Council votes to regain trust

Call to the Public will go back to the beginning of most meetings

NICHOLAS WILBUR/ Miner<br><br>
Judge Gary Pope administers the oath of office to the new Mayor John Salem Monday evening in the Mohave County Administration building.

NICHOLAS WILBUR/ Miner<br><br> Judge Gary Pope administers the oath of office to the new Mayor John Salem Monday evening in the Mohave County Administration building.

KINGMAN - There were plenty of good wishes from the departing city officials as they handed over the reins to the new mayor and City Council during a well-attended awards ceremony Monday night.

In his farewell speech, departing Mayor Les Byram spoke for the last time to his Kingman constituents: "It has been a great honor to represent you locally, nationally and across the state." He said. The five-term mayor, once removed, thanked the hundreds of people he has worked with over the years, including city staff, fellow elected officials and especially the residents.

"I feel very good. I feel very confident in the Council that is replacing us," Byram said. And to the incoming mayor, "I think John Salem will do an excellent job."

After being sworn in and receiving the key to the city and the mayor's gavel, Salem once again assured residents that they made the right choice at the voting booth this year.

"We are going to work very hard to serve you," he said to a crowd of family, friends, city staff and other constituents in attendance.

To the departing officials, Salem thanked them for their years of service, "the wonderful job they've done" and their commitment to the community.

Salem and the new members - Keith Walker, Robin Gordon and Carole Young - joined remaining Council members Ray Lyons, Janet Watson and Kerry Deering at the bench.

As their first item of business, the new Council went into executive session, emerged soon after and voted in a new vice mayor. The honor went to Watson, who is halfway through her first four-year term on Council. Salem and other officials last week called Watson the obvious and logical choice for the position, as she has been popular with the people, Salem said. (She also was the only of seven on the previous Council that didn't raise the ire of critics during the various controversies of the past year and a half.)

The "new face of city government," as Salem recently dubbed the group, got right to work on city business after several appointments to various governing committees.

Call to the Public

During the campaigns, candidates said returning the Call to the Public back to the beginning of Council meetings was one of their biggest priorities. The Call to the Public allows residents to speak to Council about whatever topic they want, so long as it is not on the agenda already.

In September, following months of controversy, calls for the ouster of city officials and department heads and generally disruptive meetings, Byram and the Council voted to move the Call to the Public to the end of the meeting. The intent was to calm the tumultuous atmosphere inside City Hall and get through to official city business quicker. The move seemed to work, but the change happened at the tail end of several controversies that already were fizzling out.

But for the candidates running for office, the move was part of the reason the public had lost faith and trust in elected officials. They vowed to replace it at the beginning of the meeting as a sign of improving relations with the public.

Councilmen Lyons and Deering were reluctant to have the Call to the Public at the beginning, but they voted 6-1 for the change after some discussion.

Deering described the "grandstanding" of local residents upset with city officials as belligerent and belittling. And he recalled the accusations of being "scoundrels, liars and whatever" last year when the Call to the Public was at the beginning of the meetings.

Lyons agreed, and said "It got so far out of hand that people were coming to the Council meetings for the entertainment. They said it was the best reality TV show they'd ever seen."

Deering, in calling the last two years "terrible," added, "We had staff being berated."

"That simply won't be tolerated anymore," Salem responded firmly.

Of the two options proposed by City Attorney Carl Cooper, the first would have moved the Call to the Public back to the front of the meeting. The second, however, would give Salem and acting City Manager Jack Kramer, who already are tasked with setting the meeting agenda, the authority to arrange the various agenda items however they see fit.

In passing option two, Salem said it is his intent to place the Call to the Public at the beginning of each meeting. However, if something is particularly controversial or there is certain business that needs immediate attention, those items may be placed higher on the agenda, he said.

Newly elected Councilwoman Gordon did not agree. Before voting against the second option, she reminded Council that they had all campaigned on moving the Call to the Public back to the front. "We need to make it clear that we represent them, that it's important to us and we want to hear them first," she said.

She cast the only vote against the open-ended agenda option.

The new ordinance will take effect July 2.