Aldermen discussing new hires

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 10, 2009

NATCHEZ — In the aftermath of five recent city employee terminations, Mayor Jake Middleton and the Natchez Board of Aldermen can only do one thing — move on.

Tuesday’s board meeting will be the first of many in which Middleton and the aldermen will likely discuss the consolidation of city departments and additional hires, Middleton said.

According to the City of Natchez personnel code, employees are hired for an indefinite term at the will and pleaure of “the City.” City Clerk Donnie Holloway, enforcer of the code, said the term “the City” is interpreted as the mayor and the aldermen.

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The code also states the city maintains exclusive discretion to dismiss and discipline employees, and to determine the composition and size of the work force.

It appears the city’s most pressing hire is to secure a city planner. Middleton said the city is advertising for the position in newspapers and industry magazines outside of Natchez.

“There’s no doubt about it in my mind we need a (city planner),” Middleton said. “If the board of aldermen don’t agree with that, I think they’re wrong.”

Middleton also hopes to replace City Grants Coordinator Brett Brinegar, who submitted her resignation last week. However, in an effort to cut costs, Middleton is considering hiring a grant consultant on a case-by-case basis instead of a full-time grant writer.

“We have to figure out the best way to move our city forward,” Middleton said.

At least three of the six aldermen agree with Middleton’s stance on hiring a city planner.

Aldermen Mark Fortenbery, Bob Pollard and James “Ricky” Gray all say a city planner is needed.

“We can’t operate without a city planner, but I think we should have a work session and discuss it,” Gray said.

Fortenbery said some of the terminated positions will be replaced while others will be dissolved indefinitely.

“We’ve got a little work to do on some situations, but we’ll get there,” Fortenbery said.

Alderman Dan Dillard declined comment.

Attempts to reach Alderman Ernest “Tony” Fields and Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis were unsuccessful.

The city is also advertising to hire a public works supervisor in City Hall. The deadline for city employees to apply for the position was Friday.

Middleton said the terminations of City Planner John “Rusty” Lewis, Land Use Planner Walter Huston, Planning Specialist Dawn Williams, Public Works Director Eric Smith and Assistant Public Works Director Francis Ransom Jr. were based on either job performance or budget concerns. Middleton would not disclose which employees were fired based on merit.

The job cuts leave an extra $184,000 in the city’s fiscal year 2010 budget.

The Natchez Board of Aldermen meeting is at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the City Council Chambers on Pearl Street.