‘Payback time’ sparks heated charges at F’ville Council
For a local government like Peachtree City it would have been little more than a ripple in the pond. But for the usually orderly Fayetteville City Council a portion of the June 7 meeting was more like a large wave splashing over an otherwise calm shore line.
The fracas dealt with a resolution from Mayor Greg Clifton and responses by council members Larry Dell and Walt White over what they said was a lack of notification of its inclusion on the agenda. But a subsequent check on the procedure used for placing items on the agenda showed that Clifton had followed procedure in placing the item on the agenda.
The resolution proposed by Clifton was one “supporting those opposing the federal government’s unconstitutional encroachment of the free exercise of religion.”
Clifton stated up front that the item would be tabled for two weeks in deference to Dell, with Clifton noting that he and Councilman Paul Oddo felt strongly about the resolution. Clifton said the purpose behind the resolution was not to take a religious position on abortion, but to adhere to the Constitution and hold the federal government to the same standard. Though not directly linked to it, the resolution comes on the heels of litigation by more than 40 Catholic dioceses across the U.S. suing the Obama administration in its mandate that employers provide birth control coverage.
Referencing the Pledge of Allegiance made before each council meeting, Clifton said this republic is in bad shape in many ways. Clifton said he was opposed to the federal government making requirements on businesses and other entities in their insurance plans.
“I don’t have a problem with (the resolution),” Councilman White said in response. “The problem I have is that you didn’t notify us. I think you need to include the council before you start putting this on (the agenda).”
And that was when the discussion began to go south, with Clifton stating that for many years, “You did not provide the same courtesy to Mr. Oddo.”
With the ball rolling, several on the council began talking over each other.
“Excuse me, sir,” said Dell. “I’m not opposed to the resolution and I’m not opposed to what the resolution says. What I’m opposed to is the way it was handled and I ask you to give me time to look over it. If you’re going to be exclusive in your tenure, as you say we were, then so be it. The comment you just made, if you’re going to say that and we’re going to be exclusionary then we don’t have much of a council running the affairs of this city. So either we are included or we go about our separate ways. And I don’t think that’s an appropriate statement to make.”
“I have done as much inclusion as I intend to do and incorporate you guys into such things,” Clifton responded. “We do have the majority over here in most of the things we bring forward and push through with your input. I don’t necessarily intend to do that but I did intend to give you guys a little taste of the way Mr. Oddo has been treated.”
It was at this point in the relatively brief exchange that things deteriorated even further.
“Excuse me. Mr. Mayor, you didn’t attend a single council meeting until you were elected,” said Dell. “Now you’re telling me, based on what somebody else tells you, not on your observation, that this is fact. This is not fact.”
Dell went on to say that he sat down with Oddo after he was elected in an effort to work with him.
“Some discussions and innuendo came later on, therefore I chose not to discuss my feelings with Mr. Oddo,” said Dell. “But that has nothing to do with this council or what we do as a government entity.”
At that point White spoke up again saying, “The past mayor filled him in on everything that was filled in with us and if he says different he’s lying.”
It was then that Oddo made his first and only comment during the exchange.
“Well, that’s not the way it happened,” Oddo said in his only comment during the exchange.
Several on the council then began briefly speaking over each other until Clifton appeared to be making an attempt to wrap-up the agenda item. That said, the attempt included a comment that could have easily generated another verbal barrage from both sides.
Clifton said that, henceforth, he would include the council on issues subject to discussions and resolutions, adding that, “But I do feel that Mr. Oddo was not included in all the things in the past. I just thought it was fine to give you a taste of it.”
“This is hearsay, sir,” Dell said in response, followed by White saying, “This is a mayor the city ought to be proud of.”
Then Clifton rounded out the exchange.
“I don’t want this to turn into a Peachtree City Council,” Clifton said. “I want this to be a council that gets along.”
That completed the agenda’s final item. But what of the placement of the resolution on the agenda? And what is the process for having items placed on meeting agendas?
Oddo after the meeting said that when he first took office he was told that a council member could have an item put on the agenda if at least three council members agreed to do so.
A check with City Manager Joe Morton after the meeting confirmed the city’s procedure for establishing a meeting agenda. Beyond the large majority of items that come from city staff, the rules state that the mayor can put items on the agenda. Those items do not require consultation from the council. Pertaining to council members, they can place items on the agenda as long as three of them agree.
The resolution was posted in full on the city’s website approximately one week prior to the meeting.
Though not stated by anyone at the meeting, it has been obvious to many who keep up with Fayetteville politics that there has been an undercurrent brewing since before the election last November that saw long-time Mayor Ken Steele defeated by Clifton.