The Never Ending Meeting
One of the first thing's I noticed when I went to the podium to sign for an agenda was a copy of Robert's Rules of Order among the stack of papers that were before the city clerk. As a matter of fact, I tweeted a picture of the book and posted it on the Lumberton Informer facebook page. Seeing this book offered me some renewed hope that someone was at least attempting to follow some protocol regarding these meetings. But my renewed hope was quickly withdrawn as I looked at the lengthy agenda. The regular scheduled meeting was recessed on July 3, 2014 and was to reconvene on July 15, 2014. However, there were two "emergency" meetings called while the regular meeting was recessed and prior to the recessed meeting, the only agenda item that was left to discuss was the termination of police officers. Correct me if I'm wrong but a recessed meeting was a meeting that was not completed. In order to have additional items put onto the agenda for a recessed meeting, an amendment must be made to include the new agenda items. Unfortunately, the city clerk, the city attorney or the seasoned aldermen in attendance (Jay McGraw/Kent Crider) motioned for any amendment for the addition of new agenda items. As a matter of fact, they opened the meeting like it was a new meeting. So to bring some clarity to the matter, let me refer to the a segment in Robert's Rules of Order. I'm paraphrasing the information but I'm also trying to break it down in a manner that even those serving our city would understand.
Recess usually refers only to taking a break in the middle of a meeting. Recess, like other privileged and subsidiary motions, also has a form for use as an incidental main motion and has a few different rules if it’s made when nothing else is pending and the group wants to take a short break. A recess doesn’t close a meeting. When you reconvene from the recess, you take up business right where you left off.To resume business as usual, the chair calls the meeting back to order by saying something like, “The recess is ended, and the meeting will come to order.”
That’s it. You’re back — refreshed, reenergized, regrouped, and ready to proceed.
The motion to Recess, as a privileged motion.
Can’t interrupt a speaker who has the floor.
Must be seconded.
Is amendable with respect to the length of the recess, with no debate permitted on such an amendment.
Must have a majority vote.
Can’t be reconsidered.
So, there was no amendment offered add the additional 14 agenda items, but the board addressed them regardless of proper procedures. I will be forwarding the information to the Mississippi Ethics Commission for further investigation, but here's a review of what took place last night. The board opened bids for the 2014 AIP Rotating Beacon replacement project. Side note: I don't think the citizens of Lumberton are aware that the the City of Lumberton has to pay 5% of all the airport improvement grants. So, for every $100,000 grant that is received in airport grant money, they city must pay $5,000. Alderman Kent Crider has been one of the main advocates for the Gold Coast Skydivers Group and the other activities at the Lumberton Airport; saying that any money we receive from the skydivers is better than nothing. Well, that may be true, but since the tax payers are paying $5,000 for every $100,000 in grant money, I don't think $300/month rental fee for the Gold Coast Skydivers is sufficient to cover the expenditures paid out by the City of Lumberton; especially since there's trailers, satellites, gray water eating establishments firmly set up on the property and the City of Lumberton is going in the hole funding this pet project that's not even in Crider's ward. What type of deal does he have with the group? I am certain that the tens of thousands of dollars the City of Lumberton is spending for continued airport improvements could have been used for better services.......like police protection. Why is the City of Lumberton paying $18,000 for a beacon at the airport and not the Gold Coast Skydivers? The board says they have no other choice when it comes to the reduction of the police department, but if someone takes a closer look at the money that is being poured into the airport, I'm more than certain they will see that we're spending way too much money on the airport and not getting any profits in return.
The board took bids under advisement for the pending 2014 FAA-AIP grant application approval. Again, any monies received from these grants, will require a 5% payment from the City of Lumberton. There was an order to discuss the status of the land acquistion process for parcles 1 and 3 for the 2013 FAA-AIP Grant Application. The owner of parcel 1 wants to be paid double the appraised value of the land and the owner of parcel 3 does not want to sell her land and is willing to have the trees cleared in order to improve visibility for landing. Alderman Jay McGraw addressed the board and residents regarding a National Guard Raffle. He said Kathleen Bogle was on board with the project and she should have more details in her Sunday column. There was an order to discuss and pay unpaid claims. This matter was not approved at the July 3, 2014 meeting and it was met with opposition again. The board said they need to review the claims and will go over the items they will pay once they reconvene again on Thursday, July 17, 2014. It was noted by the city clerk, that the City of Lumberton paid Mississippi Power $5,000 but they still have an electric bill of $30,000 that must be paid. Mayor Winston encouraged the board to approve the unpaid claim docket because a small business is relying on payment from the City of Lumberton and without this payment, they would have to lay off some workers. I find it interesting that he's concerned about a group of workers, in another city getting laid off but have no qualms about the police officers he's putting out of work in the city where he's serving a mayor. Interesting.
