McComb’s mayor believes it is time for a change in governance, hitching himself to a citizen-created petition to force the city to abandon its special charter for the mayor-council structure.
Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said the charter was adopted in 1872 and worked well for the time, but it became outdated by the 1980s, when the board decided to amend the charter to include a city administrator, making it closer to a manager-council form of government.
“I think the special charter at that time was very conducive for the time and the era that they were in, and it has served the city well,” he said. “It served the city well until 1983. Instead of the city fathers at that time petitioning to change the form of government, they decided to do a hybrid. There was a need, even in 1983, to change the form of our city government.”
There are six forms of government in Mississippi — mayor and board of aldermen, commission, council manager, special charter and council.
Lockley said McComb is one of about 13 cities in the state that have not abandoned their special charter.
Lockley said he was not the creator of the petition but noted that when the group came to him, he told them he would spearhead the issue because he has always felt the way the functioned was flawed.
“This was not something that has just come up overnight. It was on my agenda. I had problems when I city administrator. When I was on board, I had problems with how things worked,” he said.
The mayor’s largest issue with the special charter is the blurring of the branches of government within the city’s board.
“I want the citizens of McComb to understand the problems that exist and the problems that the mayor and the board have had is simply because of how vague the special charter and how because of that special charter we do not have clear separations of power,” he said.
In America, there are three branches of govern-ment: the legislative, executive and judicial. The legislative branch makes the laws, the executive branch enforces them and the judicial branch interprets the laws.
Lockley said in all forms of government, there should be a clear line between the three, and there is no such line on the city board. The mayor, who is a part of the executive branch, also has a legislative function under McComb’s charter; and the board of selectmen, which is part of the legislative branch, also has an executive function under McComb’s weak-mayor, strong-board organization.
Separation of powers plays a vital role in the checks and balances of government, and Lockley said when a group is in two branches of government, it tips the power scale.
The special charter and the mayor-council form of government have subtle, yet powerful changes in their structure, he said. But the biggest change would be that the city would go from a weak-mayor, strong-board form of government to a strong-mayor, weak-board structure.
If the form of government changes, selectmen would lose their ability to hire and fire department heads at will and the selectman at-large position would be terminated. The city would have to set board capacity at five, seven or nine members. The board is also able to appoint an administrative department to have a less powerful city administrator.
Lockley said these changes will help to build a more cohesive board and stop many of the problems in the city’s governance.
“It gets the mayor out of the center of board actions, plus I would not have to see another mayor go through what I have gone through with some of my board members,” he said.
Cities in Mississippi with mayor-council governments include Hattiesburg, Jackson, Gulfport and Tupelo.
Lockley originally introduced the petition to the board last Tuesday, asking the selectmen to sign it, but they denounced the move as a power grab.
Selectman Donovan Hill said the mayor did not have a “dictatorship,” and Selectman Shawn Williams told Lockley he was not leading the city.
“As a representative of my ward, if you see this petition, ball it up and throw it away,” Selectman Ronnie Brock said. He also said the strong mayor form of government would be the “last thing the city needs.”
Brock noted that the petition had clerical and formatting issues and would be rejected on that basis alone, with or without the required signatures.
For a petition to be valid, the petition has to make clear how many councilmen would be on the council elected to a ward and if there would be a selectman at large.
“People have to know what they are signing on to, “Election Commissioner Trudy Berger said.
To petition to change the city’s form of government, the petitioners need to get at least 20% of the 7,600 registered voters in the city, about 1,560.