Since the power is included in the city’s charter, the council will need to approve the change again at the December council meeting for it to take effect.
Council Member Bill Bryan moved to change the charter during Tuesday’s meeting.
“I don’t hate you. I don’t have some sort of personal agenda against you,” Bryan said to Mayor Gene Hobgood before making his motion.
After the motion was made in the meeting, Hobgood said he felt the matter should have gone through a work session before coming for a vote.
“That is a policy the council voted on and approved to install. They violated their own policy,” Hobgood said Friday.
According to the city’s charter, the Canton mayor is allowed to employ a staff that reports directly to him. Hobgood’s staff includes administrative assistant Patricia Fowler and Canton Main Street director Ginger Garrard.
Hobgood has said that Garrard takes most of her direction from the Main Street board.
Council Member Glen Cummins said changing the charter would be insulting to the 15-member citizens committee that reviewed the charter over an 18-month period. This committee’s work was approved by the council in April.
Only Cummins voted against the motion.
“It should not be changed because a council member or council members disagree with the mayor,” he said. The remarks were met with applause from the audience.
“This is not about money. Three months ago, we all voted to fund the mayor’s office unanimously. This is being vindictive, and we all know it,” Cummins said.
Cummins requested that Bryan withdraw his motion, which Bryan did not do.
During the meeting, Bryan referred to Cummins’s remarks as a personal attack.
Council Member John Beresford said the infighting among the council is a “classic example” of the backbiting the council has been accused of by the public.
“Let’s stop this craziness. Let’s get on with city business,” he said.
Hobgood criticized the council members for apparently deciding on the vote outside of open meetings.
“It appears they reached their decision long before the public knew it was being discussed. That violates, to me, at least the spirit of the open meetings law,” he said Friday.
“If we’re dealing with the business of the people, that ought to be open, every bit of it, to public scrutiny,” he continued. “When you have a group that gets together by some means, communicates, and reaches a decision outside any public scrutiny, to me, that’s a problem. That defeats the purpose of a good, honest, open government. We’re going backwards in that respect.”
Bryan said the cuts have been discussed off and on for three years.
“Frankly, if I should be criticized for anything, it’s allowing this position to carry on as long as it has,” he said Friday, noting that he’d felt for at least a year that the mayor’s assistant is unnecessary.
Bryan said he wanted to time his motion to allow the mayor’s assistant, Patricia Fowler, to be vested in the city’s retirement plan.
Council Member Bob Rush said that he had stood by his position for some length of time.
“I have been saying for three years that I think it’s bad management to have a part-time mayor with a full-time staff,” he said.
Hobgood contended that his office has full-time needs.
“Because the mayor is part-time, that’s exactly why we need someone full time,” he said, garnering applause from the residents in attendance.
Bryan has indicated that he does not intend to eliminate the Main Street director’s position, but to have that position supervised by someone other than the mayor.
After the vote, the council voted 5-1 along the same lines not to allow public comment. Murmurs of “That’s disgusting” and similar comments were heard throughout the audience.
A second vote will be held in December.
Hobgood said he would “certainly consider” vetoing the ordinance changing the charter if it passes a second vote. The mayor’s veto can be overridden by a later council vote.
“(A veto) doesn’t really stop anything. It just delays it a couple weeks or so,” he said.
Bryan said he has offered to meet and discuss the issue with the mayor and his staff.