Some aldermen challenge appointment of municipal judge pro tem

Published 11:57 am Wednesday, July 29, 2020

NATCHEZ — Members of the Natchez Board of Aldermen during Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting attempted to overturn the appointment of Nickita Banks as municipal judge pro-tempore.

Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier said that Banks’ appointment did not comply with the City of Natchez Charter Code because she is not a city resident.

Banks, who was appointed to the position last week at the recommendation of Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson, had previously served as a public defender and Justice Court Judge in Claiborne County.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Frazier offered the motion to rescind Banks’ appointment as municipal judge pro tem and Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Bridgewater-Irving seconded the motion.

Frazier cited Section 40 and subsections 2 and 20 of the charter code, which lists the qualifications of the municipal judge and the municipal judge pro tem.

Ward 5 Alderman Benjamin Davis made a motion to table the item until the board could obtain an opinion from the Mississippi Attorney General’s office as to whether the city violated the charter code. Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Carter-Smith seconded the motion that passed by a vote of 4-2, with Frazier and Bridgewater-Irving voting “nay.”

Frazier said the city did not need the attorney general’s opinion on the matter.

“This board knows from the beginning that this is against the city charter that we are governed by and therefore we do not need the attorney general’s opinion,” Frazier said. “The attorney general, as you and I know and everyone in the city knows, has just an opinion. The City of Natchez deserved better and if we’re going to be moving away from the charter and this is the way that we’re going to be operating the city government. It is wrong.”

Natchez City Attorney Bryan Callaway said the charter section outlining the municipal judge qualifications applies to both the municipal judge and municipal judge pro tem. However, the question of whether the municipal judge pro tem should be a citizen of Natchez is missing from the charter, Callaway said.

Bridgewater-Irving recommended Natchez attorney Tony Heidelberg — who had served as municipal judge pro tem during the previous administration — be reappointed to the position.

“I want the citizens of Natchez to realize that we are in a pandemic — and everyone knows that — and the issue is that we are hiring someone who does not reside in the City of Natchez,” Bridgewater-Irving said. “We have an economic impact that affects everyone and (the municipal judge pro tem) should be from Natchez-Adams County. … Those tax dollars that would be paying their salary should be spent on someone who actually lives and resides where those tax dollars would be spent, here. Not drifting away to another county. I feel that Mr. Heidelberg should be the nominee for municipal judge pro tem.”

Gibson said the attorney general’s opinion would be brought back before the board of aldermen at a later meeting.

In other matters during Tuesday’s meeting of the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen, the board set salaries for the mayor at $68,000 per year, the city attorney at $60,000 per year, the municipal judge pro tem at $15,000 per year, the municipal prosecutor at $31,000, municipal assistant prosecutor at $12,000 and the municipal public defender at $28,000.

In a later meeting, Gibson said the board would discuss creating two new city-employee positions and has recommended Richard Burke to be the mayor’s executive assistant and Brian Marvel to be the community liaison.