Hell froze over last week when longtime political rivals Bill May and John Sower joined forces to oust Frankfort’s city manager.
If Keith Parker’s termination proves to be the final act for each on Frankfort’s political stage, call it the unlikeliest of endings for a pair of stalwarts who just four years ago waged a fierce battle for the mayoral seat, with May narrowly prevailing.
Among many lessons for a populace still scratching its head over the unexplained dismissal of a popular city manager by a lame-duck city commission is this: Municipal politics, unlike the national and state varieties, is less partisan and ideological than personal and anecdotal — and, as a result, far less predictable.
Who among us just two years ago could have envisioned a May-Sower alliance on filling a pothole, much less firing a city manager? Likewise, that Eric Whisman-Katrisha Waldridge ticket that many believed would usher in an era of revolutionary change at City Hall in 2018 has been shattered by open, cringeworthy hostilities between the two reformers.
Waldridge, the not always graceful but always provocative trailblazer who has garnered the most votes in the last two municipal elections, has upstaged her former ally so thoroughly that it’s hard to see a political way forward for Whisman. Unlike May and Sower, he’s on the November ballot and has more at stake than his legacy.
Citizens waiting for a bombshell to drop to rationalize Parker’s ouster shouldn’t hold their breath. Whisman did himself and our town a disservice by suggesting that one is forthcoming. A chapped grass contractor still smarting over bike trails in his neighborhood won’t impress voters who are demanding answers. Expect a few more “reasons” to trickle out in the weeks ahead, but none significant enough to cause a shift in public opinion about Parker or his adversaries.
In a municipal government where the city manager serves at the will and pleasure of politicians, Parker’s termination is another reminder that our form of government is unworkable when elected leaders want to be involved in the minutiae of City Hall operations — park usage rules, insurance policies, landscaping contracts and public relations strategies, to name just a few recent sources of conflict between Parker and those who fired him.
In the end, with the exception of Waldridge, the mayor and commissioners simply didn’t like Parker’s personality and management style. The dislike, which was increasingly mutual for Parker, manifest itself in any number of conflicts leading up to last week’s vote.
A mayor or commissioner candidate looking to separate himself or herself from the field on the November ballot should adopt a simple platform: No micromanagement of staff. No horse-trading with colleagues before commission meetings. No alliances, formal or informal. Think independently. Listen more than you talk. Make municipal governance bigger than the personalities of those who lead it.
Steve Stewart is publisher of The State Journal. His email address is email@example.com.