Phenix City Council voted 3-2, along racial lines, to reappoint City Manager Wallace Hunter on Monday during the first organizational meeting of the newly elected group.
After a discussion that lasted almost a half-hour, District 2 Councilman Johnnie Robinson, District 3 Councilman Arthur Day and Mayor Eddie Lowe voted to reappoint Hunter. Lowe, Day and Robinson are black, as is Hunter. At-Large Councilman Griff Gordy and District 1 Councilman Steve Bailey voted not to reappoint Hunter. They are white.
After the vote, Lowe said it should not be characterized as being along racial lines.
“For God’s sake don’t let people start talking about that black-white stuff,” he said. “This is one Phenix City. We’re all trying to strive to be the best. It’s going to be important to us that we hold this thing together. We’re not going to always agree.”
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In May 2014, council fired Hunter on a 3-2 vote, also along racial lines. Council then reinstated him two weeks later on another 3-2 decision when then-District 3 Councilman Jim Cannon changed his vote.
Bailey also denied that race played a prole in his vote. His concern was over the process and the fact that Hunter signed an agreement when he was rehired in 2014 to step down when the new council was seated.
“There was nothing about Mr. Hunter’s race in this,” Bailey said. “It had nothing to do with him being black and my being white.”
Lowe said later that if council members hear talk about the first major vote of the new group going along racial lines, they should “push back on that.”
“You don’t ask a person why they voted one way and you don’t tell a person how to vote,” Lowe said. “We just need to move on and if anyone tries to bring up some mud or dirt or scandal, you need to push back. It’s going to be out there.”
Ultimately, Lowe said the best reason to reappoint Hunter is because he is doing a good job, and he is one of the main reasons Phenix City is moving forward.
“Look at his body of work, the financial situation that we’ve had, and the city is in the best shape in its history. When you look at our reserves. When you look at how our debt has been reduced. When you look at how people actually want to come to Phenix City,” Lowe said. “With that said, I would hope that the progress doesn’t stop for Phenix City.”
At one point in the discussion, Bailey suggested reopening a hunt for a new city manager, but allowing Hunter to throw his hat back into the ring.
Lowe said he would consider that an insult to Hunter and doubted he would consider participating in such a scenario.
“I know myself, and I know I wouldn’t do it,” Lowe said. “There is no way I would do it.”
Hunter did not attend Monday’s 2 p.m. meeting, nor did he attend the swearing in ceremony for Gordy, Robinson and Bailey earlier in the day.