Aldermen walk out to prevent vote at board meeting

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Two aldermen walked out of the city&8217;s regular meeting Tuesday morning, leaving the board short of a quorum and forced to adjourn.

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis and Alderman James &8220;Ricky&8221; Gray said they left to prevent the city from voting in a way they believe would be legally questionable.

The board convened at 9:30 a.m. for a finance meeting and went into executive session at 11 a.m. Mathis and Gray walked out after the executive session, ending the meeting. Alderman Theodore &8220;Bubber&8221; West was absent from all meetings.

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By law, the board must have a quorum, or a majority, present to hold a meeting. For the aldermen, a quorum is four people.

Aldermen Bob Pollard, Jake Middleton and David Massey and Mayor Phillip West would not reveal details of what was discussed in executive session.

West said Mathis and Gray did not tell him why they left.

After the meeting, Mathis said the city has had several proposals for different development projects on the bluffs and on land under the hill.

She said she wanted to open the opportunity to any proposals. Others, she said, wanted to go with just one proposal.

&8220;We had some discussions in executive session on how to handle city business, specifically the sale of city property,&8221; Mathis said.

&8220;We need to legally accept requests for proposals, not jump on any one bandwagon. That developer might be who we end up with, but we&8217;re trying to be legal. We don&8217;t jump with the first person we see. We need to look at everybody and be fair.&8221;

Over the past few years, the city has had proposals for developments such as condominiums, shops, trails and casinos, and now interest in Natchez is piqued again, she said.

Gray said he left for similar reasons.

&8220;I didn&8217;t like the way we were handling business in executive session about the possible sale of city property,&8221; Gray said. &8220;For legal purposes, I was not satisfied with what they were saying back there.&8221;

Gray said he was upset because the item in question was not on the agenda, and therefore shouldn&8217;t be discussed.

He said he thought it was better to just leave.

&8220;I felt like to keep the city out of another lawsuit, it was best for me to just convene at another meeting instead of this meeting,&8221; he said.

West said he might have to call a special session, probably next week, to approve the docket, which was supposed to have been done at Tuesday&8217;s meeting.

Gwen Ball, a Natchez citizen at the meeting, said she thought it was the aldermen&8217;s responsibility to attend the meetings.

&8220;Just because things might not go according to your wishes, I don&8217;t think that gives you the right to leave that meeting,&8221; Ball said. &8220;I think it&8217;s their obligation to stay and perform their duties as a person who has been elected to office.&8221;

Natchez resident Jim Sanders, who was also at the meeting, said he was totally surprised when West announced the meeting would not take place.

&8220;What I couldn&8217;t understand was Ricky (Gray) and Joyce (Arceneaux-Mathis) standing outside the door when I came in,&8221; Sanders said. &8220;I don&8217;t know what would have been more important than a board meeting. That&8217;s just not a good thing.&8221;

West said alderman had never walked out of a meeting to avoid a quorum while he was mayor.