PDT Staff Writer
Portsmouth Mayor David Malone took First Ward City Councilman Kevin W. Johnson to task Monday night, over a newspaper article. During a meeting of Portsmouth City Legal and Legislative Committee last Thursday, Johnson introduced three items of legislation aimed at public records, use of city property, and committee structure. During the Mayor’s report segment of Monday’s Portsmouth City Council meeting, Malone brought that article up.
In the article Johnson had said, “Now with the establishment of these committees, the Legal and Legislative Committee is responsible for all legislation introduced by members of council. So it has to go there first, to be approved or rewritten or denied. If it is approved or rewritten, then it goes to the mayor’s conference agenda to be further discussed and approved. If it’s approved, then it goes to council. So there’s now three steps, which is totally in-line with what happens in our state legislature and our Congress. Everything comes out of committee.”
“In regards to the article in Saturday’s paper, I needed some clarification on a statement that Councilman Johnson made, and the statement was with the establishment of the Legal and Legislative Committee, that committee is responsible for all legislation introduced by members of Council,” Malone said. “With that statement, there is an implication that the department heads or the staff will have to come before the committees in order for their issues to be approved to come to Council for legislation. I think that goes against the Charter and the ordinances of the city in which the staff and department heads does the administrative and operational work, of which the committee or Council has no jurisdiction or no authority to approve the operations. So I would just need clarification on that statement, as to how departments or staff would be able to present legislation to Council.”
Fifth Ward Councilman Gene Meadows took the opportunity to clarify what Johnson was proposing.
“These are ordinances of the committees of City Council, items that Council members are proposing that go through those committees, then go to the Legislative Committee,” Meadows said. “We had a discussion about other procedures and they are still in place. The Mayor’s Conference, or what will be the City Manager’s Conference, it is still there, and nothing will change on that.”
Meadows said staff and department heads will follow the usual procedures of going through their departments and the department heads will go to the mayor. Johnson added that the item mentioned at the committee meeting covered those questions.
Malone then brought up Johnson’s policy proposals that appeared in the story concerning the policy concerning public records requests. The policy introduced by Johnson states, “Each office within the City of Portsmouth … shall adhere to this Public Records Policy and shall designate an individual to whom public records requests may be made. A listing of all such individuals by office shall be maintained by the office of the City Manager and made available to and as reference for the public. A monthly report of records requested shall be provided to the office of the City Manager. Such report shall NOT contain the name of the requester.”
“The city already has a strict policy in compliance with the Public Records Requests,” Malone said. “I have in my hand a copy of the Personnel Policies and Procedures. And within it it is the policy of the city of Portsmouth to comply with requests for public information through an expedient and accurate manner.”
Malone went on to give the specifics of that policy. He then lifted a binder that was several inches thick.
“The policies that Councilman Johnson proposed in the committee meeting do already exist within the Personnel Policies Manual. In fact, these are public records requests dating back as far as 2008,” Malone said. “So we do have a record or means of records retention and compliance, keeping track of requests, and those requests going to the different individuals that they are supposed to go to.”
Johnson had also proposed an item dealing with the private use of city owned property, which came to light in June after a Daily Times investigation turned up usage of a piece of equipment by Malone on his personal property. At that time Malone told the Times, “I am the Chief Executive in the administration of the city, therefore, I can’t see the matter of ‘unauthorized use’ as an issue.”
Malone said the policy against the private use of city equipment by employees is “practically verbatim” as proposed by Johnson, already in the manual.
“The policy regarding the restricted use of city property, that is also addressed here in the Personnel Policies and Procedures manual,” Malone said. “I just wanted to clarify and get that information to Council, if there is any policy change it will come from the (future) city manager, or in this case, the mayor, and if there’s any policy change, ideas or thoughts, I would ask if, while I’m here, they would come to my office.”
“On records requests and retention, we have to look at the audit that was released today (Monday), because I know we got dinged on that, and our people are not familiar with our policies, and we don’t have a records retention policy,” Johnson said.
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or firstname.lastname@example.org.