Supervisors baffled by city’s decision to hire recreation director

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 10, 2017

NATCHEZ — While saying they did not want to “open a can of worms,” a couple of supervisors said Tuesday they were baffled at the city’s decision to hire a recreation director.

Last week, city officials made room in the budget for a new recreation department head for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The department head will make between $40,000 and $45,000 annually.

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In the past, Supervisors Mike Lazarus and David Carter have been vocal proponents of the Metropolitan YMCAs of Mississippi and the original interlocal agreement, which they said took city and county politics out of recreation. The supervisors have said they believe the recreation system would be better off for the children without politics.

District 5 Supervisor Calvin Butler has expressed concern with the county or city running the pool, should the YMCA leave.

The Jackson YMCA CEO sent a letter to the county and city earlier this summer announcing the possibility the YMCA would leave Natchez in November. The reasoning was because Natchez YMCA Director Alice Agner has not been able to fulfill her contractual obligations, which are based on the interlocal agreement.

Agner said Tuesday she is still up against that clock.

“A month from now, if we don’t have any paperwork (from the city), I’m going to start looking for a place in Jackson,” she said.

Agner said she and Natchez-Adams County Recreation Commission Chair Tate Hobdy had previously met with city officials to negotiate a new interlocal agreement so as to meet the city halfway.

Agner said one of the big concerns of the city was her supervising city employees, which was spelled out in the original agreement, so she took that off the table. However, Agner said she hoped city leaders would allow the YMCA to hire people as city recreation employees retire or resign.

Agner said she wanted management of the Margaret Martin gym, the baseball fields at Duncan Park and the swimming pool when it is built. The YMCA already has control of the county-funded multipurpose fields near where the pool would be built.

Agner said she also took the pocket parks off the table, so the YMCA could essentially focus on running baseball, basketball, football and soccer programs at the four facilities. The YMCA also plans afterschool programs with the Natchez-Adams School District.

With no employees except herself, Carter wondered how she could possibly run the baseball fields, gym and the pool. Carter also asked if the city would be using all of its employees to run the golf and tennis programs plus the pocket parks. No one had an answer for Carter.

“I guess we will see how it all pans out,” he said.

Lazarus said he cannot believe the city, while talking about raising millage to give fire and police employees raises, that leaders are planning to essentially pay for two recreation directors.

“It just makes me sit back and shake my head,” he said. “They are already paying you. They just don’t want you to be the recreation director.”

Lazarus said that $40,000 to $45,000 spent on a recreation director could instead be another police officer or raises for several officers.

Lazarus said the interlocal agreement was put together for the specific intent to take city and county politics out of running recreation, and he was disappointed to see politics creeping back into recreation.

District 4 Supervisor Ricky Gray said he, along with Lazarus, represented the county in the meeting Agner and Hobdy had with some city leaders. Gray in the past has expressed concern with the county interjecting itself in city politics.

“The man from the YMCA (Interim Chief Executive Officer Harold Cook) broke it down at the end, ‘We are going to do what y’all ask us to do,’” Gray said. “Evidently the city has a problem with the parks or whatever.

“The YMCA don’t do parks no way. I don’t see what the problem is.”

Gray said, however, he does not understand why the city wants to hire a recreation director.

“If that’s what they want to do, I don’t have a problem with it,” Gray said.

Gray was also critical of Lazarus and himself for not informing the other supervisors of what happened at the meeting. Gray has said supervisors need to do a better job sharing information with each other.