The Bayou La Batre City Council officially accepted the resignation of Mayor Brett Dungan during a special-called meeting today, and though the position was declared vacant, the Council didn’t appear to be in a great hurry to fill it.
Dungan announced his resignation July 27 and according to state law, the council has 60 days to appoint a new mayor, which can come from the council’s own ranks or from within the community.
To fulfill the basic duties of mayor, Council President Annette Johnson was unanimously appointed as a temporary “hiring authority,” but the Council gave no firm indication of its plans to permanently replace Dungan.
As she did immediately after Dungan’s resignation, Johnson said she wants to the spare the city the expense of a special called election — again mentioning that she’d like to see an appointment come from the Council. However, she said councilmembers have “a lot of things to think and pray on” before a replacement can be appointed.
“Mayor Dungan was a great visionary, but yet again, you have to build a cohesiveness with the Council,” Johnson said. “That’s what we want to maintain, a very strong Council. We have great voices here and a great set of councilmembers who are really prepared to work hard. We truly believe we can work together as a team.”
Before he announced his resignation, Dungan’s relationship with the Council was anything but cohesive. A recent schism between him and a majority of the Council led to Dungan’s arrest, a civil lawsuit and a series of tense meetings that at one point caused the city to halt almost all of its expenditures.
Johnson, who chose to file harassment charges against Dungan in May, was painted by some as having an ulterior motive. But Johnson maintains she’s only interested in what’s best for the citizens of Bayou La Batre.As for Dungan’s replacement, several in the audience Wednesday expressed an opinion on who should fill the void until the general election scheduled August 2016. Johnson’s name was among those brought up.
“If the Council feels that’s the right decision, I’ll be glad to do that, but I’m not jumping out there politically,” Johnson said of possibly being appointed. “I’ll support (the Council) in whatever they choose, as long it’s someone I believe will be an asset to the city, and as long as we don’t have to go to the governor and be forced into an election process twice in one year.”
Johnson briefly ran against Dungan for mayor after former Mayor Stan Wright was removed from office for a corruption conviction in 2012, but eventually withdrew from her campaign to support Dungan.
Others, including Councilwoman Ida Coleman, suggested that the politically neutral Terry Downey would be an appropriate replacement for Dungan. From the audience, Bayou La Batre resident Mary Johansen said Downey has been supported by “a group” within the community for some time.
Downey, who has regularly attended meetings for months, told Lagniappe he would be willing to serve if he was appointed by the Council.
“If it goes that route, I’ll take it and do the best I can,” Downey said. “I want people to know that I’m serious about helping the Bayou. I was raised here, my mother taught school here and we’re not playing games.”
Downey, whose wife Debbie has previously served on the City Council, also said if he was appointed he wouldn’t take a salary for six months to help with the city’s current budget shortfall.
While addressing the council, Johansen also asked that the current council members not seek to replace Dungan as to avoid a situation similar to what happened after Wright’s conviction.
At the time, several councilors sought to be appointed to fill Wright’s position, which ultimately made them unable to reach a majority consensus. After Gov. Robert Bentley declined to appoint someone to the position, a special election was held that resulted in Dungan taking office in 2013.
“Everybody jumped into the mix. They all wanted to be mayor, but no one stopped and asked, ‘Wait a minute, what is the best for our city at this moment?” Johansen said. “When the next election comes, put everybody’s name on the ballot who wants to run. Then it will be the citizen’s choice and not the Council’s.”
After the meeting, Johnson said there hadn’t been any discussion on how appointing a replacement for Dungan will be handled, but she did say there was no need to rush to a “rash decision” with a 60-day window still before the Council.