Review of September 2, 2014 Regular Scheduled Meeting
The first agenda item was to accept the city clerk's letter dated September 2, 2014 regarding the transfer of $26,000 from WSOM to the General Fund. It seems that the city clerk and mayor decided to transfer this money by holding a vote over the telephone with the other aldermen. Before they voted to approve the transfer of funds, Alderman Quincy Rogers addressed the mayor and board, informing them that the vote was illegal and was supposed to be conducted in an open meeting; not over the telephone. When Alderman Rogers outlined the violation of laws that was committed by this transfer, Alderwoman Cora Rogers was reluctant to vote on the matter. At that moment, I was saying to myself, she's finally getting; she has integrity after all. Well, that moment was short lived because Mayor Winston bullied her into voting to approve the illegal transfer by saying she voted for it over the phone. I can understand her voting over the phone because she was not aware that it was a violation of the law. However, after she was giving facts that showed that a violation occurred, she voted again but this time she and the other board members knowningly voted to violate the laws. This is the point on he video where Alderman Tommy Dukes tried to put his two cents in and question why Alderman Quincy Rogers voted against paying claims. Since Dukes is ignorant to the laws governing is position as an elected official, I will explain why Quincy always vote no regarding payments of claims. The board is not operating with an actual budget. The reason the board got rid of the police department was due to lack of funds. Since taking office, this board has paid unexpected debts and never amended the budget to cover those unexpected costs; which is violation. The board can amend the budget every month if needed but the budget must be amended whenever a purchase, fee or expense is paid that was not included in the original budget. The board says they are out of money but as we prepare to enter the 2015 fiscal year, the board has paid unexpected expenses for the entire fiscal year of 2014 without amending the budget. Once the State Auditor finally audit the City of Lumberton, they will see this blantant violation and those that voted to pay the claims are subject to having their bonds revoked and being fined twice the amount of their bonds for this violation. So, that's why Alderman Quincy Rogers vote no on budget items and expenses. FYI. This matter does not end when they alderman is out of office; they can be held accountable for their votes even after their terms end. So, it would behoove them to actually learn the laws governing their positions as elected officials in a code charter municipality. I don't know when the money was actually transferred but I will request a copy to add to the complaint I'm filing with the State Auditor's office.
The board accepted the city clerk's letter regarding surplus of city property. They also voted to accept the contract with Cuevas Auctions to sell surplus items. Beginning September 3, 2014, the board will randomly drug test city employees and they accepted the proposal from the 15th Judicial Drug Court for drug testing. The cost will be $45/per employee and there's an extra $5 fee because they want a specific test. Unfortunately, the random testing does not include testing of our elected officials. Now this is where the meeting started getting interesting. The board voted to accept a contract for grant writing services to the fire fighters 2014 grant from Mr. Richard Rose. After the board attended the MML conference, Jay McGraw was saying he meet Richard Rose, from Diamondhead, and he was willing to help the City of Lumberton with their budget at a rate of $1,200. When the matter was presented to the board, Alderman Quincy Rogers said he would like to look for others so they can compare the services. The matter was discussed several times but I never recall them voting to hire Richard Rose. As a matter of fact, Jay McGraw never revealed the name but just referred to him as a guy from Diamondhead that could help the City of Lumberton with their budget. So, what is the the city clerk there for? Her first year in office, she used the budget that was prepared the previous year by former city clerk, Stephanie Mullings and this year, they brought in this Richard Rose guy to prepare the budget for Merlene, current city clerk. When Jay was saying we needed this guy and he was so great for the city, I always wondered why he never mentioned his name. Well, I guess Jay knew the power of Google. As you can see, Richard Rose name is highlighted and there's links to several stories about Mr. Rose; they range from allegations of extortion, misappropriation of funds, termination, and a slew of other unsavory character flaws. Did we not learn anything from Hobson? The board jumped through hoops to hire Hobson and I found out about Hobson's pending investigations just by logging onto Google. But I think Jay purposely withheld the name of Richard Rose for that reason. He was aware of his tainted past and didn't want anyone to know. Now, Alderman Tommy Dukes stupidly barked, why wouldn't you want a person helping that has done so much for other cities, well, before you turn over all your records to someone, Google them. Richard Rose was giving more access to public records than the citizens of Lumberton; all because our current city clerk does not know how to prepare a budget. We, the citizens of Lumberton, no longer have access to the public records room, but Richard Rose, who currently has a pending lawsuit against Diamondhead, was giving the keys to the city. A person allegedly accused of extortion and possible misappropriation of funds, was given full access to our accounts. But that's the type of people Lumberton like to hire.
