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Alderman Absences Thwart Land Deal – Again

Alderman Lance Clement (left) weighs in during a city board meeting last Tuesday as (from left) City Attorney David Burns, Mayor Bill Norris, City Clerk Vivian Snider, Alderman Fred White and Alderman Sherry Martin listen. Frequent aldermen absences have created problems conducting city business. – Photo by Jack Gurner

By Jack Gurner

WATER VALLEY – Three important ingredients were absent from the “first Tuesday” Board of Aldermen meeting held Nov. 6. Two aldermen were not present, but more conspicuously absent was any comment on the purposed sale of 2.7 acres of city-owned land behind the Big Yank building.

    Aldermen Tommy Swearengen and Charlie Harris did not attend the meeting. Just hours earlier Swearengen had been released from the hospital and Harris was working at his funeral home business. With their absence, there would not have been a quorum since Alderman Sherry Martin has  recused herself from any discussion or vote on the property transaction due to a conflict of interest.

    Her conflict of interest stems from her employment with the potential purchaser of the property, Carothers Construction, Inc.

    The potential land deal first surfaced more than a month ago, at the Oct. 2 meeting, following an apparent discussion in executive session. Following that closed session, Mayor Bill Norris called for a motion to dispose of the property.

    Alderman Fred White then motioned to table the matter with Alderman Lance Clement adding a second – effectively postponing city action.

    Alderman Swearengen suggested that a motion be made to hold a special called meeting within a week on the property sale. He added that the issue was a “bit important.”

    Alderman White then amended his motion to table the proposed sale until the next regular board meeting. That motion died for lack of a second.

    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.

    On Friday, Oct 19, after two-and-a-half weeks of not being able to get a quorum, a special called meeting was to be held. Only Swearengen and Clement showed up. Mayor Norris said he wouldn’t make another attempt to bring up the land sale until this meeting.

Other Business

    •  The board agreed to hire consultant Greg Fender who is president of Local Government Services. According to board attorney David Burns, Fender works with municipalities to help negotiate better franchise agreements with cable providers.

    The city recently received notification from Vista III Media of an impending sale of their company to MetroCast Communications of Mississippi. MetroCast Communications also plans to purchase Northland Cable Television, which services other areas of the state.

    Fender’s company is working with several other Mississippi cities including Oxford and is recommended by the Mississippi Municipal League. He will also audit Vista III to see if additional money is owed the city under the current operating agreement.

    In 1989 the board granted a 25-year contract to FutureVision covering cable operations in the city. There have been several transfers of the franchise since that time including the most recent to Vista III. The agreement will transfer to MetroCast when the sale is finalized.

    • The aldermen voted to advertise for a bucket truck for the electric department.

    • Approved the installation of three new lights in the Oak Hill Cemetery because of recent incidents. Mayor Norris reported that one person was attacked and several head stones were overturned at the cemetery

    The mayor said a lot of people walk at the cemetery. “You’d be surprised who walks up there. Right now I think the lights would help,” he added.

    After the vote to install the lights, Alderman White questioned if the mayor had been contacted about a gate for the cemetery on Delay Road. Mayor Norris answered with an explanation that he had been working with Ruby Carr on a design that will include the name of the cemetery on each post.

    • The aldermen took under advisement a $47,664.80 bid on a tractor for the water department.

    • Approved payment of $1876.64 to city attorney Burns.

    • Approved the class II rubbish site permit to satisfy state Department of Environmental Quality and Health Department requirements.

    • Approved Ronnie Windham, CPA, as city auditor.

    • Approved municipal compliance questionnaire for 2007.

    • Agreed to advertise for bids for asphalt.

    • Voted to join a delinquent water bills program at $30 per month that helps the city collect from persons who have moved to another area of the state. The approval is contingent on the legality of the program.

    Board attorney Burns voiced some concerns regarding how the information would be desalinated. “There is a good bit of federal law about putting someone’s name out there as not having paid their bills,” he said.

    Under Senate Bill 3049 that was passed last July, “the new water sewer system shall refuse to provide water sewer service to the delinquent person until such person provides proof of curing the delinquency.”

    Alderman Sherry Martin asked if the program covered electric bills. “It doesn’t cover that,” the mayor said. However, other utilities are to be added to the program in the future.

    • The board heard from attorney Burns on the issue of working on private property. Burns said there was some concern from the board about exceptions to the general rule that a municipality can not work on private property.

    Burns read from opinions from the Mississippi Attorney General’s office that made it clear that the city could not work on private sewer lines “unless the repairs protect the integrity of the public lines.”

    “There are some people who say the attorney general doesn’t have any say so. But, I tend to believe that it is a pretty good rule of thumb to do what he has to say,” Burns added.

    Mayor Norris asked if there was a motion to go on private property or not.

    “We don’t need a motion to obey the law,” Alderman Martin quickly added.

    • Alderman White brought up an incident of a dog attacking a child on the walking path at the Crawford Sports Complex. He recommended that signs be put up stating that dogs must be on leash. Mayor Norris said that the signs could be installed in a week.

    • The board voted to enter executive session to discuss “prospective real estate transactions and personnel matters.” When they returned to regular session, they voted to hire a part-time worker for the Blackmur Library. They also approved a $1 per hour raise for David Floyd of the water department “to compensate him for additional duties.”

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