Review of August 5, 2014 Board Meeting
For those of you that texted and voiced your concerns for my safety regarding Mayor Ben Winston and his family, let me put your minds at ease. I was told that I should be careful because Ben is the mayor and when he was an alderman, he went to the mayor's house and attacked him. Rest assured, if anyone comes to my home for that purpose, I'm inviting them in and I will blog the rest once it happens. Fear is of the enemy and I will not be fearful of anyone because I blog the truth and for the record, just because I filed charges against someone that threatened me in the past does not mean I'm fearful. For the record, I'm not about to be in the streets fighting anyone, young or old but rest assured, I am protected; spritually and naturally. Now, for the review of the regular scheduled board meeting.
Alderwoman at Large Cora Rogers was not in attendance. The first agenda item was to allow Mr. Mike Orgeron to address the board. Mr. Orgeron demanded the city officials to provide him with water and sewer services since his property (located out by Wellstown) is within the city limits of Lumberton. Mayor Winston sympathized with Mr. Orgeron and told him that the city was not fiscally able to provide those services. Mr. Orgeron then went on a tirade about how he purchase gas in Lumberton everytime he visits and he always hire locally when getting help clearing his property. Mr. Orgeron then gave the city the ultimatum that if they did not provide him with the services, he should be exempt from paying city taxes. Kent Crider then informed Mr. Orgeron that he would need to file paperwork in court to have the county consider unincorporating his property. After a lengthy back and forth, Jay McGraw asked the land owner if he was the land purchased as a part of a sub-divison or as a parcel. Mr. Orgeron then truthfully admitted that he was told, prior to purchase, that the land did not have any connections for water and sewer. So, it seems that Mr. Orgeron will be investing in a well.
The next order of business was to discuss the status of land acquisitions for parcels 1 and 3 for the airport. The owner of parcel 1 want more than the appraised value of $56,700, so the board is looking into gaining the land via eminent domain. Prior to taking this step, the board is looking to offer the greedy landowner the appraised cost of the land plus the cost of filing the case. Which means the board will be offering the land owner $81,000 in hopes that he will accept the offer. The land owner wants to sell the city the land for $121,000. It amazes me that the board does not see a problem with pumping this amount of money into an airport that's generating $8,500/year in rental fees from Gold Coast Skydivers. I guess it's a win win for Gold Cost. In addition to the inflated land prices, the board also voted to pay $118,000 to replace the broken beacon at the airport. Again, am I the only one that sees a problem with the city spending this type of money for an airport that's not profiting the city?
The department heads gave their reports. The chief warned people of the increase in crimes and advised citizens not to leave any valuables on the seats of their cars. Waste Pro took over garbage collection but the board was not able to give any documentation as to how this was saving the city money, especially since they were not letting any public works employees go due to their jobs being outsourced. I guess they will find something for them to do. Hopefully, there will be better maintenance of the grass cutting; especially at the cemetaries in Love's Addition and Big Quarters. Once again, the fire chief did not show up to give a report of the Lumberton Volunteer Fire Department and from what I can tell, there's still an active campaign by Kent Crider to keep former fire chief, Jerry Walters, and other qualified fire fighters from joining the volunteer fire department. I though the point was to have as many qualified participants as possible, but safety is not a priority with the board or mayor.
The board approved the expenditures for the month of July; paid claims $58,679.65, $104,707.73 unpaid claims and $61,122.65 payroll. The board is looking to purchase some electronic water meters for the city of Lumberton. This move will eliminate the need for several workers when it comes time to read the meters. The meters will emit an electronic signal and one person can drive around and gather the readings on a laptop. I'm sure Lumberton will find a way to fill a truck full of employees to operate one laptop. It is said that this new meter will pay for itself in 15 years, but during those 15 years, the cost of this new system will be passed on to who. You guessed it, the citizens of Lumberton. They're looking for more and more ways to free up work for the public works employees, but they don't have a minute plan about the jobs these workers will be performing once their old job descriptions are no longer applicable.
Now, this is where the meeting became interesting. I have a video of what transpired and will post it later since some like to think my blog is akin to a fiction novel. Anywho. There was a motion to discuss and vote to allow Chief Cowart to hire one additional police officer. Jay McGraw and Quincy Rogers were in favor of hiring another officer while Kent Crider opposed because of a lack of money and Tommy Dukes opposed because he said the City of Lumberton is no different than it was 25 years ago and we don't need more than three police officers. Well, when the assault the mayor's nephew allegedly perpetrated on his ex-girlfriend and baby says a lot has changed. Now, Lumberton is a code charter municipality and the only power a mayor has is the veto and the vote in the event of a tie. Mayor Ben Winston refused to break the tie, which is against the law, and said he will either wait until Cora Rogers return or convince someone to change their vote. What a grand display of cowardice. Prior to the vote, he went on about how he was in support of hiring another officer, but when it came time to put his money where his mouth was, he craw-fished and went to the next agenda item which was to approve the purchase of the mosquito spray for the City of Lumberton at the cost of $1,400. The motion was approved.
