Wesley named new Natchez fire chief

Published 12:08 am Wednesday, July 29, 2015

NATCHEZ — Aaron Wesley had his prayers answered Tuesday.

During the Natchez Board of Aldermen’s regular meeting, in a five to one vote, the board appointed Wesley as Natchez’s new fire chief.

Wesley, 54, has served as fire marshal and battalion chief for the Natchez Fire Department. Overall, he has worked with the NFD for 33 years.

Aaron Wesley was named Natchez's new fire chief.

Aaron Wesley was named Natchez’s new fire chief.

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“I thank God first,” Wesley said. “No one but God put me here.”

Wesley was one of six candidates interviewed for the fire chief position by the mayor and board of aldermen.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said it was Wesley’s strong ideas on how to improve the NFD that led the board to appoint him.

“He has been a longtime fire fighter in the city, and the board felt like he did a good, adequate job and should be appointed chief,” Brown said.

Wesley said he would like to pursue several goals that are already in motion for the fire department, like raising funds for a training facility and growing the department’s budget to include more training opportunities.

He also said he would like to see the city build a stronger relationship with the county, and possibly construct new stations in the county.

“I would like to see the city and county work to become one,” Wesley said.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith voted against Wesley’s appointment.

Smith previously voiced interest in a candidate from outside Natchez who she said had strong qualifications for the fire chief position.

However, after the meeting, Smith congratulated Wesley and said she is looking forward to working with him to create a strong fire department.

In other news, the board voted to hold a work session at 4 p.m. Monday in the City Hall conference room to discuss the second phase of road repairs, which would be carried out in early October.

Natchez Public Works Supervisor Justin Dollar asked the board for an approval of an additional $350,000 to the road-paving budget.

The board voted four to two to approve that addition.

Smith and Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard voted against the motion.

Smith said she was concerned there wasn’t enough money in the Magnolia Bluffs Casino lease payments budget to cover the cost of the second phase of road repair.

“We might not have it (the money), folks,” Smith said after the vote.

Ward 4 Alderman Tony Fields and Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery said that while the additional money was approved, they would like to consider adjusting what portion of that money would be used for overlay treatment, and what would be used for microseal.

Dollar proposed $200,000 be used for overlay — a more extensive road repair treatment — and $300,000 be allocated for microseal, a less extensive treatment.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said she would like to go on the record, and state that she recommended the board address a second phase of road repair three months ago.

“I have been bringing this up for months,” Arceneaux-Mathis said. “We need time to digest this, but it needs to get done by January 2016 (the tricentennial year).”

In other news:

-Community Development Director James Johnston told the mayor and aldermen during board’s regular finance committee meeting that the city is seeking an approximate $318,000 grant to repair Auburn Museum and Historic Home, which has significant water damage.

The grant, applied for through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, would require an $80,000 match by the city, or 25 percent.

Johnston said local volunteers with the Auburn home said they would pledge $20,000 of that match.

-After the finance committee meeting, the board went into an executive session to discuss personnel issues within the city clerk’s office.

They also discussed a possible industrial prospect for the former Titan Tire property, located at 89 Kelly Ave.

-Johnston updated the board on the construction of a tennis shop and restrooms at Duncan Park.

Johnston said the city applied for a grant through the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks in March, and is waiting to hear back.

The grant was for $150,000. Johnston said no formal sketch of the restrooms or tennis shop has been made yet.

-Natchez City Clerk Donnie Holloway said the 2013-2014 audit should be ready for submission to the state auditor “sometime this week.”

-The board went into an unplanned public hearing to address nuisance properties.

City Code Enforcement Officer Anita Smith said she emailed her agenda item to the mayor’s office but “something got messed up along the way.”

During the hearing, the board addressed an overgrown residential property — 101 Marks Ave.

The board voted to give the owner of the property until Aug. 25 to clean up the property before it goes on the city’s adjudicated properties list.

-Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Bond came before the board with an update on the progress of the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Parchman Ordeal.

Bond urged the board to make education of the ordeal, which involved several hundred people being unjustly arrested for fighting for their civil rights, a top priority in the community.

“My goal is to provide information and try to educate our community and visitors the significance of these events,” Bond said.

-Brown recognized Natchez firefighters Eddie Hawkins, Ernest Owens, Tyrone Griffin, Keon Brandon and Leland Rymer for their support in saving the life of a 15-month-old child on July 11.

The child fell into a fountain near Metcalfe Alley, Brown said, but with the help of the Natchez Fire Department, the child received immediate assistance and has now made a full recovery.

“We have first-class firefighters in Natchez,” Brown said. “And what they did that day was heroic.”