Perhaps it's because they have children still living at home, but Mayor Tony Yarber and Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps both have a tendency to try to play the daddy in the room. Think of a patriarch, lecturing members of the household on the rising cost of electricity and the importance of keeping a tidy bedroom. That's the tone Yarber and Stamps can often take in addressing city employees and, sometimes, each other at public meetings.
This can occasionally lead to spirited discussion that results in good solutions for the city. Other times, it's just awfully silly.
The past few days of budget hearings have fallen more in the latter category. For example, one day this week, Yarber chided Stamps for speaking to the city's chief-administrative officer, Gus McCoy, like Stamps is McCoy's daddy. On a different day, after a heated back and forth, Yarber said his staff would only answer council members' questions with his permission.
Let us take a moment to point out that city employees work for the people of Jackson and are not the personal property of elected officials, whose bosses are the citizens.
Now, to be fair, this level of sniping is rare, and we understand this is due to the immense pressure of having to fill a projected $15-million budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year. Yarber has already proposed a one-day-per-month furlough for certain city employees and has all but admitted that deeper cuts are likely necessary. Stamps chairs the Budget Committee, oversees the city clerk's office and says more city employees live in his far-south Jackson ward than any other.
Stamps and other council members have raised fair points about the appearance that the City is continuing to spend money on things like vehicle purchases even while staring over the edge of a fiscal cliff.
We understand the frustration. What we take issue with is using city employees, who keep Jackson running, as pawns in some chess match. It's more than disturbing when elected leaders request organizational charts in a public meeting in not-so-veiled threats to target employees for political retribution.
Maybe more staff reductions are necessary. If the budget situation is as dire as the mayor and council members say, we agree that all options—more furloughs, layoffs, freezes on hiring and making big-ticket purchases—need to be on the table. At the same time, continuing to talk about ways to innovate and use technology better should also be part of budget deliberations.
The budget cannot be held hostage or become the casualty of a childish, pointless spitting match between politicians. These are serious times for the City of Jackson, and those games have to stop.