SP Council Needs To Take Its Time
Voters in Southern Pines’ recent elections spoke clearly — and much louder than a relative handful of shrill opponents — in electing David McNeill to the mayor’s position as well as Fred Walden and Jim Simeon to the Town Council.
All three men were elected by such resounding margins that they should govern with a confident mandate. It’s reasonable and expected for those three to exercise that mandate in their first major decision: appointing someone to fill McNeill’s now-vacant council seat.
Councilman Chris Smithson, who was overwhelmingly defeated in the mayor’s race, has said that his colleagues intend to appoint former mayor and former councilman Mike Fields to the open spot.
Under normal circumstances, that would be welcome news for the community, since Fields is as capable and level-headed a public servant as has ever held office in Moore County. One wag went so far as to quip that Fields’ appointment would ensure that “the adults remain in charge” for several more years.
A Rush to Judgment?
However, the process that the majority is employing to appoint Fields does cause some heartburn.
Fields held an appointed seat until the election and for personal family matters decided not to run for a four-year term. He says those issues have been resolved since the filing period ended and that he’s now willing to serve another two years as an appointed member.
Because of the election-day thumping of Smithson in the mayoral race and his comrades David Woodruff and Marsh Smith in the council race, the majority is under no obligation to select either of the defeated candidates.
While Woodruff and Smith are likeable and capable men and would make council deliberations interesting to the community, their courage in placing themselves up for elective office doesn’t automatically entitle them to the now-vacant seat.
Keep It Transparent
As with any job opening, the council — including Smithson — would be well-advised to take a week or so and interview a few other folks who are willing to serve. If after those sessions, Fields still emerges as the best of the bunch — and we see no reason why he won’t — then appoint him.
In that regard, we second the recent sentiments expressed by Smithson, who said: “My problem with this has nothing to do with Mike. We’re filling a job, and it would make sense to advertise for that job at some level. I’m not asking for a long, drawn-out process.”
Neither are we.
Fields hasn’t been campaigning for the job. He has made it clear that he would rather see someone else who has a similar vision for the town’s future step forward. Appointing him by fiat does a disservice to both the town and to the civic-minded Fields. Why not take a couple of weeks and try to drum up a candidate or two? Then, failing that, appoint Fields with impunity.
Keeping the process — and more important, the perception of it — as transparent as possible will serve the new council well in this matter and many more to come. These newly elected council members would be wise to remember that the key to maintaining their council dominance is to behave as if they don’t have it.
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