It's still questionable as to whether or not Richard Rose was hired. Alderman Jay McCraw and our city clerk claims he was hired at the July 15, 2014 board meeting but I checked my notes and I did not see it on the agenda. Maybe he was hired in the secret chambers aka executive session. Since the minutes from the July 15, 2014 meeting was just approved, I will have to wait 30 days to get a copy. One thing for certain, Merlene can go and add it to the minutes but she can't go back and change the recording of the meeting and if he was hired, he was not hired during the open portion of the meeting. After reading the news articles about Richard Rose, I realize I met him one day at city hall. The day I discovered the posting of the no recording devices signs, Rose was in the office asking one of the clerks where he can get some beer to go with his lunch. It was a very busy day. There were several people waiting to speak with the mayor, Alderwoman Rogers was there, Alderman McGraw and all the clerks. The days after my impromptu meeting with Mr. Rose, he and Merlene were locked in the office all day. I remember because I needed to speak with her and was informed that she was in a budget meeting with BBI. If Mr. Rose was hired to prepare the budget, why did the clerk feel the need to lie about the identity of the Rose. The board claims that Rose is sympathetic towards the city's financial condition and has decided to waive his fee since the city is hiring him as a grant writer for the fire department. The grant he's writing is possibly a 95% grant; meaning the city will need to pay the additional 5%. Also, there was something about an 18% annual charge that is to be paid. The board said that's nothing to be concerned about but this is the same board that did not mention the questionable past of this new city employee.
Next the board voted to accept the proposal from Bancorp South Insurance for Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance Coverage for all city employees with a $1,750 deductible. Here's where things get very interesting. Per the recommendation of Mr. Richard Rose, the board voted to close the following accounts: airport improvement (which is being moved to General Fund), solid waste (which is being closed and moved to WSOM), CDBG (which is being closed and moved to General Fund) and WSBI (which is being closed and moved to WSOM). Seriously!?! Since our clerk, Merlene Wall, does not know how to properly deduct from the appropriate accounts, the board decided to go ahead and make it easy for her or should I say, allow her to continue doing what she has already been doing; paying everything from the General Fund. Since I wasn't familiar with the WSBI account, I contacted former city clerk, Stephanie Mullings, for clarity. Please keep in mind, prior to her termination, Mullings was on track to becoming a Master City Clerk; in other words, she know the laws for a code charter municipality. According to Mullings,
"Those accounts have a purpose! The airport account is for the FAA grant monies and the % the City pays is transferred into that acct. Every grant $ paid has to be paid out of that acct. The City still picks up limbs, therefore; they still are in need of the solid waste acct per the MS Audit and Accounting Guide. As long as the City applys and receives any CDBG grants & funds, the City has to have a CDBG acct. For the same reasons as the Airport Improvement acct. The WSBI acct is set up for the WSBI loan pymt that is to be paid every month. The first water deposit made every month, $1875 is to be deposited into this acct to pay this loan. Now after explaining all of this, none of these monies should be moved to other accts. And they definitely should never be closed!!!! Alderman Rogers knew this which is why he voted against it."
