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Birney Imes: An open letter to Mayor Smith


Mayor Robert Smith speaking at an event in November 2012.

Mayor Robert Smith speaking at an event in November 2012. Photo by: File photo


Birney Imes



Mr. Mayor, do you have any idea what effect your actions Wednesday have had on the people of Columbus? 


You are the face of Columbus. Friday your face appeared in the state's largest newspaper under a headline proclaiming you had given yourself a $10,000 raise after a discussion of the city's budget deficit. 


Everywhere I've gone these past three days people have been shaking their heads in disbelief and saying things like: 


"One time I was proud to have him as mayor." 


"He has been a disappointment."  


"Columbus deserves better than the self-serving leadership we have." 


"Robert is not invincible; this is not his town alone." 


A banker told me Friday high-end houses are selling at an alarming discount. If people could get a decent price for their house, he said, they would sell and move to the county ... or simply away. Many have already voted with their feet. 


A realtor later echoed the words of the banker. "I don't think Robert understands or even cares," he said. He was tapping his temple with his finger and frowning as he talked. 


Robert, no one is saying you don't, as you put it, "work your butt off from sun up to sun down." Yet to vote yourself a pay raise (with the help of Councilmen Mickens, Taylor and Turner) at the end of dire budget discussions where 10 police and fire department positions were cut signals a jaw-dropping disregard for the welfare for the community you are charged with leading. 


You proclaimed you were committing no ethics violations voting yourself a raise. It may be legal. Is it ethical? No it is not. 


The banker, who supported you in both elections, said more than one person has told him, "You don't know the real Robert Smith." 


Is this the real Robert Smith we're seeing now, this "to hell with y'all, I'm getting mine" attitude? 


The J5 arrangement, another "to hell with y'all" action, is still fresh in people's memory even though it happened more than a year ago. 


Put unqualified friends and political cronies on boards and see where that gets us. Incompetence is a luxury no community can afford.  


Those lovely "Welcome to Columbus" signs are nice to behold, but stray a block away from the main drag and the scenery changes rather dramatically. 


Take, for instance, the southwest corner of the intersection of College and Eighth Street South. I drive past it each day and most of the congregation of the Catholic Church walk past it each Sunday. The lawyer, who has a law office on that corner just shakes her head when asked if she's called the city about it. Multiple times. 


Look at the cracked sidewalks W students walking from campus to town must navigate. A resident of the Riverhill area was so alarmed by a crater-sized pothole near his home, he put a tree limb in it as a warning. That's one little corner of town. All over Columbus there are needs. 


"A $10,000 raise isn't going to break the city," you say. 


It can, though, go a long way toward breaking the spirit of the city. 


There is no other way to put it: Mayor Smith, you were wrong.  


This council had the good sense to rescind an ill-advised raise it awarded itself immediately after taking office. I think the city would breathe a sign of relief were you to do likewise. 



Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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