Tuesday night’s city council meeting started on a high note but ended at a decidedly lower point with one councilman provoking and then insulting Mayor Robert Smith.
The meeting began with Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem recognizing his brother and former Ward 5 Councilman Kamal Karriem and his “Ready for Work” program. According to Kamal Karriem, he started the program several months ago to help young men and women in the community become “good, productive citizens.” Kamal Karriem asked the council members for letters of support for the 15 graduates and Mayor Smith commended both Kamal Karriem and the graudates for their accomplishment.
The meeting then moved onto the address the recent rash of train delays that seem to be occuring all over Lowndes County. City Chief Operation Officers David Armstrong said he had spoken with Giles Perry of Columbus and Greenville RailRay and Perry reportedly claimed the allegedly delayed trains did not belong to C & G. The city ordinance states that trains are only allowed to be stagnant on the tracks for 15 minutes but according to Board Attorney Jeff Turnage, The Federal Railray Act takes presidence over any city ordinance. Turnage informed the Mayor and Council that several other railrays operate in Columbus including Genesee & Wyoming and Kansas City Southern.
Councilman Karriem asked Fire Chief Kenneth Moore if the stalled trains were a safety hazard and Moore responded that while it may cause a “short delay,” there has been “nothing imperative” as of yet.
Armstrong assured the Mayor and Council that he would continue to look into the matter.
The council then quickly moved through the rest of the night’s agenda but things slowed down significantly when Mayor Smith brought up the subject of the remaining money from the General Obligation Bond Proceeds Fund.
Confusion began almost immediately with council members, Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens in particular, told the city’s Chief Financial Officer Mike Bernsen “I’m going to get mines.”
Back in November of 2010, the City of Columbus was awarded a bond in the amount of $3,671,884.48. Since that time, the city had accured an interest of $12,269.20. The city also recieved $50,000 from the Mississippi Department of Transportation for the railroad closures that occured on 7th Ave. N. in Ward 5. The amount of the bond proceeds totaled up to $3,734,153.68.
Divided among the council memebers, each ward was allocated $614,025.62 with the exception of Councilman Karriem who, including the $50,000 for the railroad closing, was awarded $664,025.62.
Mayor Robert Smith then had various special projects around town that he wanted completed. Deemed “Ward M,” the six council members agreed to split the $114,260.22 cost amongst themselves, taking $19,043.37 away from their initial $614,025.62 and Karriem’s $664,025.62 respectively.
In 2011, each council member did various pavings through out their individual wards. Any amount left over was to be used for their 2012 paving needs. Each councilman also incurred a engineering cost of $23,511.06 which was to be dedcuted from the original amount.
Paving cost varied throughout the wards with Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor spending $462,445.48 on paving and Ward 4 Councilman Fred Stewart spending $341,302.47.
As of June 4, 2012 the amount left over in the Bond Proceeds Fund totaled $1,432,525.86.
Just like he had the year prior, Mayor Robert Smith had a list of special projects that he wanted done. Those projects were listed on Tuesday night’s agenda as re-paving 1st St. S., re-paving the Hitching Lot parking lot, re-paving and striping the city portion of the Catfish Alley parking lot and also to discuss concreting the city’s green area south of Harvey’s parking lot.
According to Smith, he approcahed Bernsen before Tuesday night’s meeting and asked him “What would happen if I used all but a million dollars?,” meaning that he would use $432,525.86 of the remaining $1,432.525.86 on his four proposed special projects.
Since Smith does not recieve a set amount for his special projects, council members would be asked once again to absolve any “Ward M” costs.
Divided amongst the six, each council member would end up paying $72,492.49 to cover the mayor’s $432,525.86.
Bernsen stressed during the meeting that the $432,525.86 was not an exact cost for what the mayor’s projects would cost, saying the four hundred thousand dollar figure was used as a starting point and was simply a way to leave a million dollars even in the fund.
Councilman Mickens took exception to this fact saying “I don’t want to give up a dime nowhere. I need mines that were allocated to me. I don’t agree to take nothin’ from mines.” Mickens then went on to express frustration about Karriem’s getting an extra $50,000, saying “This is more paving going to Ward 5 or Ward 6. I didn’t ask nobody to spend their money in my ward.”
All of the Mayor’s special projects are in Ward 5.
Ward 6 Councilman and Vice Mayor Bill Gaving then spoke up, saying that he was opposed to paving 1st St. S., since in was in another councilman’s ward but had no problem shouldering the costs for parking lots because they are “used by the community.” Of his allocated $614,025.62, Councilman Gaving spent $346,304.58 in paving projects for his ward in 2011.
Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box also objected to paving 1st St. despite Mayor Smith’s statement that the street that runs parallel with the Tombigbee is “caving in in two or three places.”
Mickens then again started in on the various costs of paving when the mayor cut him off saying, “I would hope you’d get your facts together.” Smith then began explaining that the $432,525.86 was not a set price for his proposed four projects when Mickens began to interrupt to which the mayor replied “I have the floor, give me the respect.” Mickens then told the mayor “Calm down, calm down.” Smith quickly responded, “No, you calm down.”
Mickens then addressed Neel-Schaffer Engineer Kevin Stafford, saying, “Before we go any further, I need some fugures. Bring me some figures.” Stafford responded, “Yes, sir.”
Mayor Smith turned his attention to Stafford and said “That’s just one councilman.”
Mickens then spoke to Bernsen, incorrectly calling him “Bernstein,” and said “I demand to know where this money is going.”
The council then voted on all four of the special projects with all passing but the paving of 1st St. All three other projects passed 4-2, with Mickens and Karriem opposing each project.
If The Mayor spends $432,525.86, each councilman will lose the $72,087.65 for their paving projects. After the amount spent on last year’s paving, that will leave Ward 1 Councilman Taylor $79,492.49, Ward 2 Councilman Mickens $176,806.23, Ward 3 Councilman Box $139,340.26, Ward 4 Councilman Stewart $200,635.50, Ward 5 Councilman Karriem $208,092.13 and Ward 6 Councilman Box a remainder of $195,633.39.
Tensions between Mickens and Smith continued after the bond issue passed when the council attempted to vote on a seperate issue of accepting an extension of Chubby Dr. from the county. All six council members raised their hand to vote in agreement with the issue but as he was doing a count, Mayor Smith asked “are you voting Mr. Mickens?” to which Mickens replied, “Check your glasses so you can see sir. My hand is up.”
The council members then tended to the issue of beer sales at the upcoming Junteeth Festival. Mayor Robert Smith proposed the council agreed to authorize beer sales at the festival for the next three years. Smith assured the council that beer would be sold outside the gate when Council Box voiced his concerns over selling beer inside the park. The vote passed 5-1 with Mickens opposed.0