Mayor, board scrap over employee grievance
The Caledonia Board of Aldermen discussed an investigation of the marshal’s department, Mississippi Municipal League voting delegates, an apparent overlap of town property with that belonging to the school district, complaints about flies at the sewerage lagoon and the increase in sewer rates, and an employee grievance during an occasionally contentious June 5 meeting.
At the beginning of the meeting, Caledonia resident Clyde Jackson asked to address the board. Jackson alleged that an employee of the Caledonia Marshal’s Department offered to get his daughter out of a citation for $75.“My daughter and two other minors were cited for possession of alcohol by a minor,” Jackson said. “As a parent, in no way do I condone that. But I wanted her to do community service instead of paying a fine because lots of times when you pay a fine it’s just going to come out of the parents’ pockets and it’s not going to help anything. The problem I have is the night after the ticket was given my daughter talked to someone who was in contact with one of the marshals. I’m not here to disrespect Caledonia, you’ve got good people out here and this is a good community. But it was all text messaging, and my daughter was told that is she and the two other individuals would come up with $75 each the ticket would be dropped.”
“We need to go into executive session for this,” Alderwoman Brenda Willis said, cutting Jackson off.
“I appreciate your time,” Jackson said, and turned to leave.
“You can go into executive session with us,” Willis said.
“I’ve never been involved with anything like this,” Jackson said.
“Some folks don’t want to listen to things in executive session that involves town business,” Mayor George Gerhart said. “Period. They can come in here and lambast me in open session, but they don’t want to lambast anyone else.”
“Our attorney told us—” Willis began.
“You understand that?” Gerhart said to Jackson, speaking over her.
“If I’m out of order, I understand that,” Jackson said. “I’ve got to pick my daughter up at 6:30. So it’s done?”
“You’re not out of order,” Willis said.
“The subject matter that you’re discussing involves a potential crime,” explained Town Attorney Jeff Smith. “It’s got to be discussed in executive session. If you don’t, the town could have some liability.”
“I think we’re going to have liability,” Gerhart said. “We’ll look to hear from you later on,” he continued, speaking to Jackson.
“We can go into executive session,” Willis said.
“Executive session will last too long,” Gerhart said. “Thank you, Clyde.”
“I’ve got the full report on that,” said Marshal Ben Kilgore. [Last month the board discussed an investigation of the Marshal’s Department that was being handled by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department. Mr. Kilgore is referring to their findings. – Brian Jones]
The town appointed voting delegates to attend the Mississippi Municipal League Annual Conference later this month.
Willis made a motion to appoint Bill Darnell as voting delegate, with Steve Honnoll as first alternate and Mike Savage as second alternate.
“Just leave the mayor out?” Gerhart asked.
“I didn’t think you were going,” Willis said.
“I hadn’t made up my mind yet,” Gerhart said.
Willis’s motion passed 4-0; Savage was not present at the meeting.
Caledonia citizen Tim Sullivan complained about flies at the sewerage lagoon. The lagoon is directly behind his property, and he alleged that flies make it nearly impossible to go outside.
“The first year we lived here we said we’d just tough through it and see what happens,” he said. “Last year was about as bad as I’ve ever seen it. We didn’t have a cold winter, and it’s even worse this year. We love living here, it’s a nice community, but it’s almost unbearable. You can’t do nothing outside. I don’t know if they’re using the proper way to dump it. I’ve had friends and family leave my house…you can’t even cook out. It’s ridiculous. I don’t know what else to say other than it’s horrible. Three years is about all we can take, I don’t know if we can do it much longer. It’s unbearable. If I had known how bad it would be, I might not have bought the home.”
Sullivan questioned dumping at the lagoon.
“I don’t know if there’s illegal dumping going on, I see people dump out there all the time at night,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re dumping the way they’re supposed to.”
“The dumping was approved by the board,” said Water Superintendent Benny Coleman. “It’s septic.”
“Is there anything you can do?” Sullivan asked.
“Does it smell?” asked Alderman Quinn Parham.
“We have a slight odor from there,” Sullivan said, “when it gets a little muggy. The biggest thing is flies. We spend every dime we can on everything you can think of. I can’t even cook out by my back door.”
“Can you put a larvacide in the lagoon?” Parham asked.
“I don’t know what that would do to the process in the lagoon,” Coleman said. “I’ll check. I think mosquito spray back there will help a lot. If they can get into the concentrated area behind your house…that’s where they’re breeding. There’s not any standing water back there other than the lagoon.”
