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franklin county times

Absent dramatic edge, council's budget talks go smoothly

By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
August 8, 2004
I'm pretty sure no one ever imagined the 400-year-old line from Francis Davidson's Poetical Rhapsody "absence makes the heart grow fonder" could apply to city government.
But in Meridian, I think it might actually be a fitting description of what transpired this past week at City Hall.
With Mayor John Robert Smith and his chief administrative officer, Ken Storms, both away on vacation, Meridian city councilmen met for three days of budget talks.
All five councilmen met in the employee council room and thumbed through bound copies of the proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2005, which begins Oct. 1.
The mood and atmosphere inside the room were quite unique to say the least. Councilmen sat on one side of a table and individual department heads and members of their staffs sat on the other.
Open conversation
Councilmen met with each department head for more than an hour, and in some cases, more than two hours. During that time there were serious conversations, shared laughs and even an occasional differing of opinions.
But there wasn't any bickering no finger-pointing, no mad scowls, no divisiveness, no rolling eyes, none of that. Just open, honest conversation and productive work.
It's not that everyone has been at each other's throats in years past. They haven't. In fact, in my view, councilmen have always treated each other with respect.
But budget talks and any type of heated conversations with department heads have never run this smoothly since I've been covering City Hall the past two years.
Things usually get personal, especially when making tough decisions.
This time, however, councilmen and city staffers admitted that they're not perfect and mistakes are made, something I think we can all admit happens on a daily basis in life.
They talked about the negatives in the city as much as the positives.
But they vowed to work together to correct such mistakes in the future and make Meridian a better place for the taxpayers.
Common ground
There was an eagerness to reach common ground, there was compromise, and the biggie RESPECT.
Some councilmen said the absence of the mayor and Storms could have been what triggered the new mood.
Not in a bad way, but as Ward 4 Councilman Jesse E. Palmer Sr. put it: "When their supervisor's not there, they're able to talk more openly and freely and really be honest. Not that they'd been bullied if they were, but it's a more relaxed environment."
Ward 3 Councilman Barbara Henson agreed.
Not everyone there, though, said the absence of city administration was the cause of the better relations.
In private, some city staffers theorized that an election year creeping around the corner could have been what sparked the more relaxed setting.
Whatever it was, it was different and it was good.
And if you consider the council, staff and administration as collectively making up the different parts of Meridian's heart, hopefully, it grew fonder this week.
Fredie Carmichael is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3228, or e-mail fcarmichael@themeridianstar.com.

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