Only three days after taking office and presiding over his first city council meeting, Alexandria Mayor Jim York announced his resignation Friday saying he does not have the respect or support of the aldermen.
York ran unopposed in the municipal election September 5 and received fifteen votes to become the town's new mayor, succeeding Ria Baker who had served as mayor for seven years. York was sworn in as mayor at the regular monthly city council meeting on Tuesday night, September 24.
Since his election, York claims that the aldermen have conspired to keep him from exercising his full authority as mayor. But some say that York tried to exercise too much control at city hall.
Tensions between the mayor and aldermen, at least in part, grew out of a dispute over who has the authority to sign checks. During Tuesday night's regular meeting, the council voted to give aldermen Bennett Armstrong and Tony Tarpley the authority to be a second check signer along with City recorder/Clerk Ashley Roth who is designated as the first signer. Roth has that authority until at least October 15 when she plans to end her employment with the city.
As mayor, York felt he should also have the authority to sign checks and apparently became upset with the board's decision not to include him. But while York didn't make much of an issue of it during the Tuesday night meeting, he apparently took matters into his own hands on Wednesday morning when he confronted Roth at city hall and relieved her of her check signing authority.
Alderman Tarpley, who was present and witnessed the incident, told WJLE that York acted unprofessionally . "I came into the office to see if there was anything I needed to help them with since I had a little spare time. I was talking with Ashley (Roth) when Jim (York) came in and in a very unprofessional manner I guess you would say, he chewed her rear end out. I don't know how else to put it. He said she was out of line in the (Tuesday night) meeting about (her input concerning) check signing and telling (York) every time he needed to have a motion. She was just trying to help him on the motions because he was new at this. I would be the same way. I'd be lost. She was trying to help him there but he got on her pretty heavy. I have been a supervisor in several different positions for several different companies and I never got on to one of my employees like that. Then when she asked him to tell her what she had done wrong, he got mad and stormed out of the building," said Alderman Tarpley.
In an effort to resolve differences, the aldermen met with York in a workshop Friday morning at city hall. During the discussions, York raised the check signing issue and other matters, complaining that the aldermen were conspiring to deny him his full powers as mayor, treating him as a figurehead. York argued that he should have taken office as mayor the day after the election as the city charter provides, but had to wait until the regular monthly meeting almost three weeks later. The aldermen explained that it has historically been the city's practice of swearing in newly elected officials at the first regular meeting after an election. As for who has authority to sign checks, the aldermen said city policy/charter leaves that to the discretion of the city council. At times, the discussion became personal with some alderman making certain insinuations against York. Later in the meeting, York, who was clearly frustrated, got up from his seat, pulled keys from his pocket, dropped them on the table in front of him, and left, saying he was resigning as he walked out the door.
After the meeting, the aldermen spoke with WJLE and denied York's assertions that they were conspiring against him.
Concerning the check signing matter, Alderman Addie Farley said she thought it best to have two aldermen available as a second check signer during the transitional period with a new mayoral administration. " It was my preference to have someone who was existing on the board to be check signers during the transitional period. Its permanent but at any meeting we could choose to reassign check signers. That was the basis for my decision. It had nothing to do with conspiracy. I am the financial advisor and with the (city) recorder being the first signature, it was my preference to have an alderman be a second signer," she said.
According to Alderman Farley, the primary purpose of the Friday workshop was to explain to York that the aldermen have the sole authority to designate who signs the checks. "We agreed to hold a communication workshop to explain the policies and procedures as it relates to the check signing. During the conversation on Wednesday, he (York) told her (Roth) she was no longer able to act in her full (city) recording duties and was no longer first signer on the checks. We spoke with the (city) attorney to verify that so long as she was in good standing with the city that she could remain with her full responsibilities. But because Jim (York) is her boss, she couldn't sign checks until there was an action (by the aldermen) to inform him that she could continue on signing checks until her resignation date. This workshop was to inform Jim of that and to explain why he could not be the check signer. It was because we had voted for someone else to be the check signers. He thought it was a power granted to him. This workshop was to clear up that disconnect," said Alderman Farley.
City officials admitted however that there have been occasions in the past when mayors have had the authority to sign checks. Former Mayor David Cripps, who attended the workshop, told the aldermen that while he was not taking sides on the issue, he did sign checks as mayor but that there was no city recorder at that time.
Alderman Farley said Mayor Ria Baker also had that authority toward the end of her term. " Mayor Ria was check signer for the very last few months because one of the check signers left. The mayor does have power granted to him or her if one of the existing check signers leaves. In the interim, the mayor becomes an automatic signer until the next meeting and then the board can either approve that position to remain or assign someone else. We allowed her (Mayor Baker) to stay on until the end (of her term) and that's why we were having to redo it now with the new board members and mayor coming on," she said.
After the meeting, WJLE contacted York at his business and he confirmed that he is resigning as mayor. "I will be leaving office soon. September 5 was the election and my charter reads that September 6 I should have been sworn in and given the duties of Mayor. I was not. Basically my hands were tied at that moment. It was September 24 at the first city council meeting that I was sworn in," he continued.
But York said he doesn't want the job if he can't exercise all the powers he feels he should have as mayor. "I am not going to have full control of city hall as per the city council and I am not going to continue in the office If I do not have full reign and full power," he said.
York believes he should have been granted the authority to sign checks and that issue weighed heavily in his decision to resign. " That (issue) was pretty large because that is one of the primary concerns of a mayor is how the money is disbursed. With highway paving projects and the water expansion project coming up, a lot of money is going to go through our accounts. I would have liked to have had a first hand look as those checks were signed and also have had my signature reflected on it. If not, I don't need to be in that office," he said.
As for trying to relieve City Recorder Roth of her check signing duties, York claims he was within his rights and that the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) supported his action. "I did speak with MTAS about my position on this matter and in my investigation, MTAS told me that once my recorder put in her resignation, I had every right and could have let her go immediately but I did not. I did say (to MTAS) that the recorder (her name) does appear on the check signing card and the mayor (his name) does not. MTAS said they did not feel comfortable and it was not a good business practice for that to continue. If she was leaving her job, she should not appear on checks and that was why I asked her not to (continue signing checks) because she was leaving and MTAS agreed that it should not happen any longer," said York.
Rather than stay on as mayor and try to improve relations with the city board, York said he prefers to step aside now and concentrate on his business obligations. " I don't feel I have their respect or support. It's not worth it. I'm a business owner and I need to focus on my business and not be in the middle of things that are so dramatic at this point," concluded York.
Prior to being elected mayor, York had served for a time as alderman, filling in for others who couldn't complete their terms.
(TOP PHOTO LEFT TO RIGHT: Aldermen Bennett Armstrong, Pat Jackson, Addie Farley, Mayor Jim York, and Alderman Tony Tarpley)