The Jackson City Council raised eyebrows last week by voting to replace Councilman Tony Yarber, Ward 6, with Councilman Charles Tillman, Ward 5, as council president.
It was surprising for a couple of reasons. First, Yarber had done what seemed to be an outstanding job as council president. In an interview Monday, newly inaugurated Mayor Chokwe Lumumba told the Jackson Free Press the move surprised him because he admired the job Yarber had done.
Under Yarber's leadership, the council took votes in a timely manner, stayed on-topic during discussions and did not bend to the whim of council members who do not show up for meetings on a regular basis.
On March 26, the city council was scheduled to vote on approving a $10 million bond issue to resurface major thoroughfares in the city. With Tillman, Frank Bluntson, Ward 4, and LaRita Cooper-Stokes, Ward 3, (oddly enough, Frank Melton's old voting bloc) absent, then-Ward 2 Councilman Lumumba said it wouldn't be right to vote without the other members in attendance.
"Councilman Lumumba, typically I would agree with you on that," Yarber answered. "The reason I do not, at this point, is that we've had issues getting folks to come to work over the past three months, and I'm not so sure we should be bidding to people who don't come to work, and hoping they come to work next time. You come to work, and I come to work, and we're going to vote on this today."
Would Tillman have the fortitude to do the same? Monday's special meeting of the city council suggests not.
On Monday, at his first full meeting as council president, Tillman decided to delay public hearings on confirmation of the mayor's nominations for fire and police chief because, he said, members of the city council who wanted to be a part of the proceedings could not be there until July 18.
We understand these appointments are for men who are already serving in an interim capacity, but that doesn't change the fact that the council vote will occur nearly two weeks after it could have been taken. For a young city council eager to start a new chapter, Tillman's election to president is a step in the wrong direction. Likewise, the council's choice for vice president, Melvin Priester Jr., may be premature. Priester comes from a solid foundation, but has zero experience in municipal government.
We like the makeup of the new council and think that the experience of members like Tillman and Margaret Barrett-Simon and the ambition of new members Priester and DeKeither Stamps can be a winning combination. We hope that Tillman and Priester will follow the example Yarber set as president.