Friday, November 28, 2008

Debate Raging Over Muskogee Mayor's Powers

Sparked by an order by Mayor John Tyler Hammons, there is a debate raging over exactly what the mayor of Muskogee can do. Here is a time-line of events.

Monday:
Mayor names successors
Hammons sets order of succession in case of emergency

If Muskogee’s mayor and vice mayor are unavailable during a state or national emergency, Councilor James Gulley would take the reins of city government, according to orders by Mayor John Tyler Hammons.

Hammons issued an order before he and five other members of the Council left for the National League of Cities convention in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month.

[...]

Both orders state Hammons is authorized by City Charter and by state law to determine who would be in line to succeed him and Vice Mayor Robert Perkins in case of disaster.

[...]

Councilor Jim Ritchey questions Hammons’ authority to issue an order of any sort.

“I don’t know of a mayor previous to him ever doing it, ever granting that,” Ritchey said. “This is news to me.”

Pam Bush, who has been city clerk since 1992, said she has never received a mayoral order before.

[...]

While Ritchey questions, Hammons’ authority to issue orders of any kind, Gulley said he didn’t have a problem with that.

“To me, it was kind of a non-issue because I didn’t think it was going to happen (a national emergency),” Gulley said.

Wednesday:
Mayor’s power topic of meeting
Special session set to discuss recently issued orders

Just how much power the mayor has will be taken up by the City Council in a special called meeting Tuesday afternoon, according to an agenda posted Wednesday by the City Clerk’s Office.

Mayor John Tyler Hammons said he called the meeting at the request of Councilors Jim Ritchey and Bob Luttrull.

They asked the mayor’s powers and duties to issue orders be clarified after Hammons recently issued two orders designating who would succeed him and Vice Mayor Robert Perkins in case they were unavailable during a national or state emergency. The agenda calls for a review of the mayor’s powers both under the City Charter and the state Emergency Interim Succession and Judiciary Succession Act.

Hammons says he is authorized by both to issue an order of succession.

[...]

Ritchey says the charter specifically precludes the mayor from doing so and sets out the order of succession.

Interim City Attorney Roy Tucker said he is preparing to address both issues at Tuesday’s meeting.

Tucker said the entire issue of succession could be a moot point under the Emergency Operations Plan the city adopted several years ago.

[...]

Tucker said he believes the law requires that if a state of emergency was declared, emergency management officials would take over.

Today, Muskogee Phoenix editorial:

Whose authority?

If Muskogee is faced with a disaster, residents’ main concern would not be the mayoral line of succession.

They also would not want a part-time, ceremonial mayor directing emergency services.

That’s why Mayor John Tyler Hammons’ supposed order denoting a line of succession for himself in case of disaster is ridiculous and tragic.

Hammons filed an order recently with the city clerk in an attempt to establish a line of mayoral succession. He claims the state gave him power to do that.

What Hammons overlooks is that the state gave the respective officers of each city the authority to determine lines of succession, and the respective officers of Muskogee who make official decisions, according to our City Charter, are the members of the City Council acting as a body. The Charter clearly states, “All powers of the City shall be vested in the Council” and the mayor is only the presiding member of that council.

He is not the king. He only has one vote.

The council, it seems, should decide whatever order of succession there is, and our council made that decision several years ago. If Hammons wants to alter that order, then he needs to take his proposal to the council for approval, not assume powers that he doesn’t have.

That’s the real issue here, and why the City Council is correct to hold a special meeting to discuss it. We don’t need someone giving orders who doesn’t have the authority to make them. It only causes confusion.

It’s also clear, and wise, that the Charter states our weak mayor has no administrative duties.

The mayor is not involved with day-to-day operations of the city, so we would not want someone stepping in to make orders regarding something he doesn’t understand completely.

For instance, if a disaster were to occur, we would not want someone unfamiliar with the city’s day-to-day operations directing any rescue or emergency efforts. The heads of city departments under the direction of the city manager or an emergency official should do that. They are paid for that and have been trained as well.

That’s why this question of who’s in charge in case of a disaster is important. We agree with City Attorney Roy Tucker that if an emergency is declared, emergency management officials should handle the emergency — not a ceremonial part-timer.

The City Council will meet at 4:15pm this Tuesday, to debate this issue. If you wish to go, the meeting will be held downtown at City Hall (Okmulgee and 3rd), on the third floor in the Council Chambers. I plan on being there to cover the meeting. Things might get interesting.

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