Does Franklin need a mayor?

Published 10:36 am Saturday, February 4, 2012

I’m going to spend a little time discussing an idea whose time I’m sure has come. Now I want to warn you in advance that this may not be one of my normal, obviously brilliant ideas. Quite frankly, this one’s a little outside of the box. And it’s one that was thought up exclusively and entirely by yours truly, so if this ship goes down I’m headed straight to the bottom of the ocean all by myself.

In fact, this idea is so ridiculous that, in preparation for writing this column, I actually ran the idea by a few of my colleagues, just as a way to try and gauge what my readers’ reaction might be. The stunned looks and awkward silence I got in response told me everything I need to know; either I’ve finally gone off the deep end, or I’m on to something really good. So read on, and decide for yourself.

I think the City of Franklin should quit having a mayor.

That’s right: I think Franklin should crank up the charter change machine again next year and eliminate the position of mayor from city government. Now, for those who think I’m off my rocker, have no fear; for should such a charter change ever find its way to Richmond to be voted on by the General Assembly, a handful of council members would be flying up Interstate 95 (in a city vehicle, no doubt) before the ink is even dry on the paper to testify to the proposed changes’ absurdity and my certain lunacy. But for those of you who think I’m on to something here, read on. This idea might actually make a little sense.

There are two main forms of city government in the United States today, one in which the mayor is weak and one in which the mayor is strong. Now, that doesn’t mean some mayors are better than others; it simply means that some mayors (the weak ones) are nothing more than regularly elected members of the City Council who have been elevated to a position that holds no authority in their city’s government other than to preside over council meetings and cut ribbons at business openings. A weak mayor is typically found in a form of government known as council-manager system, where the council hires a manager to oversee the day-to-day business of the city. This type of system usually works pretty nicely in a city the size of Franklin and is the one we supposedly have.

A strong mayor, on the other hand, is found in a mayor-council form of government, usually in bigger cities like Richmond or New York or Chicago. In these cases, the mayor does have significant clout and is the one who makes the significant decisions regarding the administrative business of the city he represents. The council still makes the rules and advises the mayor, but the mayor’s definitely the one in charge.

Franklin, for the record, is supposed to have a council-manager government. The mayor is supposed to provide the council with an odd number of members, so as to avoid any tie votes. The mayor is supposed to work, as a member of the council, to help get city business accomplished, not to use the position as a bully pulpit to promote a specific personal agenda. The mayor is supposed to smile cheerfully while wishing new business owners the best of luck in their new endeavor. And the mayor is supposed to preside over council meetings to keep them running in a smooth and orderly fashion.

Anyone else see where I’m going with this? It’s not that I have anything against mayors in general. And, while I don’t agree with all of his decisions to date, I certainly don’t have anything against the current mayor. But I do think that what Franklin needs right now, more than anything, is a city government that works together more effectively and cohesively as a group. And I fear that there are those who view running for mayor as an opportunity to elevate themselves to a position above what it was intended to be.

So I propose that Franklin should do away with the position of mayor altogether. Keep an at-large member of the council so there are still an uneven number of votes, and therefore no ties. Have the council elect a chairman, just like the counties do, so someone is responsible for calling meetings to order and keeping them running smoothly. And have council members take turns appearing at ribbon cuttings and other such ceremonies.

If Franklin quit having a mayor, we would be no worse off than we are today. And perhaps it could even bring back a little civility to the City Council. If nothing else, it would eliminate some of the politics of self-promotion that are poisoning the attitude of this city. That, and the $10,000 in salary that would be saved, are reason enough to give it a try.

You know, the more I think about it, maybe this isn’t such a crazy idea after all.

TONY CLARK is the general manager and advertising director at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at