WATER VALLEY – Hirings, firings, and promotions were among the topics at the “first Tuesday” meeting of the Board of Alderman August 5.
Six city personnel issues were handled in the last four minutes of the two-hour meeting.
First, aldermen voted to approve promotion of Josh Ferguson to full-time status with the fire department.
Second, the board approved hiring Christopher Blair and Jamie Caldwell as full-time officers in the police department. While the vote for Blair was unanimous, Alderman Fred White voted against Caldwell.
Blair most recently served with the Vicksburg Police Dept. and Caldwell is a retired Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol officer. In recent days, the WVPD has lost three officers. The University Police Department hired one, the Mississippi Department of Transportation hired another, and a part-timer left to take a job with the railroad.
Third, the board approved hiring Chris Laster and Mike Johnson as full-time employees of the street department. Both had been working part-time.
Fourth, the aldermen promoted Philip Ledet to foreman in the street department.
Fifth, the board then voted to terminate two employees of the water and sewer department and sixth, voted to advertise for their replacements.
Earlier in the meeting, the board took the following actions:
• Approved payment of $1712.11 to the Burns Law Firm.
• Took under advisement a bid of $750 by K & K systems for solar powered lights once used to illuminate the “Water Valley” signs located on the Hwy 7 Bypass. City officials have declared the lighting system surplus property.
• Took under advisement bids for an excavator for the cemeteries and parks department. The three bids varied from $28,960 to $31,792.09.
“We’ve got a little work to do studying these to make sure they are up to our specifications,” Mayor Bill Norris said.
• Paid $2500 yearly dues for membership in the North Central Planning and Development District, a program of the Appalachian Regional Commis-sion.
• Approved a plan by the Natural Resources Conservation Service to plant wildflowers on city property.
Mayor Norris said that he was approached by Lamar Burgess of the NRCS about the project which would include areas of the Crawford Sports Complex and the entrances to the city from the Highway 7 Bypass.
• Heard from Willie Fox whose topic was listed on the agenda as “temporary vendor practices.”
However, when given the floor, he spoke on a variety of issues starting with the city brush dump that is located on his property. He questioned the amount being paid by the city and how the taxes on the property were handled.
Fox then asked about the city’s hiring practices. “What’s with these city jobs these days?” he asked. “Why don’t we have a black policeman around here? What’s with the black people? Why can’t they get the jobs like they used to? It looks like you all just kicked them out. Somebody has to speak up.”
“We look at the most qualified,” Mayor Norris said. “That’s in our policy.”
Fox had been speaking for about seven minutes when board attorney David Burns interrupted. “There was one agenda item that was posted involving Mr. Fox. It involved something that occurred, as I understood, during the carnival.”
Burns continued, “This has just become this general gripe session. I’ve noted eight different items and it seems to me that we are kind of getting away from the agenda. I don’t see where they are subject to discussion at this meeting.”
Fox countered, “I don’t want you to discuss it now. I just want you to write it down and discuss it among yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but someone needs to address these things.”
Fox then announced his last point that revolved around a run-in with the mayor over placement of cooking equipment on city property. The mayor noted that Fox also lacked a temporary vendor’s permit.
“Did you check on that 60 feet?” Fox asked. He was referring to the amount of right of way owned by the city on each side of the centerline of Railroad Street. According to a map of railroad property, the right of way is only 50 feet on both sides of the old railroad track centerline. This was confirmed by the Yalobusha County Tax Assessor’s office.
Fox had placed his cooker on property east of Railroad St. that he believed belonged to Larry Sprouse, who he said had given him permission to be there.
Fox asked, “Why would it take two police cars, the mayor – everybody running their air conditioners – to throw four Boston butts off the city property? You could have easily told me to get over about four feet.”
Fox went on to ask if there were other areas where the city owned similar right of way. He made a reference to the used car lot owned by Alderman White at the corner of Railroad and Martin Streets. “How much,” he asked about the amount of city right of way at that location.
“Right up to his door,” the mayor answered. “About a foot from his door.”
Fox said, “These are the things I need to know about. I appreciate you all letting me speak and I thank you.”
As Fox ended his comments, Alderman White said, “Anything you want to know about my property, you can come to me. I don’t like my business thrown into a public meeting.”
Fox explained that he was using White’s parking lot as an example. “According to him (the mayor) if he’s sixty-foot on the right and sixty-foot on the left, your parking lot is going to be on the city.”
Fox then pointed to the Herald reporter and said, “What you realize, according to the mayor, yawl’s newspaper office…you can’t even spit out your back door then.”
Fox was commenting on the 58-foot distance from the centerline of Railroad St. to the back of the Herald building at 416 North Main.
After Fox made some additional remarks on the brush dump, the mayor closed the discussion and moved to the next agenda item.
• Approved replacement of the septic tank and fill line to the caretaker’s mobile home located at the municipal airport.
Mayor Norris told the board that the city had received a letter from the Corps of Engineers regarding some problems with the mobile home. The airport is located within the reservation boundaries of Corps property in the Enid Lake backwaters.
“One matter we are having a real problem with is our septic tank to the trailer. It does have a leak and they ask that we do correct this within 30 days. So, we have until August 21 to correct this,” the mayor said.
• Closed the open session at 7:05 p.m. after a 33 minute long public meeting.
The closed session was for preliminary determination as to whether to declare an executive session. However, the official agenda that was prepared in advance of the meeting and given to board members, the public, and members of the news media already listed an executive session “to discuss personnel matter(s) and prospective real estate transaction.”
At 7:14 the boardroom doors were reopened and attorney Burns recited the sections of Mississippi Code that cover personnel matters and prospective real estate transactions. The board then voted to go into executive session.
Just over an hour later, at approximately 8:17, the board returned to regular session to vote on personnel matters discussed during the closed session.
The meeting ended at 8:20 p.m. All board members were present except Alderman Tommy Swearengen, who had been ill.
Another session of the board will take place this month to discuss the city budget. However, at press time the meeting had not been scheduled.
——-CITY OF WATER VALLEY BOARD MEETING
August 5, 2008
1. Call Meeting to Order
2. Approval of Agenda
3. Approval of Minutes
4. Burns Law Firm Invoice
5. Solar Light Bids
6. Cemetery Dept – Excavator Bids
7. North Central Planning Yearly Dues
8. NRCS – Placement of Wildflowers on City Properties
9. Willie Foxx – Temporary Vendor Practices
10. WV Airport – Sewer Lines