Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Tempest in a Teapot

The latest brouhaha involving Muskogee mayor John Tyler Hammons could be accurately described as a tempest in a teapot, a mountain out of a molehill, or any other pun that implies exaggeration.

Background: On November 10th, Mayor Hammons issued an order specifying the mayoral line of succession. The order would only go into effect if the mayor and vice-mayor were unavailable, and the President or Governor declared an emergency. Mayor Hammons issued his order two days before he, the city manager, the city clerk, and five city council members departed for the National League of Cities convention in Orlando, Florida.

Councilman Ritchey took issue with the wording ('order'), as well as the fact that the mayor did not consult the council beforehand. Things swiftly blew up, and the story generated several stories in the Muskogee Phoenix. Several councilors called for a special city council meeting, so the mayor called one. I'll attempt to give a synopsis of it.

First of all, Muskogee is a charter, or home-rule, city. The charter is the ruling document of the city, and if state law conflicts with it, the charter prevails.

The City Charter states that
"The Mayor shall have no administrative duties. He shall be a member of the Council and shall preside at meetings of the Council. He shall be recognized as head of the City government for all ceremonial purposes."

The meeting began with Interim City Attorney Roy Tucker giving his legal opinion on the powers of the mayor. Mr. Tucker said, "It is my opinion that the articulated powers in the charter are the only powers the mayor has." He went on to say that there is no legal standing for an order of the mayor.

However, Mayor Hammons was correct; the Emergency Interim Succession Act does not conflict with the charter, so the mayor could state the order of succession in the case of an emergency. (The Emergency Interim Succession Act states that officials, including mayors and city councilors, "shall" appoint three to seven successors.)

Emergency Interim Succession Act only goes into effect if the mayor and vice-mayor are unable to perform their duties (i.e. due to death, incapacitation, absence, etc.), and the Governor of Oklahoma or the President of the United States declares an emergency.

Councilman David Jones said, "[It's my understanding that] the only reason for a successor is that only the mayor or five councilors can call a special meeting, and a special meeting would be needed in an emergency." Mr. Tucker agreed, and said that the only act an appointee could do would be to call for a special meeting. Upon the commencement of a special meeting, the City Clerk can then start the meeting, and the City Council votes on who will run the meeting.

Mayor Hammons, on asked why he issued his order, stated that "It seemed incumbent upon me to provide for the citizens in my absence [in the case of an emergency]."

Councilman Jackie Luckey, in his remarks, stated that it's time for a full charter review, since the charter was last amended in 1971; Councilman Bob Luttrull disagreed. "If it's worked fine for so long, we don't need to overhaul it." he said.

Councilman Jim Ritchey said that "if the mayor would get the council's blessing, things like this would not happen." He didn't neccesarilly have a problem with the order, except for the use of the word 'order' and the fact that the Council did not know of this beforehand. Mayor Hammons said that the reason for the lack of notice was that he was only made aware of it on November 10th, and there was not time to put it on the agenda for the next council meeting on November 11th.

1 comment:

  1. No one is going is going to give Jim Ritchey an order. He's still upset the Mayor didn't choose him as Vice-Mayor. Thankfully. His head is already big enough.


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