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Council criticizes mayor

By Billy Corriher

After last week's calls for more communication between the mayor and council went unheeded, the Riverdale City Council issued a statement criticizing Mayor Phaedra Graham's decisions and accusing her of violating the city charter and contract with the manager.

The statement said that Graham is not empowered to dictate work duties and procedures to City Manager Billy Beckett, who said he decided not to renew his contract in May after Graham requested he report to her.

The letter, which was approved by all council members except Rick Scoggins, also refuted Graham's claim that the city is operating in a deficit, her reason for vetoing a software package the council approved.

Graham denied the allegations in the council members' statement. She said she has been trying to contact council members to establish a good working relationship.

Councilman Kenny Ruffin said that after Graham went on a local morning show to talk about the council and made a speech calling for communication at the end of the last meeting, council members wanted to clarify their position.

"The problem is the communication (from Graham) has been staged and through the media, instead of through council members," he said. "And (city residents) have been questioning our motives."

Ruffin said he did not want to meet with Graham one-on-one as she requested, but would meet as a governing body. He said there are now "issues of trust" between council members and the mayor, and Graham had not made a real effort to contact them last week.

"There hasn't been a big push to follow up on her promise to meet with council members," he said.

Councilwoman Michelle Bruce said Graham had not contacted her by Tuesday afternoon to set up a meeting, but the council and mayor are scheduled to attend classes for new elected officials next week.

Scoggins said he requested a meeting with Graham and met with her to discuss the need for more communication with council members on Friday. Scoggins said he even suggested a retreat for the mayor and council.

"The city needs to move forward," he said.

While the mayor and council are not talking, city business has been affected. Graham vetoed the council's appointments for city attorney, judge and solicitor, causing complications and lost revenue for the city until the new appointees were installed, Beckett said.

Entrepreneur Nathaniel Ryles' application for a conditional use permit for a barbershop was not approved by the council at its first meeting and Ryles said the council and Graham would not give him a reason for denying the permit.

Graham vetoed the council's denial, but the council overturned her veto at its last meeting.

Bruce and Ruffin would not comment on why the council voted to deny the permit and Bruce said council members do not have to provide reasons for denying the permit.

But Ryles said he thinks the denial was a result of infighting between the mayor and council.

"I firmly believe that I was caught in the power crossfire of the mayor and Riverdale City Council," he said. "I am losing money each day my business is not open."