Editorial: It’s time for Scottville’s mayor to resign

February 20, 2013

An editorial by Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

Editor’s note: This will have to go on record as the very first editorial of the Mason County Press. Editorials are a long standing tradition in newspapers, but I have tried to avoid them, letting the public make up its own mind. However, because I have become part of the story, I feel this would be the exception.

A day after my resignation from the Scottville Planning Commission, I am humbled by how many people are talking about it. First, I want to thank the many people who have called me, emailed me and posted on the MCP Facebook site in support of my decision.

On Tuesday morning, WMOM News Director Mike Tanis reported on the story and then editorialized, calling for Mayor Joe Baxter’s resignation. The Ludington Daily News also reported on the story (though interesting they only mentioned that I work for the media and did not mention the Mason County Press, but that’s a whole other topic — I will chose to take the high road and mention them by name).

I found it curious that at Monday’s City Commission meeting the mayor submitted a letter of his own, a rebuttal to mine. Who writes a rebuttal to a resignation letter?

In that letter he stated: “As I read your resignation letter, the more angry I became. I have subsequently decided that making my no comment approach is still a better route to follow.”

This was quoted in the LDN. I personally have not seen the letter so that’s as much as I can tell you. Perhaps he has sent it to me. But, I have not yet received it.

So, let me get this straight. The mayor is angry with me? Perhaps he isn’t angry at just me. Perhaps he is angry at the other four planning commissioners who have resigned over the last two years out of protest of his leadership.

The first was Bruce Smith, former superintendent of Mason County Central schools. Smith resigned after the mayor publicly humiliated him during a city commission meeting. The issue was a difference of opinion on wording in the city’s master plan. At that time, Smith was the chairman of the planning commission.

The other three commissioners all chose not to renew when their terms came up. They did not submit formal letters of protest about the mayor’s leadership but chose to resign quietly. But, each of them told me their decision to not continue was partly because of Baxter’s leadership.

Our mayor admirably served this country in the military for many years. He volunteers his time to help out veterans. This is worthy of praise. However, it is the opinion of this editor and this former planning commissioner that the mayor tries to run the city as if it is a military institution. I can say right now, the city is not the military. And, the mayor’s authority is very limited.

Actually, the primary function of the mayor, according to Scottville’s city charter, is to run the city commission meetings. Beyond that, the mayor is just another commissioner.

In Scottville, the mayor is elected by his/her fellow city commissioners every two years. He/she gets one vote, just like the other six commissioners do. This is unlike the city of Ludington, for example, where the mayor is elected by the public and does not vote except to break a tie.

Both cities, though, have managers who are professionals hired, under direction of the city’s charter, to conduct the city’s day to day business. The city commission (or council in Ludington) has the responsibility to speak for the public and oversee the city manager.

The mayor also appoints commissioners to various committees. He can appoint other citizens to various boards, with the approval of the city commission and he also is required to sit on the planning commission and the downtown development authority (Main Street) board.

Scottville has had some great mayors over the years. I have had the pleasure to know some of them: Glenna Wallace Anderson-Dodson, “Big George” Wilson, Duane Slagle and Leon Begue. These people served a valuable function for Scottville, they were ambassadors who portrayed our town in a positive light.

So far in my editorial I have not yet mentioned the fact that the mayor is currently scheduled to appear in 79th District Court on charges of driving while under the influence of liquor, charges that were made following a motor vehicle accident last fall. Two hours following that 8:30 a.m. accident he blew a .72 blood alcohol level through a portable breathalyzer and then a blood draw resulted in a .08 result (the legal limit is .08). Instead I have chosen to concentrate on other areas of the mayor’s leadership style that I and others have come in conflict with.

The mayor’s response to my letter is a perfect example of why five of us made the decision to no longer serve the community. I believe that the longer this mayor serves, the more people we will continue to lose. It is the opinion of this citizen of Scottville that it is time the mayor resigns.

I am not alone with this opinion. In fact, I have had conversations with several people of influence in our town and neighboring communities. Some of those people cannot go on record because of the positions they hold.

For the record, I would like to present to you my letter of resignation.

This is the letter I sent to City Manager Amy Williams and Main Street Manager Heather Landis (I had just recently started serving on the Main Street design committee, of which Baxter was serving on as well):

Amy and Heather,
I have put a lot of thought into this and I write this after spending several months reflecting on this decision. But, I believe it is best that I resign from the planning commission and from the Main Street design committee.

Recent interactions with Mayor Baxter have made it evident to me that my occupation as the editor of a news site puts me into a conflict of interest with a position in any type of local government board. I actually think it was less of a conflict when I was just a reporter for the LDN.

Further, I personally was quite offended by Mayor Baxter’s comments during the last planning commission meeting when he questioned whether I could remain objective and positive about Scottville and its future. I believe I am one of the biggest advocates of this town’s success. Becky and I made a choice to make this town our home and despite the many setbacks this town has seen, I still take pride in it.

I have also found myself in conflict with the personal actions of the mayor and I cannot serve while he leads our community. I understand that a person is innocent unless proven guilty, but I believe the damage has already been done to our town. I cannot overcome these feelings.

I will continue to be an advocate for our community through the Mason County Press and through my personal life. However, I think this course of action will serve us all better.

Rob Alway

If you agree with me, please express your opinion by attending a city commission meeting. The commission meets the first and third Monday of the month at 5:30 p.m. at the city hall, 105 N. Main Street. In addition to this, please send letters to the city commission, at the same address, and also let your commissioners know.

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