Mayor-elect, aldermen strive to see eye to eye

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat Mayor-elect Larry L. “ Butch” Brown, right, and Ward 1 alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis see eye to eye Tuesday afternoon while discussing numerous issues that will be facing the city in the coming weeks.

NATCHEZ — The recently elected mayor and board of aldermen met Tuesday to discuss issues facing the city to ensure they hit the ground running when they take office July 2.

Mayor-elect Larry L. “Butch” Brown hosted the four-hour retreat at Monmouth. Brown said the retreat will help set the stage early for consensus on the board for the next four years.

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat Natchez mayor-elect Larry L. "Butch" Brown and the new board of aldermen met in a retreat at Monmouth Plantation Tuesday.

Brown told the aldermen that he intends on informing the board of issues that will be voted on at meetings in plenty of time for the aldermen to fully educate themselves on agenda items. Brown said whatever the issue, he and the board will strive to get a consensus so situations do not arise in public meetings.

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“We will be unified and harmonious, mannerly and courteous (in our meetings),” Brown said. “We’ll always be working toward a consensus. There may be a time or two that it won’t happen, but at least we will have talked about it and understand each other ahead of time.”

Brown and the aldermen discussed Robert’s Rules of Order for public meetings, the importance of clear and concise motions and voicing opinions in an orderly fashion to shorten the length of meetings and help change public perception of the way the meetings are run.

Brown asked the aldermen to be “scratching your heads” on the city’s engineering department contract, which would be a big decision the board would soon have to make.

The board recently extended its contract with Natchez Water Works for engineering services until the end of July.

The City of Natchez and Natchez Water Works entered into an interlocal agreement seven years ago that contracted Water Works to provide an engineering department for the city. The seven-employee department is headed by David Gardner, who was the city engineer before resigning to work for Water Works and who now serves as de facto city engineer under the contract.

Brown reminded the aldermen that the city owns Natchez Water Works, which he said is a valuable and profitable asset to the city.

Along with discussion of the structure of the engineering department, Brown made recommendations to reorganize some city departments to address personnel vacancies, such as the positions of city planner and assistant city planner. Natchez City Planner Bob Nix will retire at the end of the month.

Brown also said he wanted to streamline and change the way the planning department handles dilapidated housing and overgrown lots. Brown said he wants to see the police department issue citations for litter or overgrown grass as it once did.

Brown said when he took office in 1992, the city was $510,000 overdrawn at the bank. He said the only way the city was able to make up $400,000 of that money was to collect fines from police-issued citations for litter and overgrown grass.

Ward 4 Alderman Ernest “Tony” Fields asked how the board could address the issue of absentee owners. Brown said adding the fines to the owners’ property taxes would more than likely be most effective.

Brown suggested the aldermen annually rotate the position of mayor pro tem based on seniority. Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis currently serves as mayor pro tem, and Ward 2 Alderman James “Rickey” Gray would be next in line.

Brown also suggested that the aldermen rotate the committees of which they are in charge.

Brown made the following recommendations for committees, he said, based on the experience and expertise of each aldermen.

-Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis: Natchez Fire Department

-Ward 2 Alderman James “Rickey” Gray: Police

-Ward 3 Alderwoman-elect Sarah Carter Smith: Health and Utilities

-Ward 4 Alderman Ernest “Tony” Fields: Streets

-Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery: Recreation

-Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard: Public properties

Brown also asked the aldermen’s thoughts on annexing property into the city. Brown cited Hattiesburg, whose city limits extend to the county line, as a booming town in Mississippi.

Brown and the aldermen agreed that the city needs to find ways to be more business-friendly and keep businesses in the city.

Brown also said he does not believe the city is collecting all its sales taxes from local businesses. He said the mayor and board used to receive monthly reports on licenses granted to businesses in the city, which he said aided the city is making sure sales tax was collected from all businesses.

Brown also suggested the board try to coincide the expiration of its garbage collection and disposal contracts with the county’s contracts. He said he believes getting the same contract or both the city and county putting out bids at the same time would keep garbage rates competitive.

Brown and the new board of aldermen will take office July 2 in a ceremony in the Natchez City Council Chambers.