Decatur’s mayor and City Council were sworn in Monday, and in the new council's first act of business it selected a newcomer over 24-year Councilman Billy Jackson as council president.
The council voted 4-1 to name District 5’s Jacob Ladner as its president and to select District 3’s Carlton McMasters as president pro tem. Joining them on the council are District 1’s Jackson, District 2's Kyle Pike and District 4’s Hunter Pepper, who at 18 is the city’s youngest ever councilman. Mayor Tab Bowling also took the oath for a second straight term.
The mayor, council and school board, sworn in after the Aug. 25 municipal election and an Oct. 6 runoff for Bowling, serve a four-year term.
Jackson is beginning a record seventh term, surpassing Jack Allen’s six terms, while the other councilmen are rookies. Jackson, the only minority member, is also the oldest at 57. He’s been council president once, from 2004-2008.
And, once again, Jackson refused to pose for the traditional group photo of the newly elected. He was also the lone negative vote when the rest of the council voted to let selected members serve one year as council president.
“It was expected,” Jackson said. “Secrets don’t last long in Decatur.
“People can say they’re doing things for the betterment of the community but when it's going to take them two years to get up to speed and they’ve got a guy here with 24 years of experience (on the council), no one in their right mind would think this is best our city.”
Jackson said he didn’t campaign for it but the council presidency is the most important position in Decatur's mayor-council form of government.
“The council president sets the tone. Someone with no experience can't come and know how to set that tone. That’s why we’ve been drifting as a city since 2008,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he was not “bypassed because of lack of experience, lack of knowledge or lack of education. The big question is why would we move in a direction that will slow our growth?”
Pike, McMasters and Pepper said they voted for Ladner because they’re impressed with his leadership abilities.
“This wasn’t about Mr. Jackson,” said Pike, who nominated Ladner. “This was about Jacob Ladner and his leadership, vision and temperament to serve as council president.”
McMasters said Ladner “is young, charismatic and he’s got vision.”
Ladner said he didn’t campaign to lead the council and was honored when Pike asked him a few weeks ago if he would accept the nomination.
Ladner said he realizes he’s new and he will need to depend on Jackson for guidance and advice.
“Billy is really important to this council,” Ladner said. “I will definitely lean on him.”
Bowling said he is excited to work with the new council. He said the key to getting Jackson and the rest of the council working together is “communication. We’ve got to talk.”