Tensions are rife as Franklin Alderman Bob Scott and Mayor Joe Collins butt heads over the prize of a mayor spot up for election. Scott is seeking to trade his two remaining years as alderman for two years as mayor instead.
Collins joked at last week’s forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Macon County that voting for him would be a win-win situation for everyone involved .
“If you vote for me, you’ve still got Bob,” said Collins. “If you vote for Bob, you won’t have me.”’
Scott countered that claim, pointing out that if he were elected mayor, there’d then be a vacant seat on the town board. Scott said he’d love to see Collins take over.
Putting the citizenry first
At the heart of Scott’s campaign is a call for more open and participatory government. Scott would like to institute regular office hours to hear his constituents’ concerns as well as begin monthly New England-style town hall meetings and a newsletter to keep all citizens abreast of the town’s business.
Scott already has a head start in reaching out to voters, garnering 117 respondents to his survey about the town. The survey asked for opinions on a range of topics, including whether the town should adopt the National Flood Plan, build its own civic center, or prohibit new fast food chain restaurants, just to name a few.
“Six years ago, I had no thought of running for mayor,” said Scott. “However, I’ve seen a shift in town government — a lack of communication with all board members and input from public. I plan to keep everyone involved.”
Scott, who worked as a newspaper reporter for about 20 years, said he deeply supports open meeting and public records laws.
But in Collins’ view, he and the town board are already honoring open meeting laws.
Collins said public input in most, but not all, areas is welcome.
“I believe in public input, but there are some issues, such as second water source, which you don’t put out to public opinion. It is the job of the board to do its homework and address the situation.”
Scott said even as an alderman, he’s sometimes left out of the loop.
For example, Scott learned about a 3-year contract with CGI Communications to produce a series of streaming online videos about Franklin by stumbling across a letter from the mayor on the town’s Web site.
According to Collins, that contract was discussed with the town manager and did not require board approval. He said the town manager is very “hands-on” and takes care of matters that the board previously handled.
“It is very much in the town’s best interest for that to happen because we found ourselves dealing with minutiae,” Collins said. “We just cannot get to the point where we have to discuss each and every aspect of our day-to-day operations.”
Discussions about hiring an economic development consultant were “hush-hush,” according to Scott, even though the issue eventually came to a vote.
Collins said an overall lack of communication can’t all be pinned on one person. “It’s a two-way street,” said Collins. “Any member of the board can pick up the phone and call anybody else.”
Scott retorted that he’s been very forthcoming with all board members.
“Anything I do, I send an e-mail out to the rest of the board,” said Scott.
Collins said with six members on the town board and a mayor, town leaders will naturally relate more to some than to others, but when it comes to meetings, everything is out in the open.
Alderwoman Sissy Pattillo said at the forum that citizens are always welcome at town meetings since board members will listen with open ears.
“I don’t think we have hidden agendas,” said Pattillo. “We don’t hide in the closet.”
Angela Moore, candidate for alderwoman, said, however, she did not learn about how the town operated until she worked for Franklin as a GIS analyst.
Moore suggests featuring better explanations of items on meeting agendas and perhaps creating a webpage to publicize those agendas early on.
“So often we hear about everything in the newspaper the day after it’s been done,” said Moore. “We can’t do a whole lot about it then.”
Other issues brought up at the forum included the possibility of a flood ordinance, ideas for how to use the 13-acre Whitmire property the town owns in East Franklin, and town ownership of the Nikwasi mound.
Town leaders hope to buy two parcels adjacent to the mound to eventually create a park, but they have not yet acquired grants to buy the property. Collins said earlier that the town ownership could be given up to attract those grants but backtracked after being criticized by some for his standpoint.
Scott, Alderman Billy Mashburn, Alderwoman Sissy Pattillo, and Alderman candidate Ron Winecoff all agree that the Nikwasi mound should stay under town ownership.
Collins now says it is a “priority” to keep the Indian mound under the “trust and control” of the Town of Franklin.
“Never do I want the town not to have the final say on the use of the Indian mound property,” said Collins.
Scott said he is unequivocally against giving up the mound.
“I would not, under any circumstances, allow that mound to go under any ownership other than the town,” Scott said.
Pattillo was one of the children who helped raise money to buy the mound for the town.
“The mound is ours, and it’s not going anywhere,” Pattillo said.
Almost all candidates said they supported establishment of the park but hoped to see it financed by grants rather than the town. They said, however, the town could pay for the park’s maintenance.
Moore was strongly against any town money going toward the park.
“I just don’t think we should pay for it,” said Moore.