The Winder City Government is an odd duck. Unlike many city governments, Winder’s charter gives almost total power to the town’s mayor with limited oversight and control by the full city council.
Under good leadership, that might make for an efficient way of doing business, albeit one that is less representative than it should be.
But imagine what that government would look like under bad leadership. For example, think about what would happen if controversial county commission chairman Danny Yearwood had the kind of unfettered power that is given to Winder’s mayor.
Dictator for hire?
That prospect should frighten the citizens of Winder. Even now under relatively stable and good leadership, Winder’s mayor and other insiders often push the limits of city governance by limiting the flow of information to city council members and to the public.
Under the current system, there are few specific checks and balances in Winder’s government. The mayor has almost unlimited power to run the city with little council input.
Here are some examples: • Winder’s recent budget hearings were held without proper public notice in violation of state law. While council members were notified and some participated, the entire process was essentially under the mayor’s thumb in a setting of secrecy.
• The recent city water and wastewater rate study was presented to the full council only at the last moment with a request for quick action. That was despite a massive rate hike included in the study that will affect thousands of residents.
• The city believes that once the council approves a city budget, it has no further input into city spending and that the mayor from that point on can spend without further council action. The legal aspects of that aren’t clear, but it’s the current practice.
• City council committees are dysfunctional and have ceded their duties to the mayor’s desk. The mayor has said that if council members want to know what’s going on, they should drop by his office. One council member, David Maynard, has voiced opposition to that and argued that the mayor should be more forthright in bringing major issues to the full council and not just through private meetings.
• Last week, under pressure from the mayor’s office, the council approved a $4.9 million loan that most council members knew nothing about until the last minute despite the fact that it had been in the works for over a year.
Winder mayor Chip Thompson has so far fended off efforts by some council members to rein in his power. He argues that if people were upset at how things were done, more people would show up at council meetings.
Well, not necessarily. People are busy and often don’t pay attention to public issues until there’s a crisis.
In any event, the structure of Winder’s city government, with its lack of checks and balances, needs serious review and perhaps amending.
No individual in a local government should have the kind of autocratic power given to Winder’s mayor without more council oversight.