Review of July 1, 2014 Board Meeting: The Ten Minutes is the Past Edition
On June 30, 2014, the mayor and board were scheduled to hold a special called meeting but since the board wanted to hold a budget workshop in executive session, the meeting was adjourned because several alderpersons did not want to violate the Open Meetings Act. Needless to say, the very next day, the same alderpersons went into executive session and violated the laws they were so concerned about just the day before but I will talk more about that later. Recently, there were posts about the second train derailment and how that was actually newsworthy. I think the point that the author was attempting to make was the fact that the mayor is constantly trying to derail the City of Lumberton is not newsworthy. I am thankful that no one was hurt as a result of the passenger train derailing but I also know that we don't know how foolish a person is until they open their mouths or post random thoughts on Facebook. I think there's some misconception about reality. Whenever someone post something factual about Lumberton does not mean they are being negative; they're simply stating a truthful matter. Keep in mind, the subject matter may not be pleasing to hear or read but that does not negate that fact that it is a reality and it's newsworthy. Denying there are problems in Lumberton is equilivant to a person having a broken leg but denying they need to seek medical help.
Prior to the regularly scheduled board meeting, there was a public hearing to discuss and vote to raise water and sewer rates for the City of Lumberton, Ms as follows: $1.00 for water and $1.00 for sewer. There were a lot of objections from those in attendance but the board could not give any real justification for an increase that could possibly cause citizens to pay a higher rate for sewer services than they do for water. During the public hearing, Alderman Tommy Dukes was very threatening to several citizens that posed questions to the board members. One citizen wanted to know why the public works director wasn't in attendance for the hearing and his response was "Danny is 7 x 3." I, like most of the audience didn't know what he was talking about until he decided to elaborate on the statement. Dukes said that "Danny Davis is a grown man and the board cannot make him attend meetings. Really? You mean to tell me that a board cannot tell a department head to attend a meeting; especially when the agenda item is specific to their department. Now that's interesting. Another concerned citizen wanted to know why the storm sirens were no longer being used. I know that was not relevant to the public hearing but Dukes almost became unhinged when the question was posed. I don't know if he was more upset about the question or the fact that it was his sister asking the question. First he told her to "chill" and then he angrily told her that "ten minutes ago is the past." Soon afterwards, there was a brief argument between the two, in an open meeting, until Alderwoman Cora Rogers tapped Dukes on the arm and told him "not to do that here." Alderman Quincy Rogers addressed the citizen and told her that was something that needed to be addressed by the emergency management team at the Lamar County office and Mayor Winston told her that he would revisit the question during citizen's comments. Unfortunately, after the board exited executive session, they never got to the question the citizen asked. The board listed to more complaints about the water increase and despite the fact that the board was questioned about purchasing a $6,000 lawn mower, Crider repeatedly said that the WSOM department has plenty of money. The board said they needed to increase the rates so the water department could be self-sufficient, but if you claim a department has plenty of money it would seem moot to have such a significant increase. Another point residents of Lumberton may not have noticed is that fact that the board decreased the numbers of gallons allotted for minimum fees. At one point, the fees were based on 3,000 gallons; now the citizens are being charged extra for any usage over 2,000. By taking away 1,000 gallons, the board has ensured that every citizen would pay extra for water and sewer fees. There were several questions about the number of public works employees and how many actually worked in sewer department. There was also questions about would the increase be used to replace the old water and sewer lines. It was said that they are waiting for approval of a grant to start work on replacing the sewer lines. Later, during the actual meeting, all the alderpersons, with the exception of Alderman Quincy Rogers, voted to increase the water and sewer fees, despite the objections from the citizens present.
The first item on the agenda was to allow Mr. Charlie Bock of the MDEQ to address the board and mayor regarding any questions and to provide clarification on the proposed processing facility located in Lamar County for Rolloff Recycling Center. Mr. Bock was in the audience, but Mark Williams addressed the board and citizens. According to Mr. Williams, the center will be on ten acres but will only use 3 1/2 acres. Williams stated that the MDEQ is not an advocate for the facility they are simply evaluating the project based on environmental requirements. Williams also stated that, according to the permit application, the site will be used to bale waste; the waste is sold and there will be no disposal on the land, no land filling and no burning permitted on the site. Williams said the site will be a small, family operated facility and they would not be allowed to store waste for accumulative speculation purposes. With the permit on file, the City of Lumberton will not be able to use the site as a recycling center but if that's an option at a later date, the facility would need to submit an amendment to their current application. Williams said they received a lot of calls and letters regarding the site and they are available if anyone has any questions.
Gary Hickman presented the board with two appraisals for Parcels 1 and 3 for the airport. The appraisal totals are $3,600. The cost will be covered by an airport grant; there is no cost to the City of Lumberton. Next the department heads gave their reports. Chief Cowart reviewed the fines and assessments. She also reported that she and Court Clerk, Betty Speights have collected a significant amount of old fines with the software program they used on a trial basis. There was an email sent in from Louisiana commending Officers Deceill and Works on their professionalism and lifesaving efforts. The person was very appreciative and wanted the board to know how much they appreciated two of our officers and how they were great representatives of the City of Lumberton. Chief Cowart also thanked Officers Parker and Mallard for their quick response and extraordinary task of taking charge at the scene of the train derailment. There was a discussion about the four wheelers at the local parks. Alderwoman Cora Rogers and Alderman Jay McGraw want them banned at the local parks. Personally, I don't see the problem with them being used in certain areas of the parks. For instance, at the Fifth Avenue Park, the baseball field is not being used and the grass is not being cut on a regular basis. So, why would it be a problem for the to ride their four wheelers in that area; it would keep them off the road and I doubt it would cause much damage. Merlene Wall, city clerk, gave her report. There seems to be a problem with cut offs. Now this next statement may come as a surprise too many of my readers, but it seems that the friends and family water program wasn't all the work of former city clerk, Stephanie Mullings. It seems that others may have been responsible for water services not getting disconnected. Wall reported that there were at least 19 accounts on the turn off list that were never disconnected. Individuals came in to pay their bills and their water was supposed to be disconnected but for some reason, Roy never disconnected the service. Keep in mind, there were over 90 delinquent accounts but Roy decided not to disconnect 19 accounts; costing the city a loss because they are not able to charge reconnection fees for an account that was never turned off. Daniel Davis of the Public Works Department gave a brief report and advised the board that they did not need to pay $6,000 to C & H Systems for repairs to the contact chamber. There was some confusion about paying overtime for the mosquito spraying but the board informed Davis that the person can continue to work the additional hours to keep the citizens safe from mosquito bites. Abner Keith, Chief, Lumberton Fire Department, was a no show, again. It seems that Keith is too busy to attend the board meeting to give a report but when Jerry Walters was Fire Chief, he attended every meeting or made sure someone was there to report to the board.
