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In politics, it's easy to get into hot water, especially when your constituents are under an order to boil it.

That's been the situation in Mansfield, a town of about 1,100 people straddling the boundary of Scott and Sebastian counties about 25 miles south of Fort Smith. The Arkansas Department of Health's boil order for the town was lifted Dec. 29, but that was 24 days after storm damage to the roof of a water storage tank led to concerns about contamination.

What’s the point?

Differences over day-to-day management decisions shouldn’t lead members of a City Council to strip an elected mayor of his powers.

More than three weeks of boiling water sets the temperature of local politics to rising, too.

On Dec. 28, the Mansfield City Council attempted to strip certain powers from the mayor, Larry Austin, amid frustrations over the lack of drinkable water for the town's residents and businesses. Some townsfolk have called for the mayor to resign. The six members of the City Council voted to amend the town's personnel policy handbook to remove duties assigned to the mayor and turn them over to the recorder/treasurer, Becky Walker. Walker said she was ready to take over. City Attorney Matt Ketcham cited a state statute that lists the recorder/treasurer as the first person to take over "if the mayor is unable to perform the duties of the office or cannot be located."

It should come as no surprise that Mayor Austin, who has been in office since 2015, vetoed the change.

It would also come as no surprise that aggravation with the mayor probably pre-dates the water difficulties. The latest matter appears to have just been the issue that made tensions boil over.

Still, removing the powers of office from a man the citizens elected is serious business. It's a nuclear option that attempts to undo the democratic process. Certainly, if a mayor of some town was charged with a crime that created a dangerous situation, quick action would be necessary. But ripping powers away as a political move because City Council members don't think he's moving fast enough or doing exactly what they believe he should be doing? The answer to that is for someone to run against the mayor at the next opportunity and for the public to make that decision.

The City Council was scheduled to meet last night in a special meeting after this writing, with a lot of discussion about the water situation scheduled. Let's hope the focus wasn't on dismantling the powers of the city's elected executive officer. Once a town decides a coup détat is the proper response to political disagreements, its future will start circling the drain pretty quickly.

Commentary on 01/05/2018

Print Headline: Boiling over

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