The board opened and received proposals regarding Garbage Disposal Services for the City of Lumberton. The bids were as follows: Republic $12.72/household, Red River, $12.43/household and Waste Pro, $10.78/household and $12.88/household including garbage bin. Again, here's another opportunity to make cuts. They are going to outsource our garbage collection right after raising our water/sewer rates but don't have any plans of removing any personnel from the Public Works Department. Now don't get me wrong, I don't want to see anyone loose their jobs and some of the hardest working people in the Public Works Department are those on the garbage crew. But we can't keep adding on fees and reducing services without making cuts to all departments. It's clear that the mayor and board are only interested in cutting the police department. I guess Danny Davis was right, the WSOM department must take care of itself. It doesn't need any checks and balances, the board can continue to raise the water rates and the citizens can just deal with the fact that Main Street/Myrick Avenue are not mowed, water meters are not properly read, the cemeteries are not properly maintained, billing errors are not going to be corrected, two individuals get overtime while other departments are told they cannot get overtime pay and we can continue to fund the fuel/maintenance of two take home vehicles while the Chief of Police is restricted from using her take home car. But I guess they can't add an assessment onto tickets like they raise the water rates. Well, actually, they can but in this city of sin, police are not important. At least not in the eyes of our elected officials. There was an order to allow the mayor to sign the PCORI (Patient Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund Account) per the Affordable Care Act and pay the IRS the $24 due on the tax return. There was also an order to vote and discuss an audit for FYE 2013. I don't know where the board is going to get $32,000 to pay for an audit; especially since they were not willing to pay to keep a full police force. They voted to submit bids for the audit but before any audit is completed, the auditor will require the City of Lumberton to sign a letter of engagement, promising to pay half before the audit is performed and the other half once the audit is completed. The board then voted to close the meeting and go into executive session regarding personnel cuts in all departments of the City of Lumberton.
The board was in executive session for a lengthy amount of time and the only department head they called back into executive session was Chief Elsie Cowart. Afterwards, they exited and Mayor Winston instructed Merlene Wall, City Clerk, to read what actions were taken in executive session. She said the board decided to have Chief Cowart patrol and they will keep three full time officers. The board also voted to cut the hours of Court Clerk, Betty Speights, down to 20/week. Just like the rest of the audience, I was waiting to hear the cuts in the other departments but there were none and the meeting was recessed until Thursday, July 17, 2014. It seems that the other department heads are using old employees to finagle the books to keep their employees in tact. For instance, in the Public Works Department, Danny Davis is saying he's cut three employees from his budget. What Davis has failed to mention is two of the employees were terminated per his request (one during the last administration) and one employee retired. So how is he counting employees that were already taken from the budget as his budget cuts. If that's the case, there was a time when the police department had 10 full time police officers; so Cheif Cowart can say she already cut two officers from her department. Cuts made prior to the shortfall in the budget cannot be counted as cuts. But Merlene Wall is doing the same thing, she's counting the fact that the person that was performing janitorial services on a part time basis was terminated as a cut in her department. How in the AARP is this a cut from her department. The person that was cut was not serving as a clerk and as a matter of fact, the position that was cut, was once held by public works employee, Harry Wilkes, prior to his termination. So, the person that Merlene Wall had terminated would have been a cut from the public works department, not her department. But since our board members don't seem to have a capacity for thinking, they readily accept whatever the two white department heads say as truth. There was a person in the audience that said that Winston does not like women in authority. I don't think that's true, I think Winston has a problem with black women in authority; that's the reason he lied, saying he had shovel ready jobs in Lumberton to take the mayoral seat from Miriam R. Holder and that's why he's stripping Chief Cowart and Betty Speights of their roles in the police department. How can a board vote to cut a clerk that's actually bringing in money to the City of Lumberton. Betty Speights has collected almost $60,000 in ticket money but the board wants to cut her hours and not the hours of the other deputy clerk. If the hours of one clerk is cut, then the hours of the other clerk should be cut accordingly. We can't have one clerk, especially one with less senority, working 40/week but the more experienced clerk is now forced to work part time with 20/week. Last time I checked, everyone gets a bill and why should one get more favor over the other?