Riverdale resident scolds council members

By Ed Brock

At a Monday night work session the Riverdale City Council received a stern lecture from a citizen who said the people would "wipe the slate clean" if the council doesn't start working together.

During Monday's regular meeting following the work session the council also appointed an interim police chief and two interim city managers.

Mark Johnson, a Riverdale businessman representing a group called "Vision for the City," had come to the council's work session to discuss his group's plans to promote business in the city. But after he witnessed a conflict between Riverdale Mayor Phaedra Graham and Councilwoman Wanda Wallace that occurred after Graham walked out of the work session, Johnson put away his prepared comment and spoke from his heart.

"I'm a strong man but what I just saw almost brought a tear to my eye," Johnson said.

After Graham stepped out of the meeting, Johnson said, Wallace made a comment that she should not have made, and when Graham returned, the mayor "scolded" Wallace for her comments.

Johnson said the chaos that has beset the council recently is discouraging businesses that are looking to come to Riverdale.

"Look at us, we can't even get along," Johnson said. "People look from the outside and don't want to invest here."

The members of the council should let the good that's in them show, Johnson said, and if they don't he will come back at every meeting to make sure they do.

"If you continue with this behavior you will see another side of us, I promise," Johnson said. "We demand that you work together or we'll get rid of all of you. We'll wipe the slate clean."

Johnson said he was sure there was good inside all of the council members.

Graham did not comment directly about the incident that led to Johnson's speech.

"Every citizen has a right to voice their concern," Graham said. "I am elated that citizens are speaking out."

Wallace said Graham violated Robert's Rules of Order when she left the work session without adjourning the meeting. Wallace also called Johnson "a concerned citizen."

"I wish more of the citizens of Riverdale would come to voice their opinion," Wallace said.

At the work session, Wallace and the City Council voted to drop the "public concerns" comment portion from the agenda. Wallace said the portion was dropped because citizens wishing to address the council should put their specific topic of concern on the agenda.

"Otherwise it can be about the police department, it can be about a death in the family, it can be about anything," Wallace said.

Graham said she disagreed with the council's decision on dropping the public concerns section from the agenda.

"The reason I disagree is because the city belongs to the people," Graham said. "I will work diligently to make sure that the citizens see an open and receptive government in Riverdale."

The council approved an agreement with Joshua Kim Associates of Ohio to provide interim city management services following the departure of outgoing City Manager Billy Beckett, who will leave the city on April 23. Beckett announced he was leaving after having a conflict with Graham after she took office. Sylvester Murray and Ulysses Ford III will serve as interim city managers and will work with Beckett until he leaves as part of a "mentorship period."

"During this period Billy Beckett continues to be the official city manager of the city with authority to continue making executive decisions over city operations as approved by the City Council," the agreement states. "It is the express desire of the city that Billy Beckett communicates openly and freely with the management consultant about the executive decisions he makes."

Beckett did not attend Monday's meeting.

Also, the council appointed Gregory Barney as interim police chief for the city following the departure of former Chief Mike Edwards. Edwards resigned recently after weeks of criticism from civil rights groups regarding his suspension of Capt. Phillip Neely, an officer who spoke out publicly about racial discrimination in the Riverdale Police Department.

At the end of the meeting Councilman Rick Scoggins addressed the audience.

"I hope that you've seen a better display of working together in unity," Scoggins said.