Much of Columbus Mayor Keith Gaskin’s first meeting dealt with normal operations of the city, but there were a couple of important tasks that were completed. First, the city hired Neel-Schaffer to complete the management of the city’s ongoing $6.5 million infrastructure improvement project. Former city project management firm J5 abandoned that project — and all work for the city — at the end of last month with very little notice.
Getting the project back on track and back on schedule is an important first step in the new administration.
The second important item of business handled Tuesday may also have a long-lasting effect.
At the mayor’s request, the council voted unanimously to hire local businessman Mark Alexander, Jr. as the city’s interim chief operating officer, a position that opened with the retirement of COO David Armstrong on June 30. The city council had compiled a short list of finalists for the position in early June but deferred making the appointment until newly elected officials were sworn into office on July 1. The COO search has been expanded to identify a larger pool of qualified candidates, and it is expected that Alexander will play an active role in finding the person for the job.
Alexander’s experience as special assistant to the president at East Mississippi Community College — along with his experience as a businessman — provides him with the tools necessary to ensure operations are effective and efficient as the city searches for a full-time COO.
The importance of the role of COO cannot be overestimated.
The COO should be the mayor’s “get-it-done” person, responsible for day-to-day operations of city government. They are typically involved in virtually every aspect of city governance, including the most important tasks of all: hiring good people, trusting them to do their jobs and providing guidance when needed.
A strong COO will be able to effectively coordinate between department heads, committees, etc. to help implement decisions made by council and instructions from the mayor.
It is for that reason that Alexander’s tenure as COO — expected to last three to six months — is far more important than you would typically expect for someone working on an interim basis.
The people of Columbus voted to set a new course and a new tone for the city. As a result, some change is inevitable. For those tasked with implementing the change, it can be difficult to implement; for those affected by the change, it can be difficult to swallow. Alexander will have a lot on his shoulders.
We hope he will have the latitude needed to help set a new tone, establish procedures and elevate the performance of those under him for the person who assumes the COO position on a permanent basis.
We commend Alexander for providing this important service to the city. As someone performing the role without pay and on an interim basis, Alexander should inspire confidence that the work he performs will be guided not by personal ambition, but by what’s best for the city.
It was a good first move by the new administration.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.