By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – In a split 2-2 vote with Mayor Donald Gray breaking the tie, city officials voted to return to one meeting per month, rescinding an earlier ordinance to have meetings on the first and third Tuesdays. The motion in the March 20 meeting came from Ward 2 Aldermen Fred White, who cast the dissenting vote in December against adding the second meeting.
Ward 4 Alderman Nicole Folson seconded White’s motion after expressing concern that aldermen are not receiving information pertaining to agenda items eight days prior to each meeting to allow city officials adequate time to prepare.
“When we had one meeting per month, we would get the information for the meeting eight days before the meeting. We had time to prepare. My concern with having a second meeting is when we are getting the information for the meeting and not having enough time to prepare for the meeting,” Folson said. “I know with the elections and everything, things have been late,” she added referring to special elections held in December, January, February and March.
Folson’s reference to receiving information eight days prior to each meeting stems from an ordinance adopted back in October, just months after three new aldermen were seated, to require the agenda and supporting documentation for agenda items be sent to each alderman eight days prior to the meeting.
“I think if we have one meeting and then if there is something that we need to decide or discuss, then we just call a special meeting,” Folson added about using a second monthly meeting as needed.
“The mayor can call a special meeting or two aldermen can call one. That could always be addressed,” Gray said about using a special-called meeting to handle specific items instead of having two regularly scheduled meetings.
“I think that we have had plenty to do in two meetings a month,” Ward 1 Alderman Kagan Coughlin noted as discussion continued. “I think making it one meeting a month won’t make us more productive.”
Coughlin also recommended following the process implemented back in October to receive supporting documents for the agenda a week before each meeting.
“Not six o’clock before the meeting,” Foster added about the delay in receiving the requested information.
“There is no reason why many of our meetings can not go as quickly as this meeting, if we have all of our stuff ahead of time,” Coughlin continued, referring to the shorter half-hour meeting on March 20.
“The reason we were trying to go to two meetings is to not have six hours of meetings, but three hours… spread over two meetings,” Foster also explained.
“It’s a faster cycle, so that we can deal with things,” Coughlin noted about the current schedule for two meetings a month. “I understand that every other Tuesday is not the best, there are other things that we could be doing, but we signed up for this,” Coughlin added. “We can become more efficient and follow our guidelines so we have time to prepare.”
Coughlin also said the current format of two meetings a month allows aldermen to respond more quickly to the community.
“To be honest, there are several issues… that we haven’t followed up on. So there are a lot of open issues that we haven’t had time to address because so many other things took precedent,” Foster added. “I still believe in giving us several more months of meeting twice a month to try to catch up. We are still in our first year of trying to go through all of these things and get used to everything and things that need to be changed. We are still finding contracts that we didn’t renew when we were supposed to. We are very behind,” she continued, noting the second meeting is a good resource.
“If you and Kagan would not talk so much we would have time to get it all done in one meeting,” White said.
“Thank you for your input, Fred,” Foster said.
Next a question came from Charlotte Lane in the audience regarding the use of special meetings that are periodically called by city officials.
“When you guys call special meetings, are they in the evenings like these are and how will the public know when you will have a second meeting?” Lane asked.
Gray explained that notice of the special meetings must be posted at city hall three hours in advance and sometimes, by necessity, will be held during business hours instead of the normal 6:30 meeting time. During discussion it was also noted that special meetings are limited to specific agenda items identified prior to the meeting, which is different from the current format for the first and third Tuesday meetings, where last-minute items can also be discussed.
“Everybody has voiced their opinion about one meeting versus two meetings. In an hour we are going to have the other person who is going to complete our board. Yes, we can vote on it tonight, but to make it fair do we need to wait?” Folson asked as the March 20 meeting coincided with the special election to seat the fifth alderman.
“I think we should wait,” Foster said.
“We have to vote because we have a motion and a second,” Gray said. “It doesn’t mean, just because you vote tonight, when a new (alderman) one comes on, it can’t be brought up again. It can be voted on every meeting.”
Next Coughlin also asked city clerk Vivian Snider if she needed help to get the requested information for agenda items eight days prior to each meeting as requested by aldermen.
“I need no help, I will get it to you as soon as I find out myself, if I have to send you 500 emails,” Snider said.
The vote was 2-2 with Folson and White voting in favor of rescinding the ordinance and Coughlin and Foster voting against the motion.
Gray voted to break the tie. “I will be honest, I was not for it to start with,” Gray said.
It will take 30 days before the new ordinance rescinding the earlier ordinance takes effect and aldermen will have two monthly meetings in April before returning to one meeting in May.
Other business conducted at the meeting included:
• Adopted a fair housing proclamation as required to be eligible for grants.
• Agreed to advertise for bids for grass cutting in the city. Gray said the city routinely uses an outside contractor to assist with grass cutting, especially in the weeks leading up to the watermelon carnival. Bidders are asked to submit an hourly rate for grass cutting and weed eating.
Gray said the city typically spends around $10,000 to $12,000 annually for the service.
• Approved F.T. Neely and Company from Greenwood to perform the city’s FY17 audit.