Derided by establishment critics, former Councilman wins his case in the end
COLUMBIA, 7/22/11 (Beat Byte) -- "An unneeded distraction." "A silly proposition." "A tempest in a teapot."
That's how Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Hank Waters described former Third Ward Columbia City Councilman Karl Skala's request that the Columbia city manager move from his long-occupied center seat at the Council table and join other staff members at the side.
But with new Columbia city manager Mike Matthes sitting to the side at the Council meeting table, Mayor Bob McDavid, M.D. in the center seat, and other Council members seated according to seniority, Skala (left) has been vindicated over the controversial suggestion, which partly cost him the 2010 election because opponents painted it as an inappropriate power grab.
"Prior to his election, Bob McDavid agreed with my suggestion that the City Council ought to be centered on the dais, and that the city manager ought to be seated to the side," Skala -- who suggested the changes for both symbolic and practical reasons -- told the Heart Beat.
In an editorial entitled Seat Shuffle, Waters wrote that "Skala and what appears to be a tiny little cadre of like-minded critics contend the manager’s position on the dais indicates an equal position of power with the council. Current City Manager Bill Watkins says he doesn’t care where he sits; he has more important things to worry about."
Yet despite a Council vote that would have quelled the controversy had he moved over a couple of seats, Watkins stayed center stage.
"For his part, Skala repeats an interesting and worrisome tactic," Waters opined. "Regarding the merit of his suggestions, let us allow for thoughtful motive while putting down these ideas as misbegotten efforts to change properly working arrangements that have stood the test of time."
But like the Columbia Board of Education, the old arrangement flunked the test of time. A similar seating shuffle at Columbia Public Schools occurred shortly after Chris Belcher, Ph.D. assumed the role of superintendent and sat to the side of Board members, not at the center, a position previous superintendents had long occupied.
That seating move's most vocal advocate, book store owner Ken Green, also took heat for his position. But like Skala, Green ended the controversy in the cat bird seat.