of the big bad wolf?
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
— Benjamin Franklin
Much as he seems to enjoy flouting the law, Marion mayor David Mayfield isn’t the greatest threat to democracy in Marion.
The greatest threat comes from fellow city council members — and potential council candidates — who consistently fail to take him to task when his wrongdoings are exposed.
We’re long past Groundhog Day, but it happened yet again Monday night, albeit without the sounds of “I’ve Got You Babe” from a clock radio to wake us up.
Without any legal authority to do so, Mayfield ignored clearly published rules and unilaterally decided to give raises to four employees Jan. 9.
He even admitted he did it, claiming — falsely — that nothing prohibited him from doing so. That’s about as un-American an attitude as can be. Only in dictatorships do officials believe they can do whatever they want as long as it isn’t specifically forbidden.
Whether the raises were merited isn’t the point. The council probably would have approved them if asked. The problem is, mayors simply have no power to unilaterally hand out raises — and with them tacit understanding that the recipients owe their loyalty not to the city but to him personally.
The fact that he gave the raises on the exact same day, Jan. 9, that the council met shows his disdain for the democratic process and his desire to take all power for himself. He could have asked the council that night, and the employees probably would have received the same amounts without a single day’s delay.
When council member Ruth Herbel, whom Mayfield is attempting to oust, questioned him about the raises Monday night, he insisted he had the power to hand taxpayer money however he saw fit, without asking the council to approve.
When Herbel pointed out city rules, approved by the council and published in the city’s employee handbook, stating that only the council had the power to award raises, he insisted — all evidence to the contrary — that the rule didn’t apply, then launched as he often does into a tirade about her contacting a city employee’s wife about salaries.
His attempts to hide his own wrongdoing by changing the subject and hurling half-truths as if they were legitimate allegations is nothing new. Unfortunately, so is the complete silence of fellow council members Jerry Kline and Zach Collett when Mayfield launches into one of his patented imitations of the worst of former president Donald Trump’s petulance.
Likewise, sitting in the audience were two or three rumored candidates for city council — former judge Mike Powers, pastor Jeremiah Lange, and zoning chairman Darvin Markley. All of them had an opportunity to call out Mayfield, but except for Markley, they failed to speak during the council’s public forum period.
The raises Mayfield illegally handed out were designed to compensate for extra responsibilities after a mass resignation of key city employees. Asked how long the extra pay would continue, particularly as the city begins to replace the resigned employees, Mayfield was non-committal, saying even those employees who no longer were filling in because of new hires had additional work to do.
When asked how the pay for one of those newly hired employees was decided upon, Mayfield initially said that the commission had discussed that matter. When Herbel pointed out that any such discussion must have occurred behind closed doors, where binding decisions cannot be made under state law, Mayfield began his allegations against Herbel.
Bullies occasionally win elections, particularly when they promise one thing in a campaign and do otherwise after elected. The way a democracy deals with them is by other public servants having the courage to challenge them rather than the cowardice of waiting until their term expires lest a challenger becomes a target, as Herbel has.
Kline, Collett, Powers, Lange, and Markley — who did at least take a leading role in challenging Mayfield’s attempt to disenfranchise voters with Charter Ordinance 22 — need to take the lead in kicking back when Mayfield attempts to run roughshod over the law if they want to prove themselves worthy of our votes in upcoming elections.
If they’re so afraid of being targeted the way Herbel has been that they won’t speak up, they don’t deserve our support.
— ERIC MEYER