By Bill Robinson
At the conclusion of Tuesday's city commission meeting, Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes praised the two city commissioners who failed to win re-election.
Jason Morgan and Richard Thomas were swept into office in the 2010 general election with Barnes and City Commissioner Donna Baird. Commissioner Robert Blythe was the only commission member returned that year.
While Baird and Blythe were re-elected Nov. 6, finishing second and third, respectively, Morgan came in fifth and Thomas was eighth. Laura Morgan and Jim Newby came in first and fourth, respectively, and will join the commission in January.
Without the help of Morgan and Thomas, the mayor said, city government could not have been restored to the strong position it finds itself in today.
Barnes said he recalled “very plainly” in mid-January 2011, shortly after he and the current commission took office, sitting in the City Manager Jimmy Howard's office discussing whether the city would need to borrow money to meet its payroll and bond payment obligations.
“The city was in dire straits,” the mayor said.
However, with the help of the four commissioners and the city manager, the city in less than two years has managed to build a reserve of $6 million and an operational fund balance of nearly $3 million, Barnes said. No longer are there concerns about the city's cash flow or day-to-day operation, he added.
The mayor congratulated the two new members who will be joining the commission but asked that everyone remember the city's financial condition of two years earlier and what was required to turn it around.
“I look forward to working with everybody,” Barnes said, but he cautioned that “gridlock is the worse thing that could happen.”
“It saddens me that we are losing two members of this commission that were a tremendous support to it,” the mayor said. “These are not 'yes' people,” he said of Morgan, Thomas and their colleagues.
A log of dialogue took place and disagreements were aired before decisions were made in the course of righting the city's ship, Barnes said. However, the members remained friends despite their disagreements, he said.
Serving on the commission is a thankless job, Barnes said, but it is rewarding for those who serve because “we can see the direction in which we're taking this city.”
None of the commissioners are self centered, the mayor said.
“It's not about them. It's about our community,” he said of their service.
The mayor, commissioners, city manager, city attorney and city clerk become like a family, Barnes said. “And families don't always agree. But, we had a job to do, and we did it. And I'm so proud of (Morgan and Thomas). When they leave office, they can go with their heads held high. They did the job they were elected to do.”