COLUMBIA, 2/28/10 (Beat Byte) -- A "heated discussion" among Columbia City Council members about whether to seat city manager Bill Watkins (left, Maneater photo) or the Mayor at the center of the council's semi-circular meeting table -- where Watkins and other city managers have traditionally positioned themselves -- has become Council Bill R50-10, which lets the Mayor make the decision.
Questions about changing the long-standing seating arrangement occurred after council members touring the new council chambers spotted name placards once again placing Mr. Watkins at the center of the new council table, multiple sources tell the Heart Beat.
A similar discussion last year saw Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher remove himself from the center school board table seat.
"The superintendent’s central position at the legislative table raises an important question: Is the school board a step up in the chain of command, in charge of the superintendent, or not?" wrote Columbia resident Ken Green in an October 2008 Columbia Daily Tribune editorial. Green noted the strong psychological impact of placing a non-voting, paid chief executive in the center of an all-volunteer legislative body, precisely the same situation that faces the Columbia City Council.
School board member Ines Segert agreed: Where the superintendent sits does influence meetings, the Tribune reported. "It’s important that board members lead the discussion," she explained. After an informal poll of school board members concurred, school board president Jan Mees replaced the superintendent at the center of the legislative table during Dr. Belcher's first meeting in August.
Fretting about a power-sharing arrangement that has proven both lopsided and embarassing over the past year, Columbia City Council members eager to see the same arrangement started a similar discussion.
Council members suggested allowing the Mayor to decide the seating arrangement during an informal gathering at the new city hall building when a full quorum was allegedly present, but not allowed to decide policy for Sunshine Law requirements.
The discussion apparently heated up, sources say, when it became clear Mr. Watkins would not move from the center of the table voluntarily. Superintendent Belcher said his seating "was not an issue" and moved aside without a formal board policy vote.
To formalize the Mayor's role in making the decision, Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala introduced the idea at the Council's Feb. 15 meeting. It now appears on the Monday, March 1 council meeting agenda under "New Business."