Aldermen vote to not fill vacated positions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 11, 2009

NATCHEZ — Natchez aldermen have placed a temporary hiring freeze on all city positions except for public safety officials.

City Clerk Donnie Holloway recommended the freeze Tuesday and the regular board meeting.

“I’m a little nervous about what’s happened in the sales tax area,” Holloway said, referring to a decrease in December’s tax revenue. “Until we shake out in this situation, I just want to be cautious.”

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Alderman James “Ricky” Gray immediately made a motion in favor of the hiring freeze.

“Our money is getting a little funny,” he said.

However, other board members weren’t as eager to enact a hiring freeze.

Alderman Mark Fortenbery, who chairs public works, said he was concerned about future complaints toward the department.

He said as soon as summer comes and the grass starts growing high and every alderman has placed numerous work orders that aren’t getting addressed immediately, the aldermen should remember their vote for the hiring freeze.

“Public works is shorthanded,” he said. “Some departments are already cut to the bone.”

Alderman Bob Pollard was also against the hiring freeze.

After the meeting, he said he is in favor of not creating new positions, but does not like the concept of not replacing staff members that leave.

“A prime example is right now at the visitors center, we’ve had two people quit within two weeks, so that would mean we’re two people short, and there would be nobody to sell the tickets for the City of Natchez for Pilgrimage,” Pollard said.

Mayor Jake Middleton, during the meeting, struck a compromise.

“If a department loses someone and absolutely cannot make it (without them), they can come before the board and make a request,” he said.

Alderman Dan Dillard said he would rather wait and discuss the freeze again at the next board meeting after the finance committee — made up of Middleton, Holloway, Gray and Dillard — met.

Dillard said it would give the committee a chance to assess where the city is with the budget and then make a recommendation.

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said, however, that any department heads wanting to elude the effects of a freeze could quickly make hires before the board’s next meeting in two weeks.

A new motion was made to enact the freeze until the board of aldermen’s six-month budget revision at the end of this month.

At that meeting, the freeze will be discussed again.

The motion passed 5-1, the lone dissenting vote belonging to Pollard.

Until the budget revision, any new hires will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Pollard later said he was OK with the compromise, but it does have its downfall.

“You can’t micromanage,” he said. “If a public works grass cutter quits, whoever (Public Works Director Eric Smith) decides to hire, he’s got to come before our board to hire a $7 an hour man.”

In other news:

4 The city and the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture museum board are working with art collector Pam Finley to get her collection of African art permanently transferred from Biloxi to the NAPAC museum.

Mathis said the collection is worth more than $1 million.

NAPAC Museum Director Darrell White said the museum board is enthusiastic about accepting the collection.

Middleton said he has been supportive of NAPAC having the collection at the museum from the very beginning.

He said he has heard rumors that he is against it, and he said those are just rumors.

“The only place we thought this could go is the NAPAC museum,” he said. “I pushed as hard as anybody to have it there.”

4 Ser Seshs Ab Heter-C.M. Boxley, Friends of the Forks of the Road coordinator, announced that a National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Free Partnership program will take place in Natchez at the end of the month.

From March 31 through April 4, people will be coming across the country to assess Natchez’s heritage sites to see if any are viable inductions into the NPS program.

4 Dillard suggested that the portion of Melrose Avenue between Ratcliff Place and Roselawn Drive be overlaid with the approximate $662,000 in infrastructure stimulus money.

“When you get to Ratcliff (Place), you will experience one-tenth of a mile of the most horrible asphalt in the city,” he said. “(Melrose) is an entryway into the city that serves not only the tourists but Natchez residents at large.”