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City aldermen want to make city clerk, municipal judge appointed positions

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday to amend the city charter to make the city clerk’s position an appointed rather than elected position, a move the current city clerk said he supports.

The board also voted to make the municipal judge’s seat an appointed position in the same motion.

Alderman Dan Dillard proposed the change for the clerk’s office, saying that years of efforts to get an accurate picture of the city’s finances — including hiring accountants and attempting to incorporate new software systems — have been unsuccessful.

The clerk’s office has recently said the city’s audit for fiscal year 2012, which was due June 30, was not completed in time because not all financial information needed for the audit was readily available, and the conversion to new accounting software has proved problematic.

“I think municipal finance is a little more complicated and requires an administrator that has the education background and the experience to manage such affairs,” Dillard said after the meeting. “It is really no secret that ever since I have been on this board the city finance has always been just a nightmare trying to make heads or tails of it, so I think it is in the best that — as opposed to being elected by popular vote — there be qualifications tied to that job.”

The city charter as currently worded only requires that the clerk be a qualified elector, Dillard said.

“I am sure that the framers thought that whoever ran for the office would have some experience with that (work), but I think we need to move the qualifications up,” he said.

City Clerk Donnie Holloway said during the meeting that he did not plan to run for the office again and that he, too, recommended that the position become an appointed one. Holloway came to that conviction, he said, after speaking with people around the state through the municipal clerk’s association.

“I think that in Mississippi you may have only one or two cities that still elect a clerk, and I think with the changing times a city clerk should have a bigger background in accounting and preferably in municipal accounting,” Holloway said.

Alderman Ricky Gray amended Dillard’s initial motion to also include the municipal judge. Dillard said he would have preferred that the clerk’s change stand alone because he had not had a chance to research municipal courts, but ultimately voted for the measure as amended.

Gray could not be reached for comment to further explain why he thought the judge should be appointed Tuesday. Municipal Judge Jim Blough was also unavailable for comment.

Before the city charter can be amended, City Attorney Hyde Carby said the amendment has to be drafted and sent to the governor’s office.

From there, it will be forwarded to the state attorney general’s office for approval, and will then be sent back to the city.

After that, if one-tenth of the qualified voters of the city object, the matter will have to go to a special election, Carby said. If not, the city can move forward.

Dillard said the change would not take effect until the next election cycle. Holloway’s term expires June 30, 2016.

“The elected official who holds that position is elected for four-year terms, and he would complete his term unless he elected to do something different, and he is certainly privileged that right,” Dillard said.

Even as the aldermen discussed changing the way the clerk’s office operates, Holloway said he will be meeting with Mayor Butch Brown this week to start planning for the city’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Brown said he would take the blame for any delay in the budgeting process.

Holloway said the budgeting process would involve meeting with each city department head and reviewing their individual budgets, as well as later reviewing the general fund budget. The aldermen would be notified of the place and time each of those meetings would be happening, he said.