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Caledonia Aldermen Discuss Caledonia Day, Employee Grievance

During their July 3 meeting, the Caledonia Board of Aldermen discussed Caledonia Day issues, heard complaints from citizens and took action on an employee grievance.

Susan Bell gave an update on plans for Caledonia Day.
Bell submitted a $29,775 budget. Bell said the Caledonia Day committee is requesting $15,000 from the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and $1,075 from the town.
“We are going to the CVB this month,” she said. “If everybody else in the county can have the money, we can get some too. They gave us funding last year, and without it we couldn’t have had all the entertainment we had last year.”
“Let me ask you something about that,” said Mayor George Gerhart, directing his question to Rissa Lawrence, a CVB board member who was in the audience. “Why was the Legends Concert denied the money?” “They withdrew their application,” Lawrence responded. “We were in the process of talking about it, we had a motion and were about to vote and they withdrew their application. They said if the full board was not in support of the concert they would withdraw their application.”
[They are referring to the June CVB meeting, when the CVB was to vote on whether or not to fund a request from the organizers of the Legends Concert. When it became clear that there was serious opposition from some board members, organizers Roger Short and Steve Rogers withdrew their request. – Brian Jones] “You just need to approve the town’s part,” said Town Attorney Jeff Smith. “You’ve set up a committee to draw up a budget and the only thing you need to approve is the little over a thousand dollars you’re putting in.”
Bell also asked that the town compensate Town Clerk Judy Whitcomb for taking the minutes of the Caledonia Day committee meetings. Alderman Bill Darnell said that he had discussed the issue with the state Ethics Commission and received their blessing.
“I called Tom Hood at the Ethics Commission and asked him how to make these meetings legal and above board,” Darnell said. “He said to handle it like a town meeting where you’ve posted it at least six places and we have someone there to handle the minutes.”
Darnell made a motion to pay Whitcomb, and Alderwoman Brenda Willis seconded. It passed unanimously.

Citizen Jerry Brackin complained about the recent increase in sewer rates.
“I assume this is the complaint department, too,” he said. “On the bottom of my bill it says last payment on June 12 was $28.60. Up until June 12 it was a lot less than that, $21 or $22. I understand things go up. But all of a sudden it’s jumped up to $46, just in time for the half sewage bill. I’ve got a bill here for $69. That’s unreasonable and out of touch. I’m beginning to think that it’s Obama’s cabinet up here handling things, spending money. You don’t know when to keep spending. When I get behind, I have to cut back and y’all should do the same thing.”
“When we sent the bills out last month, there was a notice on there,” said Water Department Office Manager Cathy Brown, who was in the audience. “We tried to warn everyone that it was coming.”
“Well, $69 is a little much for two people,” Brackin said.
“How many gallons did you use?” Brown asked.
“I used 10,000 gallons,” Brackin said.
“Have you checked your meter?” asked Water Superintendent Benny Coleman. “Give us a call and I’ll come check it.”

Caledonia resident Charlie Underhill also chastised the board.
“These two fellas are neighbors of mine, but I didn’t ask them to come,” Gerhart said before Underhill spoke. “They have legitimate complaints.”
“I’m like Jerry, this place is getting to sound like Congress and the White House,” Underhill said. “You’re passing the buck. Stuff on the table has been up here for two or three months and you’re not getting nothing solved. You were voted in, you get paid, if you’d make decisions you wouldn’t have all these problems running around up here. These [reporters] wouldn’t have anything to do, they wouldn’t be coming up here and writing in the paper every week.”

Darnell asked that the board consider a policy to reduce the sewer bills for citizens with pools. The town’s sewer bills were recently changed to half of the water bill; for example, a $10 water bill would generate a $5 sewer bill.
“The customers are getting hit in their sewer charges when they fill their pools,” Darnell said.
“I talked to someone who had a $77 sewer bill after filling up his swimming pool,” Coleman said. “He asked if it could be changed because the water from the pools doesn’t go into the sewer. We could figure out how much volume went into the pool and deduct that from the sewer part.”
Coleman estimated that there were 10 or 15 customers who would be affected.
“They’re going to pay the water expense, they just want a break on the sewer part,” Coleman said.
Alderman Mike Savage made a motion to amend the policy with a second by Willis. The motion passed unanimously.

The board approved a memorandum of understanding between Water Department employee Trey Robertson, Coleman and the town.
Robertson had filed a grievance against Coleman alleging that Coleman refused to give him a $1-per-hour raise he is owed after earning a water operator’s certification in June 2011. Robertson alleged that Coleman told him no action would be taken on his raise until a legal dispute between the Water Department and his family is resolved.
The memorandum of understanding reads, in part:
“The employee has not conducted himself in an exemplary or workman like manner to the satisfaction of the supervisor and thus the…certificate has not been executed. The Parties wish to bring about a reconciliation or favorable conclusion to said situation concerning the employee having an unexecuted and uncertified certificate of completion of his Water Operator’s Certification/License.
“For a period of 60 days…the employee shall be given a $1 per hour pay increase and during said 60 days…the employee shall act and show his ability to conduct, understand, maintain and articulate his skills and workmanship in a degree and manner which shows the town and supervisor he understands any and all relevant duties, specifications and curriculum of a certified Water Operator within the State of Mississippi. Said duties shall include but not be limited to the following: punctuality; work attendance; understanding of water transmission, circulation and use; basic understanding of money use and cost of operations; water purification, clarification and making, maintaining and transmitting potable water; honesty and integrity; basic understanding of work, duty, loyalty and fidelity to supervisor. The above or majority of the requirements which must be observed and maintained by the employee, and observed by the supervisor, and any town officials deemed by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen to also view same.
“Upon satisfactory completion of the above duties, regulations and requirements, the $1 per hour shall become permanent and become part and parcel of the wage/compensation of the employee; and the supervisor shall further execute and sign the Operator’s Certificate issued to the employee and said employee shall be considered, thereafter in all premises, a certified and completely authorized Water Operator.
“However, if the employee does not show the requisite skills, duties, attitude and requirements, said $1 per hour shall cease and supervisor is not required to execute the above mentioned Operator’s Certificate received by employee in June 2011.”
Gerhart, Robertson and Coleman were each given a copy of the MOU and asked to sign it by the close of business on Friday.
“What if Trey doesn’t agree to some of this in here and doesn’t sign it?” Gerhart asked.
“Then we’re back to square one,” Smith said.
Alderman Quinn Parham made a motion to approve the MOU. Willis seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.

After the meeting, Gerhart said, “I think this is just going to prolong the issue. [Robertson] is already trusted to do a lot of work up there. I don’t understand why [Coleman] is putting off signing the certification, and I don’t understand why the board won’t ask him why he won’t sign it. This has been going on since May of last year. The entire board insisted that [Robertson] take the exam, and he passed.”
Robertson has been with the Water Department for five years.

In other business, the board:
Formed a committee to look into pursuing a Safe Routes to Schools grant to install and improve sidewalks. Darnell, Savage and Steve Honnell were named to the committee.
Accepted a collage of photographs and newspaper clippings about Ola J. Pickett, for whom the town park is named. The collage will be displayed at Town Hall. “I don’t think many people here know who Ms. Pickett was, even though the park is named after her,” Willis said.
Approved paying $500 to Shane Bradford for training and scheduling officials for sports programs at the park.
Approved a resolution asking the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors to request that the Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District clean out a ditch.

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