With the conclusion of Tuesday’s runoff, this election cycle is mercifully over. As the dust begins to settle in a community that remains polarized, we must now attempt to pull everyone together and build upon the progress that has been taking place. And yes, contrary to what has been said on social media and in other forums, there has been progress. We have written about some of it in this publication over the last few years.
Kevin Smith is the new mayor of our city. As I read the commentary on various social media outlets, reaction ranges from jubilation and exhilaration to disgust and despair. That’s not entirely unexpected after the rancorous campaign that resulted in an outcome decided by 60 votes out of over 2300 cast. It’s also not unexpected give the history of politics in our community.
Now we must look forward and it’s important that we have a reasonable set of expectations. Some in this community act as if they have elected a Savior. Other act as if the new Mayor is the Devil incarnate. We have not elected Jesus. We have not elected Satan. Kevin Smith will not save us by himself nor will he be able to unilaterally change the legal name of the Helena-West Helena to Helltown. We have elected a man to be Mayor. That is all and he should be given the chance to do that job, which city councils have sought to methodically deny to every Mayor since the cities have merged with their tendency to micromanage and attempts to exercise executive authority from their legislative perches.
That’s another thing that is important to remember as the new administration dawns. The six city council members all were there before the election. Hopefully, the new structure with a smaller council and some answering to a broader at-large constituency will change the tenor of the meetings and the mindset of the approaches taken. We must govern effectively if we are to see the city thrive with everyone playing their appropriate role. One signal the council can and should send that it’s a new day is to pass an ordinance at its first meeting giving the Mayor the maximum spending authority allowed by state law, which would increase his spending authority to $20000 instead of the current, locally-imposed $5000. The low figure serves as the consummate symbol of the historical micromanaging tendencies of previous city councils to hamstring mayors throughout the city’s consolidated history. End it. Show that we are going to let the Mayor be the executive that the system envisions.
The Mayor, in addition to being the “Head of Government” locally, is also our local “Head of State” with certain ceremonial responsibilities. The Mayor must reach out to his foes if he is to be successful. Almost half of the city wanted someone else. In Helena-West Helena, that is a recipe for four years of gridlock. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And that doesn’t mean the foes have a veto either. But it does mean those who voted for the other guy need to feel invested in the future as well.
Tough choices lie ahead. The budget at City Hall is already tight and is set to get tighter with the redistribution of some sales tax revenue to build the new county jail. There are many infrastructure needs, particularly in the city’s water and sewer system along with its streets. Blighted properties must be removed and code enforcement must be beefed up so that we clean up this town and remove the spots where crime can occur in the shadows out of sight. To do those things and provide the other services expected of a municipality requires revenue. Yes, I said it. Those things have to be paid for. That likely means increases in rates and fees. It means there may have to be more done by fewer people. It also means elected officials should take less as well. None of those choices is easy and few will be popular. But they will be necessary and that requires people of good will at City Hall in order to reach workable solutions.
Finally, it gets back to us as citizens. Each of us has a role to play in this community’s success or its failure. All of us need to do our part in our role in our corner of this community to make it better. We have to take pride in our community if we are to expect others to do the same. If we do not, we should not be surprised if government doesn’t function at an optimal level because those that are elected are a reflection of us as the voters. It’s our town. Stop talking bad about it on Facebook. Stop letting properties go unkept. Stop refusing to tell the police what you see. Do the small things like pick up the paper in the park when you walk or in your yard and on the street in front of it. Volunteer some time to help a cause that is important to you. Love your neighbor as yourself and care about more than yourself. And when we do the small things, then all of a sudden the bigger things don’t seem as daunting. Congratulations to those that won, including those I didn’t vote for. Now let’s get to work and begin with, as Michael Jackson said, “The Man In The Mirror.”