• 77°

City hires farmers market director as contracted city employee

NATCHEZ — City of Natchez officials hired Downtown Natchez Farmers Market Director Eddie Burkes as a contracted city employee to continue hosting the farmers market the weekly farmers market.

During a Wednesday meeting of the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen, the board approved a contract to hire Burkes at a rate of $18,000 per year, $1,500 per month.

Officials said the city originally paid between $200 and $300 per weekend for Burkes to organize farmers markets, which are usually hosted Fridays on Broadway Street or Saturdays in the 100 Block of Main and Commerce streets depending on the time of year.

Saturday markets are traditionally larger and are hosted during fall and summer harvest seasons to give area farmers a platform to sell their produce and goods directly to downtown shoppers without having to sell to a third-party grocery store.

The new contract was approved by a vote of 4-1.

Alderman Ben Davis was absent from Wednesday’s meeting and Aldermen Felicia Irving and Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis attended via teleconference call from the National League of Cities Conference in Washington, D.C.

Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith voted “no” and said as much as she supported the farmers market she didn’t support a $300 per month raise because it wouldn’t be fair to other employees.

“I’m all about the farmers market. I would like to continue the farmers market and I’m OK with setting up a contract, but I’m not OK with the amount of money state in the contract,” Smith said. “That is almost double what has been paid. That is a big raise and we don’t know exactly how many hours it’s for.”

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said Burkes had given a presentation to the Board of Aldermen during previous meetings that detailed how the market could be expanded upon and improved under contract — by incorporating community programs to get more growers involved and allowing shoppers to use SNAP benefits to purchase fresh food sold at the farmers market.

Grennell said without an increase in compensation, it wouldn’t have been feasible for Burkes to continue the farmers market.

“Personally, I think it’s justified with the amount of work that Eddie is doing to improve the farmers market,” Grennell said of the pay increase. “He is taking it to a new level. We didn’t even have a downtown farmers market for a very long period of time. I think there is a need for it and the compensation is justified. … Mr. Burkes has explained to me that if he could not be compensated then he could no longer perform that duty.”