Our View: "The people of Blackwell are fortunate" to have City Manager Smith

by BJ-T Staff

In her first month as manager, Smith has systematically rooted out improper financial transactions made by the city. First, she found that the city’s employee payroll has not been properly approved by the City Council for quite some time. Second, she found that the Council has not approved the city’s credit card statements or bills from the city’s electrical provider. Third, she found that the bills for the city attorney and the city’s chief financial officer had not been approved by the Council. What this means is that theses transactions were not placed on the Council’s agenda for official approval; the city manager(s) involved simply signed off on the checks.

At this time, it is unknown how long the problems have persisted.

To be perfectly clear, it was not entirely the fault of the Council that these things were not properly voted on. It’s the city manager’s job to ensure that the Council approves expenditures over $5,000. Why past managers have not done this is unknown, but what is known is that this lack of oversight has contributed to political division within our city.

This lack of financial transparency explains, in part, why the city has had such significant budget shortfalls in recent months. If the city is not properly spending and accounting for its money, the money may not be used wisely. Point in case: the political battle over funding for the police department that occurred last summer. When the Council tried to cut funding for the department, police officers knew there was something more to the story. And when news of the budget problems at City Hall broke, the people of Blackwell began to distrust those in charge.

That distrust is only fueled by events like those at Friday’s meeting. The agenda for the meeting stated that the Council was considering reevaluating Smith’s continued employment with the city. The question is: why was her employment being reconsidered just one month after she started the job? As shown by the overwhelming number of citizens and city employees in attendance at the meeting who thunderously applauded Smith, the people of Blackwell support what she is doing. And just one month ago, it appeared that all five members of the Council did when they hired her and said she was the perfect fit for the job.

It appears that the honeymoon period ended for the new manager when she actually began doing what she said she would: ensuring that the city is accountable to the taxpayers. When she started digging into the city’s lack of accountability and transparency, tension mounted against her. Luckily, we have three council members who share Smith’s same goal. We are thankful that they voted to protect Smith, and they deserve the public’s support for their brave decision. Those three members are to be commended.

It’s the job of the city manager to hold the city government accountable to the citizenry, and to make sure that important financial transactions are put before the City Council. In years past, it appears that managers have neglected to do this. But we now have a manager who has pledged to do her job and ensure that the city is following the letter of the law. Janet Smith is the hero our city needs, and we are thankful for her efforts to make the city of Blackwell transparent and accountable to we the people. She gives us hope for the future of our city.