Smith ready for next year of leadership
By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
June 28, 2004
Newly-elected Meridian City Council President Bobby Smith, who represents Ward 5, said he's excited about the coming year of city government.
Smith, who is in his second term as a councilman, will serve as council president until next year's city-wide elections.
Smith discussed his plans for the next year and his relationship with the mayor in an interview last week with The Meridian Star editorial board.
The Meridian Star: What do you hope to accomplish this week at the Mississippi Municipal League's annual convention in Biloxi?
Bobby Smith: You can learn a lot from other cities by going to that. You get to talk with representatives of all of Mississippi's cities. You can't get that type of information you get unless you go to this.
The Star: Will you talk with other cities about interstate interchanges and how they work with the Mississippi Department of Transportation on those projects?
Smith: Our main goal will be to get information (from other cities) on those types of situations. From what I understand, MDOT will handle all moneys that pertain to federal money with interchanges and, I suppose, any money that's allocated. I'm hoping that will be the case.
I would have loved to have been able to have let MDOT handle ours from the beginning. After all the mix-ups, I see that it would have been much smoother if MDOT would have handled all of this.
The Star: Has the strained relationship between some of the councilmen and Mayor John Robert Smith been a growing problem or has it just developed during the past year?
Smith: We've had a good relationship. This is my second term. I would say for six years we've had a good working relationship. They say when you're in office that it takes you a while to understand what's going on. Whether I didn't understand everything that was going on in the past or what, I don't know. Now I know everything that's going on, and I've found out that we don't get all of the information we should get.
The mayor says that he cannot inform us on everything because he's told not to by EMBDC (East Mississippi Business Development Corp.), which is what we've been told.
I've talked with (EMBDC President) Wade Jones and I respect him and am impressed with what he does. Between Wade, the county and the council, we've all sat down and talked. We're going to have a good working relationship, and I just hope the mayor can be tied into that.
The Star: Are you aware of the city or the county ever holding the other hostage until certain projects are completed? Have you ever known of the city or county saying, "We're not going to complete this project until you complete that project?"
Smith: I don't know of any specific situations like that. But I will say that one will say, "We'll do this if you do that." I guess that could be termed a hostage situation. We have had that come up in the past.
I've been told by the president of the (Lauderdale County) Board of Supervisors that if I'll come to him with any problems, we'll sit down and work it out. They all know that we haven't gotten all the information in the past that we should have been getting and they are shocked.
And I don't know who to blame on that. All I know is that when you have all of these different entities working on certain projects we have to communicate better and work together. And that hasn't happened in the past.
The Star: Under the city's form of government, often if there is an issue that comes up some councilmen will say that they have to have four votes. What do you mean by that? Don't you only need three votes, or a majority?
Smith: You have to be prepared for a possible veto, whether it be a school board member or anything. You have to have four votes to override a veto.
The Star: Is it that tough to find four councilmen to agree on certain issues?
The Star: Why? Is it a philosophical difference or are some councilmen, at times, more closely aligned politically with the mayor?
Smith: (The mayor) can put on a good performance. He can talk to councilmen. You may have a councilman who wants something done in their districts. I'm not saying this happens, but it's pretty obvious that if you'll do my project I'll support this. That type of thing happens all the time. It happens with the supervisors and it happens with the council, it happens to everybody. We, the council, get along good. But every council member has their own priorities and I have mine. We all work well together.
The Star: What is your philosophy on the need of closed meetings for the city council?
Smith: If we decide we need to go into executive session, we'll tell our attorney what it's for and he'll tell us either we can or can't do it. I think if it's a personnel matter or if we've got a lawsuit that's going on that we don't need to publicly discuss it and jeopardize our case, I think we should close the meeting for those two things.
But I think we go into executive session a lot of times when we don't need to.
The Star: Have you ever voted against going into executive session?
Smith: I've never voted against it. I ask if it's legal and I go with it.
The Star: As president of the council, would you be willing to make a commitment to oppose any efforts of the council to go into closed meetings to discuss anything other than personnel matters or possibly litigation.
Smith: Yes. Next time we have one I'll bring it up. I sure will. You will never have a good working relationship with anyone until you do things in public and let the people who voted you in office and the people you serve, let them know what's going on. Do not keep stuff from people. That's one of the worst things we do and it needs to be stopped.