By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – A busted commode and a vote against upholding the law highlighted the first Tuesday meeting of the Board of Aldermen Oct. 2.
“We had a little problem,” Mayor Bill Norris told the board. “We’ve been going on private property to unstop sewer lines and we destroyed a commode.”
“We were in somebody’s house?” Alderman Sherry Martin questioned.
Mayor Norris asked Water Department Manager Morris Surrette to explain.
Surrette said that a resident called to complain that her plumbing was stopped up and she had water backed up in her bathtub. He added that her “clean-out” (a fitting that allows access to plumbing) was on the back of her house.
“We put our high pressure hose in her clean-out. Her plumber had plumbed it so the hose didn’t go straight. It went up into the commode and burst the commode and flooded her bathroom,” Surrette said. The incident cost about $200, he added.
Alderman Martin commented, “I though we’d talked about this one time before and we were not going to do this anymore.”
Surrette explained that his understanding of state law prohibits going on private property to work. Although some of our neighboring cities do and charge a fee, he said.
“The bottom line was that we left everything as we had been doing it. We go on private property and don’t charge any fee. We bare the expense,” Surrette said.
Unless there is a clean-out located at the point where the private line taps into the city sewer, it is difficult for the water department to determine if the blockage is on private property or city property.
“We’ve been keeping a record of these calls,” Surrette said, “and about 95 percent of them we go on private property. A lot of them are on weekends and we’re paying time and a half for our guys to go on private property. I’d like to see something to alleviate the situation.”
Follow The Law
Alderman Martin suggested that “we do what the law says do, which is not go on private property. Is that not what the law says?”
City Attorney David Burns read an opinion from the Attorney General’s office that was one of several which outlined a city’s responsibilities as well as those of the property owner for maintaining the sewer lines. “A municipality may not perform services on private property such as repairing a sewer line even if the municipality charges the property owner for the service,” he said.
“I realize that this is the Attorney General and not a plumber speaking. But, I think the opinion is pretty clear,” Attorney Burns added.
Alderman Martin motioned that the city adopt a policy of not going on private property to work on sewer lines. Alderman Tommy Swearengen commented that he thought the issue had been settled before and the water department would continue with the current policy.
Alderman Fred White asked about the number of calls per month. Surrette answered that there were one or two a day and sometimes as many as four a day. He added there were often two or three on Saturday and Sunday and some at night. Alderman White suggested that the water department wait until morning to respond to calls.
Surrette said, “If you have a stopped up sewer, you want some relief from somewhere whether it is the city or a plumber.”
“We’re doing it for free,” Alderman White commented, “They can wait until seven o’clock the next morning.”
Mayor Norris commented, “We just need to enforce the state law.”
Alderman White said, “I think we need to continue to help people. Some people can’t afford a plumber.”
“But, it’s against the law,” Alderman Martin added.
After some more discussion about the legalities, Surrette was asked what percentage of the calls turned out to involve private property. He said that the majority are on private property and often under the property owner’s house.
Alderman White said that he didn’t see anything wrong with the current policy.
“Well, it’s against the law,” Alderman Martin said.
“Most stuff is against the law, but it gets done,” Alderman White said.
After more discussion of the legalities and the reading of another opinion from the Attorney General by Attorney Burns, the Mayor said that Alderman Martin had a motion on the floor.
“What was the motion?” asked Alderman Lance Clement, “to uphold the law? I’ll second that.”
“To uphold the law,” answered Alderman Martin.
Majority Decide Not
To Follow Law
The Mayor asked if there were any more questions and then called for a vote. “All in favor raise your right hand…there’s two for it. All opposed…two, three,” the Mayor said, counting the votes. Aldermen Harris, White and Swearengen voted against the motion to uphold the law with Aldermen Martin and Clement voting for it.
Attorney Burns said, “I think you may want to rethink the wording of that motion. I think I know what Sherry had in mind. I would hate for the good fellows of the press to interpret that to mean you were taking action that you weren’t going to uphold the law. I clearly don’t believe that was the intent behind the denial of the motion.”
Because several topics were brought up immediately before the vote, the aldermen apparently had become confused as to the wording of the motion. Attorney Burns suggested that the aldermen should look further into the issue and have an understanding of the law “before there is a decision to uphold it or not.”
The Mayor asked if there was a motion to table the issue until more research could be done. Alderman Charlie Harris agreed to make the motion with a second coming from Alderman Swearengen.
Aldermen Harris, White and Swearengen voted for the motion with Aldermen Martin and Clement voting against.
Other business at the regularly scheduled meeting included:
• The board voted unanimously to adopt the Mississippi model B-E flood damage prevention ordinance that had first been before the Aldermen in July.
Attorney Burns explained that the new ordinance was the result of a community assistance visit by NEMA (National Emergency Management Association) personnel who found the existing ordinance to be out of date. Burns said that in for the city to continue to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program a new ordinance would be required.
• Water Valley Main Street Manager Jessie Gurner received unanimous approval from the board for the Main Street Farmers’ Market to operate in the Spring of 2008. Gurner requested that the board not set specific dates for the market, but allow it to operate “when produce becomes available.”
• The board authorized contractor J. M. Moore of Pontotoc to proceed with construction of runway and taxiway lighting at the airport under a FAA-MDOT grant.
