December 2008 Editorial Winner

Let's move on
By Wayne Trotter, The Countywide & Sun (Tecumseh)

We know there are some people in Tecumseh who are not happy with the City Council’s 3-2 decision to keep Jim Thompson as city manager. We understand the way they feel and why they feel that way. We’re sure some of them are on the blogs right now making their points. Some of them doubtlessly are writing things that ought never be said about a public servant or anybody else and that’s a shame.

Our message to these people is simple: Cool it. Mr. Thompson has been put on notice and you can bet he knows it. Save your hot comments for the unhappy day when some other unexpected and unfortunate thing happens in city government.

And if that day never comes, feel great about it. It will mean Tecumseh is beginning to make progress in a difficult environment made worse by an unfair system. Just as Mr. Thompson’s problems have been Tecumseh’s problems, Mr. Thompson’s successes are the community’s successes. His record to date may not deserve a lot of elbow room but he has to have enough to function and the people of Tecumseh need to give him that. If they don’t, all of us who live here will be losers. As Mayor John Collier emphasized when most members of the City Council took office two years ago, we are all in this together.

Let’s take a look at Monday night’s 3-2 vote and what it really means for this community and especially for its embattled city manager. He survived and that’s as far as it goes. Anytime an administrator stands one changed mind away from the street, he knows he has to perform and he knows what will happen if he doesn’t.

Furthermore, the new one-year contract that Mr. Thompson himself suggested tightens rather than loosens the council’s reins on its chief administrative officer. The old agreement foolishly gave the manager an unnecessary security blanket and unwarranted leverage because it staggered the terms of his two jobs and gave him a year longer with the Utility Authority than with the city itself. That meant if the council fired him, the same people sitting as the Tecumseh Utility Authority Board probably would have to buy him out. That was the council’s mistake and it should never have happened. It should never happen again, either.

Mr. Thompson has made some mistakes of his own and we strongly suspect that if he could do those things over, he would change some things. But to be absolutely fair, many of the untoward events that have happened at 114 N. Broadway over the past two years were rooted in two decades of insufficient funding dating to the failure of Tecumseh Square and immensely aggravated by this state’s unfair policy of allowing every penny of local sales tax money to remain at the point of sale no matter where the taxpayer lives.

Tecumseh dollars have paved streets and hired police officers in Shawnee, Oklahoma City, Seminole, Norman and other neighboring communities. Every citizen who ever bought something out of town they could have purchased at home bears part of the responsibility. Those chickens merely came home to roost after Jim Thompson was hired. The Great Computer Crash is an example of what happens when you keep letting things slide by not updating equipment, software and techniques. You’ll find things like that all over Tecumseh city government and Mr. Thompson can’t fix it all immediately because nobody has given him the authority to print money.

He actually has been trying to do something about those problems. You may not like the Buck Rogers metering system but once it’s made to work, it will be a step in the right direction. Yes, he aggravated the situation from time to time by saying things he should have kept to himself but he finally seems to be tempering that part of his personality. Should he have made sure a dry run was conducted on the compatibility between the new generation meters and the old generation computer system? Of course he should have and failure to get that right before the November bills were issued led to December delivery for most customers. That is his responsibility because he’s the man in charge. He now has to clean up that mess and he has to do it fairly.

On the positive side, we can assure you that Jim Thompson is and has been working hard to do something about the root cause of the trouble. He jumped in and saved the Downtown Streetscape project when it looked like all the work to get that done might go down the drain and downtown appears to be on the verge of an unprecedented resurgence. He has pressed hard to bring new retailers to town and those sensitive negotiations simply have to be behind the scenes. Tecumseh lost a discount store it probably should have gotten but it was Jim Thompson who made the first contact. We have a good idea that some of the efforts he and others are making are just about to begin to bear fruit. These things sometimes take years. Keep your fingers crossed.

Jim Thompson has a very difficult job. You probably wouldn’t want to take it yourself. Yes, we believe he has made some things worse by letting frustration get the best of him and saying and doing things he absolutely should not have said and done. But if anybody thinks this city manager’s heart is in the wrong place, they’re simply wrong. He can be snippy but he’s not stupid. This man knows that when he peeks at the hand he was dealt Monday night, he will not see four aces.

What the City Council really gave Jim Thompson was a vote of tolerance, not one of confidence. He’s lost a lot of the confidence he once enjoyed and if he’s to stay, he now has to earn it back. To the extent that he truly tries to do that, we will support him 100 percent and the people should as well. Everybody who lives in Tecumseh really is in this together.