'Doing right thing' ends Jones stalemate

Staff Writer

A change of heart among selectmen fills two critical vacancies in West Point city government. And while some long-time city observers mumbled about "politics making strange bedfellows," those at the center of Tuesday night's votes say it boiled down to what was best for the city.

After withholding support for almost six months, selectmen voted 3-2 to reappoint Randy Jones as chief administrative officer, a position he's held since 2008. Selectmen followed that by naming pastor Eddie Longstreet interim city clerk to serve temporarily after veteran City Clerk and Human Resources Director Delores Doss retires at the end of December.

"Let me tell you, I don't always agree with what Randy (Jones) does, but I can't let this be personal, I can't let my personal feelings get in the way. I've got to be bigger than that," Ward 5 Selectman Jasper Pittman said.

Pittman joined Ward 2's William Binder and Ward 4's Keith McBrayer in voting for Jones and Longstreet.

Pittman was elected to the board last summer. He served one term starting in 2009 but was unseated in 2013 before returning this summer. During his first term, Pittman voted to fire Jones. And this year, Longstreet helped on Pittman's campaign.

But instead of a vote swap, as some have suggested, Pittman said his change of heart was a mixture of input from the community and his own learning curve during the years.

"In talking to my constituents and community leaders, both black and white, people said we needed Randy in there, especially with all the economic development things we've got going on. We can't leave Mayor Robbie (Robinson) sitting up there by himself. Leaving the city without the kind of experience we need right now would have done the citizens a disservice," Pittman stated.

After taking office in July, selectmen balked at renaming Jones. By law, they would have had to take action by January. That pressure was mounting, Pittman and McBrayer said.

And late last month, selectmen failed to name a deputy CAO, a fact also not lost on the two.

"The deputy CAO position still is out there and if we all can get together and agree on something there, that's fine for down the road. But right now, it was best to put Randy's experience back in there. That was the most important thing to moving the city forward," Pittman explained.

In last month's vote on the deputy CAO, Pittman tried to name Longstreet but didn't get a second. McBrayer said time and the position contributed to his support now for Longstreet.

"Eddie is a good guy, he knows the community. Given the responsibilities and the timing, I felt like he'd be a good person who could come in right away and hold things down while we advertise for a permanent clerk and see what we are going to do with all the duties," McBrayer said.

"I think a majority realized it was the bottom of the ninth and we had to do something. There is a better understanding of all the things. If we didn't, we really would have been under the gun in January. We just didn't need that with everything we've got going on in economic development and other places," McBrayer said.

Longstreet will start Jan. 1. Selectmen will meet sometime by early January to set a salary. City leaders have talked privately about splitting up Doss' responsibilities, putting the city clerk's job in the hands of one person and human resources and payroll under someone else.

Getting Jones in place and an interim clerk will allow Selectmen time to compose their thoughts and advertise for permanent hires.

"We've got some time now. If we can all agree on what we want to do, then we can go forward," Pittman said of the options they have.