But the board voted to close those accounts and that means the City of Lumberton is now in jeopardy of losing access to the payment of sales taxes. With those accounts closed, the State will take any sales taxes due to the City of Lumberton. Next on the agenda was the reports from the department heads. Chief of Police, Elsie Cowart was there to give her report. There was several arrests but the board was not pleased with the small amount of fines collected. Chief Cowart reported that a little over $3,000 in fines were collected. Prior to having the court clerk's hours cut to 20/hours per week, the amount of fines collected ranged from $10,000 - $13,000/month but the alderman said the cut in hours had nothing to do with the decreased amount of fines collected. One alderman was upset that a person on the fines list was listed eight times and still walking free. They were attacking the chief for this matter, but I guess they don't realize that before a person can be arrested, they judge must sign an arrest warrant. Another aspect to take into consideration, if the person decides to sit in jail, the City of Lumberton will not get any money and will have a jail bill in addition to the unpaid fines. The fact that the board had a list of those going to court seems to be problematic to me. Another form of micromanagement. While they're monitoring the fine list, are they monitoring the number of unpaid water bills that are not collected. Daniel Davis, Public Works Director, gave his report. He basically asked the citizens to be patient with his department because they don't have money to repair sewer lines or repair streets; which has me confused. His crew is basically cutting grass and monitoring wells. So, why do we have a full crew, and utilizing the help of inmates, if there's no money to make needed repairs. Those cutting the grass are doing a great job, but what are the other's doing all day? If you drive through the city, you will see piles of limbs and branches piled everywhere. The public works department are not picking up he piles because they must be paid before they can pick up the debris. Now, here's my logic, the citizens of Lumberton paid for the dump truck through water bills rate increases but the City of Lumberton, as a courtesy, cannot pick up limbs without charging an additional fee. But we have several people that don't have work to perform because of a lack of funding for repairs. I think people will be more accepting of workers driving around all day if they were actually performing a service. As a matter of fact, when I saw the inmate cutting the grass this morning, he was alone. Where were the other workers and aren't they supposed to be monitored at all times? For the first time, fire chief, Abner Keith, attended a board meeting. I think it was because the board was hiring Richard Rose as a grant writer for the fire department. Before I forget, were there any cuts in the fire department? I think the cuts were made to the police department. When will the board look for grants to help the police department. Everybody knows that Gary Hickman is only concerned with FAA grants because of the high payout for him and his associates. It seems that the city would urge him to look for other grants as well. Or maybe that's just my logical way of thinking.
There was an order to approve the payments for the month of August; $99,239.74 in unpaid claims and $42,530.28 for payroll. Another shocker during the meeting, was the fact that Melene finally submitted the following minutes for approval: June 3, 2014 regular meeting, June 17, 2014 special call meeting, June 27, 2014 special call meeting, June 30, 2014 special call meeting, July 1, 2014 regular meeting, July 1, 2014 public hearing, July 3, 2014 special call meeting, July 10, 2014 special call meeting, July 15, 2014 special call meeting, July 17, 2014 special call meeting, July 24, 2014 special call meeting, August 5, 2014 regular meeting, August 12, 2014 special call meeting, and August 28, 2014 special call meeting. According to Mississippi Code Annotated Section 21-15-33 (1972), minutes are to be approved 30 days after the meeting. Yet another violation by this clerk and board. There's a serious problem at city hall and the board is not willing to address it, for some reason. I think the problem lies in the fact that the mayor does not know the law or care to adhere to the law. When a person has no problem with violating the Moesainic Law, what makes one think they will pause when violating municipal laws? Jay McGraw wanted the board to vote to add a $10 assessment to ticket fees to help pay for wireless communication for the police department. The matter was tabled until the next meeting because they needed more information. After citizens' comments, the board voted to adjourn the meeting. Surprisingly, the board did not vote to go into executive session. Prior to closing the meeting, Johnnie Buckley, got upset because the chairperson of the planning and zoning commission called him a liar and exposed him for not doing his job. Buckley turned beet red and then yelled across the room, "I don't work for you any damn way!" Everytime someone has a question for the board, Ben Winston want to stop them, bang his gavel and tell them that's not going to be tolerated at the meeting. It was rather telling of his character, that when Buckley attempted to avoid answering questions about his poor work ethic through the use of profanity, Winston said or did nothing. Winston did urge the citizens of Lumberton to attend the Lamar County board meeting to see why Lumberton is not getting any assistance from the county. He urged people to attend, look hungry and to beg. Well, in case you didn't know Mr. Winston, dog beg, men barging. If the citizens of Lumberton have to beg for help from their representative, Warren Byrd, then he's not needful. I will attend the board meeting because I want to look Warren "Dirty" Byrd in the eyes before I post about the fact that he need Lumberton more than Lumberton needs him. Sadly, Lumberton has not had any representation at the county level since Ben Barrett, Sr. Enjoy your weekend and don't forget to go by Lumberton Doughnut and Breakfast. They're having their ribbon cutting today and they're giving away free doughnuts. Cioa!