Natchez aldermen meeting spent squabbling

Published 11:46 pm Tuesday, February 17, 2009

NATCHEZ — Despite Alderman James “Ricky” Gray’s request for more unity and better communication among the board of aldermen, city officials spent Tuesday’s meeting taking shots at each other.

An argument began when City Engineer David Gardner was denied a request.

Gardner requested the board establish a memorandum to accept $275,000 from the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

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Gardner said money was appropriated to MDOT last year and included a line item of $275,000 to be given to the Natchez Trails Project.

Now that it’s time for the money to be transferred to the city, a base agreement has to be established between the two parties, he said.

“This is routine maneuver,” Gardner said after the meeting.

However, because he was presenting the transfer to the board and asking for a memorandum on the same day, his request was denied 4-2.

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, Gray, Alderman Ernest “Tony” Fields and Alderman Dan Dillard voted against the memorandum.

Aldermen Bob Pollard and Mark Fortenbery were the only two in favor.

“You have completely rejected a free gift of $275,000,” Gardner said to the board after the vote was final.

Mathis said she would not be questioned for her decision.

“I’m not going to be reprimanded by anybody,” she said.

Gardner then expressed his disbelief at the vote.

“This just sends the wrong message to MDOT,” he said. “I just don’t understand.”

Dillard said he would not vote on anything that was presented to him a few hours before the vote.

“If you bring something to the board and expect me to vote on the day of, I’m going to vote no every time,” he said.

Gardner and Dillard began raising their voices at each other, and their squabble was interrupted by Mayor Jake Middleton’s gavel banging, who — after silencing Gardner and Dillard — asked Gardner to move forward in his department head report.

Another argument then started when Gray, during his own report, said his constituents have been complaining that aldermen meeting are no longer on TV.

“They’re getting very upset that the TV is not in here,” Gray said.

Middleton decided to remove the cameras after a three-hour aldermen meeting that cost $500 to tape, edit and air.

He said removing the cameras would be a method of budget cutting.

“As chief executive officer (of the city), the one who takes the heat for money being spent, I don’t think it’s money well spent,” he said.

Gray said he looked over how much it costs normally and said yearly it would only cost the city $5,000 or $6,000.

“If $5,000 is going to bankrupt this city, I’m sorry,” he said.

City Clerk Donnie Holloway told Gray that the money was coming out of the mayor’s budget, which doesn’t have the money to fund the cameras anymore.

Gray said the money could come from anywhere in the budget.

“If we can’t find it in the general fund, take it out of public properties where you take everything else from,” said Mathis, the public properties chair.

Fortenbery then offered a suggestion to Mathis and Gray, who have spent several thousand dollars on travel this fiscal year.

“How much money do we have left in travel? We could take it out of that,” Fortenbery said.

Gray shot back at Fortenbery, who has not traveled this fiscal year.

“Then we’ll all be uninformed like you,” he said.

The heated discussion dissolved upon Dillard’s suggestion that perhaps the city find sponsors for the airing of the meetings. Gray made a motion to have the cameras returned in the meantime.

Mathis, Gray, Fields and Dillard voted for the cameras, while Fortenbery and Pollard voted against.

The motion passed and the board of aldermen meetings will continue to be aired.

The money will come from the general fund.