The board voted to surplus three police cars, allow Danny Davis to have a petty cash account in the amount of $100, and to allow Chief Cowart to attend the Mississippi Municipal Court Clerks Class September 10-12, 2014 (this is a mandatory class). In another effort to bilk the citizens of Lumberton of more money, the board wants to review the limb pick up ordinance. Based on my thinking, the dump truck was paid via the increasingly inflated garbage/sewer rates, so one would think, as a courtesy, since it cost the city nothing to dump limbs, they would pick up the limbs that are clustered throughout the city. Especially since the two that once picked up garbage, no longer have four days of the week occupied with trash pick ups. Just my warped way of thinking, but the board will be holding a public hearing to determine how much they will charge for the pick up of the limbs and how they will enforce charges for those that are not in compliance with the ordinance.
There were citizen comments and the board did not go into executive session. I was looking forward to hearing how they were going to explain why they locked the records rooms and are now using it to hold executive session but I guess that will have to wait until the next meeting. The minutes from March, April, May, June and July are still not available for review by the public; despite the fact that they're supposed to be available 30 days after the minutes are approved. I sit at meeting after meeting, hoping things would change but it seems that our city is becoming a hopeless case. We have three, well four if you count the mayor, elected officials that are familiar with the rules governing a code charter municipality and three on the podium that are basically clueless. Why are laws continually broken and no one bothers to speak out. This month, Jay McGraw must have popped a molly because all his pistons were firing at the board meeting. Unfortunately, his level of attentiveness is not reliable. It seems that he's at his wit's end trying to get the board and the city clerk to see the big picture but swimming against the current can tire you out. Kent Crider is another seasoned elected official but there's apparently a disconnect with what's law and what he comprehends as law. When it comes to throwing money at the fire department, airport and the public works department, he's all in, but once you mention the police department and public safety, he turns redder that Rudolph's nose. Crider should know better since this is not his first time at the rodeo but he refuse to look at doing what's best for the city. But that's expected. In a recent interview in the Hattiesburg American, Crider had this to say about the budget.
“It’s kind of been coming for the last four or five years,” Ward 1 Alderman Kent Crider said. “According to the state, your budget is supposed to be based on the money you’ve got coming for that year.”Now you do the math, if we look at what Crider said, he was basically saying the budget was bad for the last four or five years; in other words, since he became an alderman. Well, if that was the case, and he knew the budget was bad for that long, why in the balanced ledger did he refuse to implement a system of checks and balances per the recommendation of the auditor. For four years straight, Crider, along with his buddies, Timothy Johnson and Bobby Gibson, voted against the hiring of an accountant for review of the budget.
One of the major problems with this city is budget issues. Whenever the public works department wants anything, the board is like sure, go ahead, you have plenty of money, but then they get a report that the system is not sustaining itself so the blank check they're issued has to be paid for by increasing the water and sewer rates for the citizens of Lumberton. Another problem that's causing this grand shortfall, is the fact that we don't have a true report of what funds we have in the city. In my opinion, the city clerk, Merlene Wall, has been paying everything from general fund and that's why we don't have enough to support a full police department until the end of our 2014 fiscal year. There's no way the police department should be out of funds with all the fines they've collected. Stephanie was accused of misappropriation of funds, but never, during her tenure, we had to butcher the police department because of poor record keeping. I will always remember what JoAnn Ladner said, there's no specific training for the city clerk position; it's something you learn as you go. From years of attending meetings, I know that several positions are coded and require payment from different accounts. Truth be told, I don't think Merlene knows the codes or equations needed to properly pay accounts from the correct funds and that's what has caused this shortfall. Instead of the board being truthful to the citizens of Lumberton, they have decided to keep this shroud of secrecy and just pretend the citizens are too dumb to notice. If you don't know the answers, the wise thing to do is ask for help. But rather than admitting that we have a board and clerk that are clueless; the board continues to vilify those that dare to probe for more information. I know they say ignorance is bliss; if that's the case, Merlene Wall, Ben Winston, Tommy Dukes and Cora Rogers must be in a constant state of euphoria. I haven't heard of any special called meeting, so I guess there's not plans to address the lack of police officers. Please stay safe and reach out to your neighbors because we're going to have to look out for one another because those that were elected to represent our best interest has continued to fail us in that aspect.