At the end of the Dec. 4 Mexico Beach city council pre-agenda workshop, council member Lanny Howell announced his resignation from the council, effective Jan. 1.
At the end of the Dec. 4 Mexico Beach city council pre-agenda workshop, council member Lanny Howell announced his resignation from the council, effective Jan. 1. The following week, at the Dec. 10 regular Mexico Beach city council meeting, Mayor Al Cathey announced that the council would hold a special meeting following the Jan. 8 pre-agenda workshop and the four remaining council members would vote to fill Mr. Howell’s vacancy.
Mr. Howell was re-elected just seven months ago. He barely won the April election, and was not sworn in for his new term until June. Now he has suddenly resigned, leaving almost all of his two-year term – 15 months, to be exact - to be filled not by the voters in Mexico Beach, but by only four people – the remaining council members.
People in Mexico Beach are so desperate for a change in the city council that, as of last Friday, eight people have submitted letters of interest in the vacant seat. That alone shows just how much the residents want to be involved. In fact, in the 12 years I’ve lived here, that’s more than twice the number of people running for any given seat under any circumstances.
But here’s what’s happening:
Mr. Cathey called for this special meeting during the holidays, knowing full well that many interested residents will be out of town and unaware of what’s happening. He’s pulled this stunt before: pushing through something important during the holidays while so many residents are gone. The decision to fill the vacancy must be made within 30 days of the effective date of resignation, which means a decision must be made by Jan. 30 – so what’s the rush, Mr. Cathey? The city council has made more than one major decision over the past six years with just four members of the council present, so running the January workshops and regular city council meeting with four is not a problem.
Mr. Cathey called for a special meeting that will not be televised so no one other than those attending the meeting will see how this candidate is selected, what the reasoning – if any – is behind the individual council members’ choices, what opposition to candidates there are, and what public comments are made, if any are allowed.
Residents who do attend the Jan. 8 special meeting may or may not have the opportunity to speak out, or speak for, one candidate over another. We have had a great deal of experience with Mr. Cathey denying us time at the podium in meetings when he doesn’t like our opposition to his wishes.
By pushing for a vote on Jan. 8, Mr. Cathey is blocking any opportunity for there to be a workshop at which all candidates can answer questions from the residents and present any qualifications they might have. This eliminates the residents from having any say in the selection of an “elected” official who will be making decisions for the town for almost the entire two-year term – and that “elected” official will have gained the post without having to explain anything to the people. That’s Mexico Beach’s idea of “elected.”
Instead of only Al Cathey, Jack Mullen, Bobby Pollock and Tanya Castro making such an important decision for residents, why don’t residents go someplace neutral – like the bar at the El Governor Motel, and mark a roster of applicants? The candidates so far are: Jeff Tendler, Mary Blackburn (both of whom ran against incumbents in the April election and garnered between 48 and 49 percent of the vote); Gary Woodham, Gary Gibbs, Diana Epple, Tom Bailey, Al Wilson and Jim McKenna.
The roster can have a list of candidates’ names, and residents can just place an “x” or a check by his/her favored person. Then the resident should sign a separate sheet, not by his mark, but just to confirm he or she is an eligible Mexico Beach voter. No one will know who each person favored, but a fairly accurate consensus of voters’ choices will be recorded and given to the city council before they make their decision. This way, at least, residents will have some kind of say in this important decision that is usually settled by an actual election.
Barring that, I implore all Mexico Beach residents to bombard the four remaining council members with e-mails and phone calls, telling them in no uncertain terms who you want to fill this vacancy. If you want any kind of change to happen on the Mexico Beach city council, it needs to start here.
Mexico Beach resident