Council settles into new government
by Paige Rentz
Johnny Smith will still preside over the city of Jacksonville, but as of Monday, he no longer presides over the City Council.

Smith gave up his gavel to Monday to Councilman Mark Jones, who was voted council president by his colleagues as the city leaders were sworn in and met for the first time under a new form of government.

“It definitely felt different sitting out there instead of up at the podium, but it was kind of nice,” Smith said of his first meeting off the dais.

Under the new system — which was prompted by the city’s population reaching 12,000 — Smith remains head of the city’s day-to-day operations and loses his place and vote as a member of the council. Instead, he acquires veto power, which can only be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the council — four of the five members, in Jacksonville’s case.

Jones now takes over many of the administrative duties for the council, including creating the agenda for and presiding over meetings of the City Council.

Jones said his new role won’t change things very much. “I’m humbled and honored that they’d have the confidence,” he said of the council’s unanimous vote for him. “I think it’s just a title; I still consider myself just a member of the council.”

Both Jones and the mayor said they look forward to working together, and Jones said he intends to keep the mayor deeply involved with the council.

Councilman Truman Norred nominated Jones as council president, which was unanimously approved by the council.

“Mark’s well-organized, he’s well-known, and he has all the qualities and capabilities of handling the job,” Norred said after the meeting.

Councilwoman Sandra Sudduth, who previously served as mayor pro tem, was voted by her colleagues as council president pro tem. “Thank you for your vote of confidence,” she said, joking that “hopefully I can keep Mark in line.”

Calhoun County Probate Judge Alice Martin swore in the mayor along with three returning and two new members of a council Monday morning.

Jonathan Tompkins was pleased that his first meeting as a city councilman was fairly mundane. “There’s a certain rhythm you have to get used to,” he said of the meetings. “There was not a lot of deliberation that had to go into it, so that was nice.”

Tompkins said his first priority is to “just to find out my place in the world, so to speak.” Once the council assigns committees —which it should do later this month — he will be better able to determine his priorities as a councilman, though he did say he hopes to work to get some economic development going in the city soon.

Councilman Jerry Parris, who served two terms from 2000 through 2008, is re-entering the world of local government seriously. “I’m really nervous” he said, “even more nervous than I was the first time.”

Jones and Norred said their first priority is to move forward with a planned public safety complex.

“We’ve got to do that to determine how much that’s going to cost,” Jones said, “so we can start working on what education’s wanting to do a far as building a new school or renovating, whatever they decide to do.”

Jones also noted that much like the “town and gown committee” that meets with Jacksonville State University, he intends to start a city schools committee and “just keep the communication line open where we’re doing positive things instead of having negative things,” he said.
© 2012