Aldermen question planning hires

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 4, 2006

Natchez &8212; Confusion over the hiring of three new employees in the Natchez planning department shows a need for a review of the city&8217;s personnel and hiring policy, Alderman Theodore &8220;Bubber&8221; West said Friday.

Two aldermen, Jake Middleton and Bob Pollard, said they never authorized City Planner Andrew Smith to hire three new employees in his department. Those employees began work Wednesday.

West remembers the board authorizing two hires, while Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she recalls Smith was allowed to hire all of the new positions.

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And Mayor Phillip West said there was no vote taken, but he recalls no opposition to hiring the new employees.

All agreed a discussion had taken place because of complaints about delayed reports and meetings from the planning department. Smith requested extra staff &8212; something he also asked for during the budget process last fall. For the past several weeks Smith had been working alone in the department, with only a temporary worker to assist him.

&8220;His excuse was he couldn&8217;t do it all himself,&8221; Pollard said. &8220;The only thing we said we were going to do was look into (making new hires). I did not approve of it.&8221;

All of the discussion occurred in an aldermen work session, where no minutes were taken.

Middleton said he understands the need for new help, but he does not believe the city has the money to make the new hires.

&8220;I&8217;m up there running that city like I run my business,&8221; he said.

Mayor West said it was his understanding the money was available in the budget for new hires, but City Clerk Donnie Holloway could not be reached for comment Friday.

Because the money was already in the budget, &8220;that&8217;s why we never took any formal action,&8221; Mayor West said.

The city&8217;s hiring policy has been somewhat informal, the mayor said, with department heads given leeway to hire staff members who were later &8220;rubber-stamped&8221; by the board of aldermen.

Last year, Mayor West said, he requested that all department heads let him know before making new hires.

&8220;We need to look at our policy on hiring,&8221; Alderman West said. &8220;We just need to be careful about the way we hire people.&8221;

He noted that the police department &8212; although governed by a different hiring policy because of Civil Service requirements &8212; hires new employees based on a list of eligible workers.

Aldermen Rickey Gray and David Massey could not be reached for comment.