.
“I have no idea right now,” City Manager Barbara Jones said, explaining that the expense would depend on such factors as the depth of the discussion and how long the UNC School of Government representative stays.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.