There’s good news in St. Martinville this week. Finally, after almost two years of looking, the city’s electric utility has a new supervisor. Not only that, but it also has two of its three lineman slots filled.
But watching that sausage being made was a stomach-churning experience. Some of the statements made during the “debate” over the hiring of the new supervisor during the city council’s regular meeting last week, as well as other issues that have surfaced in the last few months, raise serious concerns about the motivations of some elected members of the city government and call their abilities into question.
Part of the problem is a complete breakdown in communication between the two primary factions on the council. Aside from the occasional group email, it became apparent that there is no cohesion between District 1 Councilman Mike Fuselier and Mayor Pro Tem Craig Prosper on one end and District 4 Councilman Juma Johnson and District 5 Councilman Edmond Joseph on the other. Indeed, instead of any sort of common focus or camaraderie, there were moments of intense disrespect and, if not hate, at least extreme dislike that cropped up during the discussions.
Prosper and Fuselier are the old hands on the council, having served previously. Joseph and Johnson are relatively new. But the antagonism over the last three years has prevented any sort of mentoring to occur, or for any real attempts at learning new tricks from the younger council members. Instead, the two pairs have set up silos, with each side taking turns sniping at the other from the parapets.
On top of that divide, the administration itself is split. Mayor Melinda Mitchell, in addition to calling Prosper’s arguments “bull***” during the utility consideration, watched as Johnson attacked her Chief Administrative Officer Avis Gutekunst. Instead of stepping in and calling for some semblance of decorum, Mitchell piled on and accused Gutekunst and Prosper of doing the city’s annual budget without her input.
That led Gutekunst to speak up, saying that Mitchell was invited to participate but chose not to. And that is true. For the second year in a row, Mitchell did not attend the city’s annual budget hearing. In fact, Joseph not only missed the last two budget adoptions but promised to abdicate his duty next year and skip that budget adoption as well.
For her attempted defense of herself and her work, Gutekunst received a two day suspension, to be served next week when the city’s payroll is slated to be processed. With Gutekunst out, it’ll be interesting to see how the processing goes.
Somewhere in the middle of it all is District 3 Councilman Dennis Paul Williams. Williams has been a key swing vote on several issues, but can’t win for losing. During the unsuccessful recall attempts he has faced, members of the recall met regularly in city hall with members of the administration, without a peep from Mitchell. Although he has tried to be a voice of reason from his centrist seat, that one voice can’t compete with the rancor roaring around it.
So, yes, the supervisor hiring process was successful, but not because of a plan. If anyone on the council or in the administration is really interested in healing the divides in the city government, they can take the video of that hearing on July 6 and make notes. Just about every issue that has come up in the last three years was represented. Make a bullet list from your notes and go down them, one at a time, and resolve the problems.
Maybe then communication between the two halves of the political body can resume.