Editorial: Mount Carmel leaders must take a stand

Editorial Board • Aug 13, 2019 at 5:30 PM

If Mount Carmel is to have any chance at succeeding, a majority of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen must stand solidly against Alderman Steven McLain, whose efforts to undermine the city manager and tear down the wall of separation between members of the BMA and city employees will continue until voters replace him.

McLain appears to have a large chip on his shoulder. He is a former city employee hired by his father-in-law, former Mayor Larry Frost, who was fired by voters three years ago after leading the community through a contentious period of repeated turmoil. McLain was hired in 2014 and after several raises quickly became the highest paid person in public works.

When Mayor Chris Jones was elected in 2016, McLain’s position was eliminated. He was elected to the BMA last fall and in January went after Police Chief Grady White and also moved to eliminate the city manager’s ability to hire and fire. McLain said his motive in making personnel changes after his election was to combat nepotism. That irony surely is not lost on anyone in Mount Carmel — including and especially McLain.

It took years for Mount Carmel to dump a strong mayor form of government following a series of controversial hiring and firing decisions by Mayor Frost and replace it with a city manager form of government. As with Kingsport, the Mount Carmel city manager prepares and submits the annual budget and employs, promotes, disciplines or discharges employees as he sees fit. The BMA’s responsibility is to set policy; the city manager’s responsibility is to execute it.

McLain was joined in his attempt to return the city to the dark ages by Alderman Jim Gilliam. Having failed at that, they were back in June, joined by Alderman Pat Stilwell, another former Frost supporter, in dramatically cutting support for the senior center.

Four years ago then-Mayor Frost ousted the nonprofit senior center from City Hall. Members fought back by acquiring a temporary facility even as Frost attempted to organize a competing center. But Frost was overruled by the BMA, and the center returned to City Hall. For many years it has served as a gathering place for seniors who enjoy coffee, meals, entertainment and a variety of other activities including bingo, blood pressure checks, classes, exercise and pool.

Then in July, McLain moved to eliminate the city manager position and return the city to a form of government where day-to-day operations are managed by the BMA, the worst possible form of government for any community, as it pits aldermen against each other in personnel matters.

McLain took that action, he said, because the people in power don’t know what they’re doing. Apparently he believes he knows what he’s doing. McLain offers a litany of complaints against City Manager Mike Housewright that involve not being kept up to date on Housewright’s management of city personnel. As Mayor Jones pointed out, Housewright acts as a buffer between the board and employees, and if Mount Carmel “wants to pull out of the rut that we’re in, we need a city administrator.”

McLain’s motion was ruled out of order because it wasn’t on the agenda. But he’ll come back with it at the next meeting. Residents who are fed up with McLain and his power-grabbing antics should be there to support a majority on the BMA in pursuit of good governance and an end to these constant attempts to send the county back to Frost-ier ways.