“Let me tell you what you need to do,” Smith said. “You don’t need to make any decisions at the board meeting. You need to turn it over to your water superintendent and tell him to use all reasonable measures to correct the situation. This gentleman is being real nice tonight, but he may come back in a year or so and be more aggravated and you don’t want anything in your minutes that’s going to come back and bite you.”
The board took no action.
Citizen Charlie Underhill complained about the sewerage rate increase. The sewer rate was $6.60 per month. It has been increased to half of the water bill for residential customers and 100 percent of the water bill for commercial customers. The rate increase was approved at a January 3 special meeting. The last increase previously was in 1992.
[The town needs to raise its sewer rates to help pay for a new discharge. At a January 3 special meeting, Town Engineer Stanley Spradling estimated the cost for the new discharge as around $637,000, with a monthly debt service of around $3,400; he estimated the increased rates would bring in around $3,700 per month. The other issue at play is the town’s need to raise its water rates to pay for the new water plant. The Mississippi Public Service Commission essentially turned down the town’s water rate proposal over concerns surrounding the sewer rates. Raising sewer rates will hopefully ease passage of the water rate increase. – Brian Jones]
“I wanted to know how we arrived at this sewer rate going up so high,” Underhill said. “Why are we going to find out next month in our bill? I didn’t find out about it until a week ago, and I noticed the thing in the paper the other day. It’s too bad the whole town didn’t show up tonight.”
“If you just pay the minimum bill, your bill will actually go down,” Willis said.
“I’m not just talking about me,” Underhill said. “Everybody in the city limits. If you got a $100 water bill, you’ve got a $50 sewer bill. I don’t think that’s right. Y’all could have started years ago and raised the rates a little at a time.”
“We should have,” Willis said.
“I have to pay it, but that don’t mean I have to like it,” Underhill said.
Gerhart brought up a grievance Water Department employee Trey Robertson filed against Water Superintendent Benny Coleman. For months Robertson has been trying to get a pay raise he claims he was promised after he got a water operator’s certificate. In his grievance, which was dated May 4, Robertson alleges that Coleman told him that a decision on his raise would have to wait until after a legal dispute with Robertson’s parents is straightened out. [The Robertsons allege that the Water Department performed work on their property without getting an easement first. They have asked the town to pay for repairs to their property. – Brian Jones]
The item originally appeared on the agenda, but Willis had asked that it be removed when the agenda was approved at the beginning of the meeting.
“We need to do something about it tonight,” Gerhart said. “This can’t wait.”
“I think we need to table it because it’s just come to our attention,” Willis said.
The matter was dropped for a few minutes while the board discussed other matters, but Parham brought it back up at the end of the meeting.
“What are we going to do about this?” Parham asked. “Is it true or not true? Can we ask questions about this?”
“It was on the agenda and it was struck,” Smith said. “You have to have unanimous consent to bring it back up.”
Gerhart asked for unanimous consent, but only Parham voted yes.
“This is the first time we’ve seen this,” Willis said. “I don’t like the idea that we come into this board meeting and things are trotted out and we have no idea what’s going on and we’re expected to take action.”
“That’s what we’ve done on a lot of things,” Gerhart said.
“How long have you known about this?” Willis asked. “That’s not right. It says May 4.”
“I did exactly what the accuser said to do,” Gerhart said.
“Today is June 5,” Willis said.
“What are we going to do about it? We need a consensus to discuss it,” Gerhart said. When nobody said anything, Gerhart continued, “Okay, we don’t have a consensus to discuss it. I was asked to keep this private and that’s what I did. If you want to hold that against me, fine. Y’all done took my vote away from me at MML, and y’all can take that and stick it where the sun don’t shine. Period. Everybody. If that’s what y’all think about me, good and fine. Everybody can grin about it, and they can take that grin and stick it where the sun don’t shine.”
No action was taken.
The board will hold a work session at 9 a.m. Saturday to discuss plans for a new municipal building.
In other business:
The town discussed an apparent overlap on piece of property at Wolfe Road and South Street. “There is an overlap between the property the town owns and the Lowndes County School District,” Smith said. “[Superintendent Lynn Wright] said the school district will prepare a quick claim deed and turn it over to the town.”
The aldermen asked Smith to contact the owners of several pieces of dilapidated property, including parcels on Wells Drive, Old Wolfe and North Church Street after citizen complaints.