Editorial: Landis should seek manager with no prior ties to town

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The moment a State Bureau of Investigation probe into embezzlement allegations began, Landis’ chief issue in its 2019 municipal elections became clear.

Town residents had long suspected wrongdoing, perhaps criminal, but documents released by the town showing severely inflated compensation numbers for the former Manager Reed Linn and Finance Officer Ginger Gibson caught many by surprise.

Now, town government is sorely in need of reform, residents say. And the details released in the weeks and months since the investigation’s start have only added credibility to those claims.

If they choose to run for re-election, the three incumbents whose terms end this year — Mayor Mike Mahaley, Mayor Pro Tem Tommy Garver and Alderman Seth Moore — will be forced to defend their actions or lack thereof.

Mahaley will have an especially tough time defending his record, as he vocally expressed support for Linn’s time as manager after the SBI investigation started. Mahaley openly displayed contempt for those simply seeking answers, too.

Importantly, charges have not been filed. However, tax data released by the town showing exorbitant and unapproved compensation figures for Linn and Gibson provide enough ammunition for reformers to justify change even if no criminal wrongdoing is found.

The good news is that there’s an immediate step for incumbents to turn Landis toward efficient and effective government before November — hiring an outside town manager. It’s something residents seeking reform favor. There’s no reason why incumbents shouldn’t feel the same.

At a minimum, it would give residents, voters and taxpayers some confidence in the incumbent town board (anything is better than zero).

A fresh set of eyes will be beneficial for town finances and general oversight of staff, too. An outside manager can serve as a neutral arbiter of budget requests and, once and for all, find answers to questions about water and sewer rates.

The Landis Board of Aldermen must avoid a situation similar to Spencer — where there’s clearly a lack of trust between the manager and board — and instead seek one where there’s healthy, professional disagreement at times and regular, cursory reviews of finances by board members.

Incumbents won’t avoid backlash from the ongoing investigation, but they can make the right decision for the town’s future by looking for a manager with no prior ties to Landis.