Alderman Handle Hirings, Routine Matters In Meeting

Starting in the bottom left corner and going clockwise are Donald Gray, Larry Bell, Bobby Cox, Fred White, Mayor Larry Hart, City Clerk Vivian Snider, Attorney John Crow, and Phil Tallant.

Staff Report

WATER VALLEY – The new Mayor and Board of Aldermen held their first meeting on Tuesday, July 7. It was a brief 32-minute session during which they took care of mostly basic city business including some left over from last month.

Their first action was to enter go into executive session to discuss the hiring of John Crow as attorney for the City to replace David Burns.

Burns, who had served for three years, expressed his willingness to work with the new board during a previous meeting. (See Burns statement on page 2.)

Mayor Larry Hart told the Herald just before the July 7 meeting that the board would be going into executive session to discuss the matter. At that time, reporter Jack Gurner informed the Mayor of the Herald’s objection to closing the meeting to the public.

The objection is based on a consultation with Leonard Van Slyke, an attorney on retainer  for the Mississippi Press Association to advise newspapers on the state’s open meetings and open records laws.

Van Slyke told the Herald, “It is not appropriate to go into executive session to hire a board attorney unless he is giving up his practice and going to work full-time for the City.”

“If he is to be full-time, then he would be an employee and executive session could be used; otherwise, he is an independent contractor and the law does not allow an executive session in such a situation.”

Van Slyke cited the 1989 case of Hinds County Board of Supervisors vs. Common Cause.

Hart said that he believed the executive session was appropriate. To clear up the matter, the Herald is requesting a ruling from the State Ethics Commission.

As Tuesday night’s meeting opened, Hart told the Aldermen, “The first matter that we are going to attend to is we are going to have a motion to go into executive session and tend to what we believe is an employee-personnel matter.”

The Aldermen then voted unanimously to enter executive session. Crow was called into the boardroom a minute and a half into the session. After the 12-minute closed session there was no mention of any action taken.

The next item of business was to approve the minutes of the last meeting and a motion to approve appointees followed that. “No big changes there,” Hart said. “Of course, John Crow is our…we’re gonna’ have a motion that we have Mr. Crow as our City Attorney; our City Judge Trent Howell; City Prosecutor J. K. Ward; and Public Defender Andy Arant.”

Other appointees include: Willis Engineering, City Engineer; Ronny Windham, City Auditor; Robert Ratliff, Water Well Engineer; and Grenada Electric, Water Well Electrician.

Among other actions the Board of Aldermen:

• Approved several final items related to the Banker Street Park Project. One of the items is a public hearing Wednesday, July 22, at 4:30 p.m. in the City Hall boardroom. The purpose is to inform the public of the status of the project, according to the Mayor.

Alderman Fred White asked if the project would be completed by the time of the public hearing. Hart answered that it would be, “weather permitting.”

• Amended the airport grant project to cover a cost overrun of $4695 for the fence.

• Paid invoices related to the airport grant project of $14,673.33 from Columbus Fence and $269.46 from Mississippi Department of Transportation.

• Exempted BorgWarner from valorem taxes on a new line installed last December that is valued at $14,383,120. “I understand that the county has already approved this exemption and it would be in order for us to approve this exemption also,” Hart said before the vote and added, “It is to preserve jobs…maintain existing jobs at BorgWarner and it is a ten-year request.”

• Denied a request from MetroCast, the cable television provider, for an valorem tax exemption. “Quite frankly I see no grounds for offering this exemption to them. They employ one or two or three people around here. I guess they were on a fishing expedition,” Hart said.

• Wrote off  $25,855.91 owed to the Electric Department. While the amount is written off, those who owe are not forgotten. “We turn them over to a collection agency,” Hart emphasized.

Department Manager Joe Newman added that they are kept on record. “We have collected some from as far back as the seventies.”

• Adopted a resolution to support the 2010 Census per a request from the Census Bureau.

• Paid an invoice for $966.47 from the Burns Law Firm.

• Adjourned after meeting for just over 32 minutes.

The next regular meeting of the Board will be August 4 at 6:30 p.m.

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Burns Makes Statement About Attorney Position

I must admit that I was disappointed when the then Mayor-Elect Hart advised me that I would be replaced by John Crow as attorney for the City. As I indicated at the Board’s June 2, 2009, meeting, I had looked forward to working with the new administration if that was the Board’s will. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

That being said, I do wish the new administration the best in its efforts to continue the progress made under Bill Norris’ administration. It has indeed been an honor and a pleasure to serve as City Attorney for the past three years, and I truly appreciate the opportunity.

Water Valley is a great place to live and the place where Amy and I have chosen to raise our family, and I look forward to other opportunities to serve Water Valley and its citizens.

David Burns

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