In an unusually combative virtual meeting April 28 that ended in a statement of his intention to resign, Montgomery City Council Member John Champagne clashed with Mayor Sara Countryman and Council Member Rebecca Huss over the city’s budgetary response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The conflict first began when Assistant City Administrator Dave McCorquodale asked the council whether the city should move forward with a partnership with Montgomery County Precinct 1 to repave Baja Street, Worsham Street, Old Plantersville Road, Westway Drive and McGuinness Lane for $47,515. McCorquodale said City Administrator Richard Tramm, who was absent due to illness, was planning on holding off on the partnership until the long-term effects of the pandemic on the budget are clear.
Champagne said any essential work already approved and in the budget should be done and the street project was essential. Huss disagreed, saying Tramm’s strategy would allow them to see the full scope of the pandemic’s effects.
“When we’re looking at how much our revenues are going to contract and what are cuts are going to have to be, I think we need to look at it in totality,” Huss said.
When asked what would be higher on her list of priorities, Huss said paying employees who provide essential services such as the police or utility workers who provide water. Champagne said the employees do not trump the citizens, or the “stockholders” of the city.
“Our mandate is to do very few things in terms of government. It’s not to hold hands; it’s not to cuddle people; it’s to provide services,” Champagne said.
Countryman agreed with Huss and said the city needed more information about how the pandemic would affect their revenue before making nonessential purchases.
“I agree; there are streets that need attention, without a doubt,” Countryman said. “What I’m saying is let’s make sure we’re affording it in a proper way.”
Disagreements continued during a discussion about utility billing, how the police department is utilizing officers during the pandemic as well as sales tax reports. Countryman said funds incorrectly given to the city in September were taken back in March, thus eliminating any revenue shown on a report.
The clash came to a head toward the end of the meeting when the council voted to appoint Kevin Lacy to the seat left vacant by former Council Member John Bickford’s retirement. McCorquodale said Lacy is the only candidate running unopposed for the elections, which have been moved to November.
Champagne suggested appointing an individual to Bickford’s seat selected by the council. After that, Champagne would resign, and Lacy could be appointed to Champagne’s seat, which is the seat he is currently running for in November.
Huss said the council members are elected at large, not representing any specific area of the city, so there is no benefit to trying to get Lacy into Champagne’s seat specifically, and she would rather just appoint Lacy to keep council business moving.
“Whether you leave or whether you stay, I think having him be around with people who have more experience is better,” Huss said. “Obviously you have a lot of opinions about what we need to do and whether I agree with you or not, that’s not necessarily the worst thing is to have your experience as part of the process.”
Champagne said he sees the logic of Huss’ argument, but he will be resigning no matter what. The council approved Lacy’s appointment 3-1 with Champagne voting against it.