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. We have another Stephanie and Sue working in city hall. Why can't we find ways to keep police officers but we can find a way to pay a deputy clerk comp time. This is the same thing Stephanie used to do with Sue. Would someone show me the policy that states that a deputy clerk can earn comp time. I would love to see that in the employee handbook and if it's not in the handbook, then why is it being permitted to happen. We can't pay for a police department, but we can find $1,200 to have someone come in a prepare a budget for the city clerk. Where's the logic in that? Why is there nothing being said about all the payemnts coming from the general fund. It's been said time and time again, that WSOM must sustain itself. So why in the lugnuts are charges made by the Public Works employees being paid from the general fund. Shouldn't those charges come from WSOM. The other day, a former Lumberton police officer asked Betty Speights why was the board trying to get rid of her position. In order to get clarity, Speights called Alderwoman at Large, Cora Rogers to find out what was going on. Rogers lied and pretended that she did not know what was going on but soon afterwards, called Cheif Cowart, allegedly, and fussed at her for having a leak in her department. But at last night's board meeting, it was clear that they were targeting Betty Speights. Unfortunately, Cora Rogers didn't have the integrity to admit that someone caught wind of their plan.
They say their hands are tied and there's nothing they can do but I beg to differ. This is the same budget that was in place when Stephanie Mullings was city clerk and they were able to pay the bills and keep the City of Lumberton staffed with enough officers to cover each shift. So, they can't blame it on a bad budget and they cannot blame it on the previous administration. Even with all the comp time Sue Guidry was getting, the city was still able to keep a full police department. The truth of the matter is, this board does not want a police department. The board voted to force Cheif Cowart to work a shift. In essence, by putting the chief on a shift and making the position of court clerk a part time position, the City of Lumberton will loose more money. The officers that were terminated, will not be here to testify in court for the tickets/cases they worked; the officers that are on duty will not be able to attend court because there will only be one officer patrolling the city, and how can they transport those held in county jail with one officer on duty. Another aspect this thoughtless board overlooked was how will the money be collected for fines with a part time court clerk? Are any other department heads being asked to work a shift? Is Danny being instructed to check the lift stations and drive the garbage truck on Tuesday and Wednesday? Is Merlene being instructed to go out and help read the water meters and turn off unpaid water accounts? No. But I thought they said all departments are being asked to take extraordinary steps to help see the city through these tough times. Oh, my bad, they're only requiring sacrafices regarding the safety of our officers and citizens. Another point of concern, we have two people in the public works department with take home trucks but the chief is being told she must leave her truck at city hall. Not only does she have a shortage of officers but if she must respond to an emergency, she does not have access to a vehicle with sirens to help her get to the scene faster. According to the Police Staffing Standards website, there should be
One officer per 1,000 residents.With Lumberton's population, we should have at least two officers on duty per shift. There's all this talk that Lumberton is paying more for it's police department that the City of Purvis. In case you forgot, the City of Purvis is the County seat and the Lamar County Sheriff's Department is on constant patrol in Purvis, which allow Purvis to spend less on police protection. I'm still trying to remain hopeful that our city would move forward but someone said it best, we have a minister, deacons and a first lady (how I loathe that term when used to refer to a pastor's wife) serving on the board and they talked a good talk to get into office but their actions are not matching their lip services. I know our police are being told to make brick without straw by the pharoah's of the board, but I am trusting in the Lord to touch the stony hearts of those serving on the board. Proverbs 29:2 tells us that "....when the wicked rule, the people groan..." We are groaning but hopefully this will teach us that just because a person is praying on the corner every weekend does not mean they're praying for us. We must choose more wisely when electing our representatives. This board had been in office for one year and they're proof that elections have consequences.