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No mayor, no pro tem: council finds themselves in “legal quagmire”

by Minden Press-Herald

Tuesday’s city council meeting was a non-typical one to say the very least. Most obviously, the late Terry Gardner’s untimely passing left a vacancy in the position of mayor. While there is typically a contingency plan in place for such circumstances, regarding the position of mayor pro tempore, at the start of this city council meeting, Minden did not have one. 

This put the council in what City Attorney Jimbo Yocom called a “legal quagmire,” because any laws or ordinances addressing what to do in the absence of a mayor presume that the position of mayor pro tempore is filled. Since Minden at this time did not, it put the council in a weird spot.

Before the meeting was called, Yocom took the time to explain the peculiar situation the council was in that evening, while also spreading some positivity about the state of the city. 

“This is a precarious time, a time of uncertainty, but Minden is still strong, its people are still strong, and its government is still strong. The council is functioning in every capacity that it should. Our department heads are working, and the city is still moving forward, because we’re a community of people who care about one another and rely on each other. Greater are the things that bind us than the things that divide us,” said Yocom. 

He first explained the absence of mayor and mayor pro tempore, and the legal implications of their vacancies. 

“Obviously, with Mayor Gardner’s passing, it leaves a vacancy in the office of mayor, so that office is presently vacant, and has been declared vacant by the secretary of state. Our custom of the council has been that, each year, a different council member would serve as what is called the mayor pro tempore, or what our charter calls the president of the council, and that would rotate district by district at the beginning of the year in January of this year. The council failed to elect a mayor pro tem for this term or this year. Consequently, the position of mayor pro tem is also vacant.

“As a result it’s left us in kind of a legal quagmire. The law presumes there is a mayor pro tem available. So each of the procedures that are outlined within our ordinances, our charter, and within Louisiana law, are based completely on the presumption that there is a mayor pro tem to call meetings. Considering that we have no clear legally designated mayor pro tem, it leaves us in quite a predicament. The issue is that the mayor and/or the mayor pro tem are the one vested with the legal ability to call a council meeting. Since we have neither available, then this is the only meeting that is a meeting that has been lawfully called with an agenda.”

So as Yocom stated, without a mayor or pro tempore, at this time there was no one with the legal authority to actually call meetings. Luckily, this meeting had been called and the agenda made by Terry Gardner before his passing, meaning that the council was given one last legal meeting to correct the situation and elect either an interim mayor or mayor pro tempore. This would require the council to unanimously vote to add these items to the agenda, then vote on the added items when they actually arose on the agenda itself. 

“The only way an agenda can be amended is by unanimous agreement of the council members present. Tonight’s agenda was set by Mayor Gardner prior to his untimely passing, so we have a legal meeting with a legal agenda. The council tonight has the ability —  legally — and the option to amend the agenda upon the unanimous vote of all four council members present. 

“If they amend the agenda to add the line items for the appointment of an interim mayor that will serve as the office of mayor for the remainder of the year until election time, then they can do so, and that person will be lawfully appointed. Once the office is declared vacant by the secretary of state, the council has 20 days to make such an appointment, after which time the governor is the one, the proper person, to make an appointment. That deadline for us is July 18, so the council has until July 18 to make that appointment,” said Yocom. 

“Tonight though is the only clearly legal meeting in which time they can make the appointment, so they have to amend the agenda to set an appointment. They also have the option tonight to amend the agenda to add the appointment of a mayor pro tem to serve out the remainder of their term. If they do that, and the mayor pro tem is appointed, then that individual would be vested with the power to call a second meeting to address any issues whether it’s the appointment of an interim mayor, or any issues that might arise.

“If neither occurs then, until the governor steps in or until the August meeting — whichever occurs first — there will be no one with a clearly designated power to do those things. So it’s quite a predicament, and the council has been fully briefed and informed on all the consequences and all the options and variances before them,” said Yocom.

So, to recap all that’s been stated, the council was left with an opportunity of one last legal meeting to officially designate an interim mayor or pro tempore so that more meetings could be called and checks and contracts could be signed. Adding these items onto the agenda requires a unanimous vote of the present council members. 

If these were not done, there would be no one able to act in that capacity, and this would not have been resolved until an appointment from the governor. 

In regards to the meeting itself, while typically the mayor or mayor pro tempore would be the one to preside over the meetings, the council is able to, in their absence, elect one of their own to act as chairman of that meeting. Wayne Edwards was the one voted on to do so. 

The items of adding a vote for mayor pro tempore and granting them signatory powers were added to the agenda, but the item of voting on an interim mayor was not.

Council Member Bloxom of District E proposed a motion to add an agenda item appointing former mayor and interim city council member of District D, Tommy Davis, as interim mayor. This did involve a minor procedural mishap, given that the motion should’ve been simply to add the item to vote on an interim mayor, and not necessarily state who that would be. Ultimately this was negligible given that the vote did not pass, with Council Members Bloxom and Michael Roy of District D in favor, and Council Members Wayne Edwards of District A and Vincen Bradford of District C being opposed, wishing to table the item for later.

Edwards stated their reason for waiting to decide on an interim mayor was that they wanted the full council to be present, and Council Member Terika Williams-Walker was not there for this meeting, Edwards stated that, at this time, she was out of the country.

Regardless, the city only needed a mayor pro tem or an interim mayor to function in the short term. With those items added to the agenda, the meeting went forward with these items being the first to be voted on. 

Michael Roy nominated Wayne Edwards to take up the position of mayor pro tempore with Bloxom providing a second for the motion. Edwards was unanimously voted in for the position. The council also unanimously voted to provide him signatory powers as well. This likely came to the relief of many given that there was now someone to sign payroll checks for city employees as well as sign contracts on behalf of the city enabling them to move forward with their projects. 

This also allows future meetings to be called, with one to be held soon where the council will attempt to agree on someone to take up the spot of interim mayor. As Yocom stated earlier in the meeting, even if the council is unable to come to a decision on who that should be, after July 18 the power to appoint one is then given to the governor. So an interim mayor will take up the position shortly; the only question for now is whether or not they will be appointed by the council or the governor. 

The Minden City Council meeting takes place on the first Monday of each month starting at 5:30 p.m. located at City Hall. These meetings are open for the public to attend and can be viewed on the City of Minden’s Facebook page or their YouTube channel titled City of Minden – Feels Like Home. 

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