By Dedra Cordle
A routine process to determine who presides over the council in the absence of the mayor sparked a discussion on potential conflicts of interest in the village of Urbancrest.
The discussion began when councilwoman Deborah Larkins-Jackson requested at the Jan. 11 meeting that the motion to nominate individuals to serve as president pro tempore be postponed until all six members of the council were able to be seated. Two of its members, Steven Larkins and Shawn Moore, were absent from the meeting, rendering the council unable to vote upon any legislative items on the agenda. They were, however, permitted to select a president pro tempore and set committee assignments with only four members present.
Councilman Lacy Wallace Jr. said he believed the council should follow that allowance and nominate a member and vote upon said nomination that night.
“I don’t think we should continue to put things off until tomorrow when we can accomplish it today,” he said. “What I’ve been seeing is a lot of legislation, a lot of stuff, being pushed off to another month, and another month, and nothing is taken care of.”
He said he would move to nominate councilwoman Nikky Ziglar-Zimmerman to serve as the president pro tempore for 2022, a nomination that Larkins-Jackson objected to because of her family relations.
She later clarified that she was speaking specifically of two item on the agenda she felt were conflicts of interest: the first was an ordinance to adopt a longevity pay scale for the position of the secretary/administrative assistant, and the second was an ordinance authorizing a merit raise increase retroactive four years for the current secretary/administrative assistant.
The current secretary/administrative assistant of the village is Elberta Barnes, who has served in that role for more than three decades. She is married to the mayor, Joseph Barnes Sr., and is the aunt to Ziglar-Zimmerman. Barnes is also a cousin to Larkins and Larkins-Jackson, the latter of which has served as the president pro tempore during her tenure in office.
Larkins-Jackson said she had concerns about the “appearance of conflicts of interest” which is why she was not in support of Ziglar-Zimmerman’s nomination to serve as president pro tempore.
“We have had a lot of issues in this administration because so many of us are related to each other, either maternally or paternally or by in-laws,” said Larkins-Jackson.
Ziglar-Zimmerman said she believes she could serve as president pro tempore fairly, just as she does as a member of the village council, regardless of her blood relations.
“Everybody on this council is an elected official,” she said, “and when people elect us, a good portion of this community knows who is related to who and who is not.”
She said as the village grows and more people show an interest in village governance, the issue surrounding family relations will be lessened. She added that there was little that can be done for those currently serving.
Wallace agreed while stating that he does not believe nepotism played a part in any of their elections to office.
“I’ve ran over 10 years to get to this seat,” he said. “If family really came into play, I don’t think it would have taken me over 10 years to get on this seat.”
By a 3-1 vote, council approved the nomination for Ziglar-Zimmerman to serve as president pro tempore. For the remainder of the year, she will preside over the meetings in the absence of the mayor.
Law director Rodd Lawrence said the power of a president pro tempore, or pro tem, is limited in scope.
“If the question is whether a president pro tem can come in and start making all kinds of changes administratively, the answer is no, they cannot,” he said. “But if the mayor is incapacitated rather than just absent from a meeting and has to replaced then the president pro tem becomes the mayor until a new mayor is chosen.”
In other news, the council also approved committee assignments at the meeting. Steven Larkins, Shawn Moore, and Nikky Ziglar-Zimmerman will serve on the finance committee and Dr. Stefanie Day, Deborah Larkins-Jackson and Lacy Wallace Jr. will serve on the health and safety committee.