There was an order to approve the Month of June, 2014, paid claims $128,005.04, unpaid claims $66,537.16 and payroll of $55,303.69. The motion was voted down. After the motion was voted down, Mayor Winston asked them to review their votes and they motioned and opened the agenda item again for discussion and it was revealed that the City of Lumberton is behind on their payments to Mississippi Power in the amount of $20,000. Winston advised the clerk to contact Mississippi Power to see what we could "put something on it." They discussed the matter for a while and I was still uncertain if the measure passed or failed after they were asked the review their votes. There was a motion to discuss the budge process using the Mississippi Audit and Accounting Guide on July 3, 2014 at 2:30-5:00 p.m. The measure passed. There was a measure to approve the payment of $2050 to D & D Repairs for repairs to the police vehicles. The board made a decision to purchase a sign for the Fifth Avenue Park per the grant guidelines. The board then voted to go into executive session. Alderman Quincy Rogers asked why was there a need to go into executive session since they didn't have anything to discuss. His plea for clarity was left unanswered and the board voted to go into executive session. A few minutes later, Mayor Winston came out and told the public that they were discussing personnel issues. The department heads that were sitting in the audience looked confused and Winston went back into the back room.
After being in executive session for over an hour, city attorney Lindsey Carter came out the room and called for Chief Elsie Cowart. They stayed in the room for about 15-20 minutes and when the chief exited the room, she did not look pleased. A few minutes later, they called Daniel Davis into executive session. Davis was in the room for almost 20 minutes as well and when he exited, he did not look pleased and he actually left the building. The board then returned to the podium and the city attorney headed for the back door. Winston asked him to stay to make sure he got everything right and he announced that the board decided to cut the police department down to three officers, the part time workers in public works will have their hours cut and the deputy clerks will have their hours cut from 40/week to 35/week. This sent shock waves across the audience. Thankfully, former mayor, Miriam R. Holder was in attendance because they were not going to inform the public of how they voted. Holder informed them of the law and they read the votes: Alderman Jay McGraw, Alderman Kent Crider and Alderman Tommy Dukes voted for the slashing of the police department; Alderwoman Cora Rogers abstained which means her vote goes with the majority and Alderman Quincy Rogers voted no on the proposed slash. The board told Chief Cowart that she had to select the three officers she wanted to keep. Later it was discovered, that the board also voted to take away the Tahoe that is used by Chief Cowart but this matter was not relayed to the public. Just the day before, several alderpersons were uneasy about discussing these cuts behind closed doors but they digressed at this meeting and went behind closed doors to delegate what actions they were requiring of the board. The board made the decision about what actions were to be taken and this is a violation of their duties and responsibilities. The authority of the board of aldermen is legislative and is executed by a vote within a legally called meeting. No member of the board of aldermen shall give orders to any employee or subordinate of a municipality other than the alderman's personal staff. *2 [Emphasis added]. This amendment clearly establishes what the Attorney General has consistently held by opinion.
There was so many missteps taken to get rid of the police department. One audience member told Winston that he finally got what he wanted; to get rid of the police department. Winston said he never talked to anyone on the County level about the police department and before he could take his next breath, he said he talked to Danny Rigel about giving them an officer to help patrol Lumberton. So, if you didn't plan on cutting the police department, why are you talking the Lamar County Sheriff prior to the meeting about needing assistance because of cuts in the department? He's a tip I would like to share, if you tell the truth, you don't need a good memory. Also, the public was misinformed about the cuts. In a town full of elderly and/or widows, they want to have a police department with one officer per shift. No part time officers and the promise that the County will allow one officer to assist in the patrol of Lumberton. What time will this officer patrol? Will he be on a set schedule? The board's decision to cut our police department is jeopardizing the live of the officers on duty as well as the safety and well being of those that reside in Lumberton. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the only people that do not want law and order are criminals. The board recessed the meeting and it will resume Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 2:30 p.m. I will be at that meeting because this is not acceptable. We cannot live peaceably without a full police department. It's time to take a stand; enough is enough. We are still in under the budget that was approved for 2014. Therefore, we should have the funds to keep all our officers until the next budget is approved. They found money to spend thousands to attend the MML, and to pay for a $6,000 lawn mower; why not find ways to keep the streets of Lumberton safer. Merlene Wall, Jay McGraw and Cora Rogers gave up their insurance coverage to help balance the budget (Quincy Rogers opted out of insurance some years ago) but the others, Crider, Winston and Dukes are not willing to give up anything to try to help the City of Lumberton but they want to take away the livelihood of those that put their lives on the line every day, protecting the citizens of Lumberton. Interesting. I will blog later after I attend the meeting.