John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 22, 2008

Crenshaw Mayor Sylvester Reed is right in that the town’s fire department needs prices from at least two vendors before aldermen can approve the purchase of items costing over $5,000.

The trouble is that Fire Chief Lee Duncan came to the Tuesday, August 6, meeting of the mayor and aldermen and told them of the need for new turnout gear and radios for firemen. Two aldermen, realizing that, two weeks later, no action on the request had been taken, called Wednesday night’s meeting in another attempt to outfit the town’s poorly equipped volunteer firemen.

That’s when the mayor cautioned about the need for quotes from at least two vendors. Finding reasons not to take action is characteristic of behavior that the mayor has exhibited all too frequently during the 27 months that we have regularly covered Crenshaw town government.

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“I’m studying it,” or “I’m looking into it,” or “I’m checking on it,” have all too frequently been his reply to issues that aldermen, citizens and town employees have asked him about often at meeting after meeting.

Consequently, vital work is left undone. Town government is reactive instead of proactive.

A proactive mayor — even if he had only learned on August 6 of the fire department’s shortage of critical equipment— would have immediately met with the fire chief and worked with him until sufficient turnout gear and radios were available to the town’s volunteer firemen. A proactive mayor would have recognized the lack of equipment for the emergency it is.

Instead, the mayor’s seeming indifference has allowed the safety of its citizens and firemen and the quality of the municipality’s fire protection to erode, much the same as his indifference has eroded Crenshaw’s quality of water and sewer service and other functions a town is expected to provide.

It would be bad enough if the shortcomings in Crenshaw government could be blamed on incompetence. Instead, the intrigue, emphasis on the secrecy of executive sessions and semi-coherent ramblings of the mayor at the board meetings month after month point to petty ambition and a coveting of power that he fears sharing with other elected officials or town employees. The mayor’s attempts at micromanagement have produced gross mismanagement.

The hope for the Town of Crenshaw is that its aldermen — all of them — thoroughly acquaint themselves with their rights and responsibilities as elected officials and assert themselves at their meetings. Too long has the mayor gotten his way through rantings and bluster.