News and Tribune

Editorials

February 9, 2012

OUR VIEW: Greenville town council president’s tactics inexcusable

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — If anything, Talbotte Richardson is a man of his word.

  Heading into Monday’s Greenville Town Council special meeting, the council president said he was not going to let members of the public speak on the matter of whether or not the town should hire Randal Johnes as its town manager.

And while several tried to address the council from the bleachers of the Greenville Elementary School gymnasium, none were successful. However, a few almost got a personal escort from the town marshal out the door, another threat Richardson made to people who spoke up.

While Richardson may not have violated any laws Monday, his judgment was lacking. City or town boards are not required to allow meeting attendees to comment at a public meeting. Most do, however, since residents of the town, city or county elect the people running the meetings.

Banning all public comment — as Richardson did Monday — is bad enough. Going on the offensive with the keep-quiet mandate is inexcusable and embarrassing. Even worse, he referred to the public gathering as “my meeting.”

Richardson’s meeting was held at a taxpayer-funded school and his time at the meeting Monday was paid for by Greenville residents. Richardson is right in that he presides over the meeting, but not giving a chance to speak to people who made time to attend is the wrong move.

And how did Richardson expect the about 75 people in attendance to react? Why was he acting so defensive? It certainly had to do with the way Richardson and the other two members of the five-member board that voted to hire Johnes went about their business.

Many, if not all, in the crowd were against the ordinance creating the position of town manager, and hiring Johnes to fill the position. The fact that Johnes is by Richardson’s account a friend — one who recently lost a re-election bid to the town council by one vote — has many of the town’s residents skeptical about the hiring. Other residents think the town of about 600 residents doesn’t need a town manager at all.

Hiring a town manager, for $150 a week, may turn out to be a good move. Greenville is facing a couple of large projects and having a full-time person overseeing those projects has its advantages.

However, rushing to hire a former council member, who is buddies with the town council president, without interviewing other candidates is just bad business. Whether or not Johnes is qualified is not the issue here.

As for Richardson, he was recently re-elected to another four-year term. It’s hard to imagine a more difficult way to begin that time then to have people yelling out “Talbotte you should be run out of town” at the meeting. While Richardson did not back down, one would think Johnes would want no part of the job knowing so many were against his appointment. It doesn’t make for a very good working environment for either the town council president or the newly hired town manager.

It’s going to be difficult being public enemy No. 1 in a town where everybody knows you. But that is exactly what Richardson is facing, and it was all self-inflicted.

Will it go away? Maybe, in time. But many in the crowd Monday didn’t seem like the forgive and forget type. It could be a very long four years for the council president.

And it could have been largely avoided by only letting the people speak, something that seems to be a given in an open governmental meeting in the United States.

But not in Greenville on Monday night. It was shut up or get out.

— The News and Tribune editorial board is comprised of Publisher Bill Hanson, Editor Shea Van Hoy and Assistant Editors Chris Morris and Amy Huffman-Branham.

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