Appointment For EDA
• County Officials asked the city to appoint a trustee for the Yalobusha County Economic Development Authority, Mayor Norris said. “I think Bob Tyler would be a mighty good one if he would except,” Alderman Swearegen said.
Mayor Norris said that he had spoken to Tyler and he had agreed to accept the appointment. “He would be a great one for the city,” the mayor added.
Alderman Fred White then suggested Willie Pully for the position. Since two names were on the floor, the mayor asked Alderman Swearengen if his suggestion of Tyler was a motion. Swearengen confirmed that it was and Alderman Charlie Harris then seconded the motion. The vote was four to one with Alderman White voting against.
The mayor called for a second on Alderman White’s motion to appoint Willie Pully. The motion failed due to a lack of a second. The mayor then announced that Bob Tyler would be the city’s representative on the EDA board.
• The board discussed the use of the city auditorium at the current rate of $150 per day. Water Valley resident Steve Thompson had submitted a request to the board for the use of the auditorium for three days of rehearsal by his band. The request specified that only the musicians would be present and it would not be a public performance.
Thompson had questioned the lack of a written policy or fee schedule on rehearsals as opposed to public performances. Currently groups are allowed use the auditorium for rehearsals that culminate in a public performance for one payment of $150.
The board voted unanimously to allow Thompson’s group to use the auditorium for one payment of $150 with the stipulation that the members sign a release freeing the city of any responsibility for injury or damage to them or their equipment.
•Alderman Tommy Swearengen motioned to appoint Lynn Morris to replace outgoing Planning Commissioner Jack Gurner who resigned recently. The vote for Ms. Morris was unanimous.
• The board voted unanimously to nominate BorgWarner for the 2007 Industry of the Year Award to be given by the North Mississippi Industrial Development Association at their annual banquet later this year.
• Advertising for bids for culverts and the city depository were unanimously approved so that the bids could be opened at the regular meeting in December.
• Mayor Norris read into the minutes that City Clerk Vivian Snider attended the Municipal Court Clerk on Sept. 6-7.
• The board was informed of changes in the Mississippi bid laws that increase the amounts for bidding. No bids are required for purchases up to $5,000; two written quotation bids are required for purchases of over $5,000 up to $25,000; and advertised bids are required for purchases over $25,000.
• The board paid City Attorney David Burns $2,629.36 for work done during the month of September.
Selling 3.7 Industrial
Acres To WV Company
• The board voted to go into executive session to discuss “prospective real estate transactions, prospective litigation, and pending litigation.”
When the board returned to regular session, the aldermen voted to grant an easement to the Electric Department for work on the north substation located on the south side of the former Water Valley Manufacturing Plant building on Central St.
Next, the mayor called for a motion to dispose of 3.7 acres of city property behind the same plant building. Alderman White motioned to table the matter with Alderman Lance Clement adding a second.
Alderman Swearengen suggested that a motion be made to hold a special called meeting within a week on the property sale.
Alderman White then amended his motion to table the proposed sale until the next regular board meeting.
Alderman Swearengen reiterated his suggestion that a special meeting be called in a week.
“Then we’ve got to have another special meeting,” Alderman White replied, “I don’t know about y’all. Now, I have things to do in the daytime instead of running to a meeting.”
“This is a little bit important,” Alderman Swearengen emphasized, “They are wanting to go ahead and do something and we need to make up our mind what we are going to do.”
Alderman White said, “It’s not that important that it can’t wait until our regular scheduled meeting.”
“What if we looked at it for a week,” said Alderman Clement, “and then we get with Fred about a good time to meet.”
Alderman White said, “I made my motion. I am going to stick to what I made.”
Mayor Norris called for a second on the motion. After none was made the motion died.
Alderman Swearengen motioned to table the property sale and meet again in a week. Alderman Harris seconded the motion. Aldermen Swearengen, Harris, and Clement voted for the motion and Alderman White voted against.
Factor In City Decisions
“I can’t understand something,” Alderman White said. “A black person asks for something from this city they have to go through hail and high water and still can’t get it. But quick as a white person comes in and asks for something, this board – this mayor and board – will bend over backwards. What’s the difference? We are all taxpayers.”
“We all should look at every individual as a taxpayer and as a citizen of this town,” Alderman White continued, “We should not look at you as black, white, blue or purple. We need to get out of that. That’s old, ancient history. Times have changed. And, I think it is time for us to change with them. That’s all I have to say.”
The mayor asked if there were any more comments and then called for a motion to adjourn.
Alderman White said that he had one more thing – the Baker Street Park – to discuss. He asked that the police patrols be increased as they seemed to be slacking off. Police Chief Mike King said there had been some shortages in manpower.
There was a brief discussion of a curfew for the parks. Alderman White said that it might not be necessary with increased patrols.
Aldermen White added that there are no black patrolmen in the city. “I think if we had some black police officers that would be a big help in the black community. As y’all know, crime rates are higher in the black community and some black police officers could have a big impact on some of this crime. I would like for this board to look hard at hiring not a black, but some black police officers in the near future.”
After the meeting, Chief King said that the Water Valley Police Department is always seeking qualified minority applicants. “We currently have two female patrol officers and we have had (over time) eleven black officers including two in supervisory positions.”