By Kristin Mamrack
Stressing the voluntary nature of the program, the Columbus City Council Tuesday approved a gun buy-back program for the city.
Mayor Robert Smith called the program a “proactive approach to deter crime and take guns off the streets.”
“It’s a proactive approach,” agreed Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem. “It lets citizens know we are concerned about their safety. If we get one gun off the street, it could save someone’s life.”
“It’s been successful in other cities,” said Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box, suggesting city officials set specific prices for guns to be bought back from the community.
Box also noted recent discussion in various communities over the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which grants the right to keep and bear arms, and noted the buy-back program is not an attempt from the government to seize anyone’s firearms.
“This is strictly on a volunteer basis,” he said. “We are not forcing anyone to turn in their guns.”
Under the program, residents may turn in found or no longer needed usable guns at any of four, yet to be determined, locations and receive money in exchange for the guns.
Guns collected later will be checked by the Columbus Police Department to determine if they were reported stolen. Stolen guns will be returned to the rightful owners, CPD Chief Selvain McQueen said, noting guns not found to be stolen will be “retained and disposed of according to state statute.”
“No questions will be asked” of anyone turning in guns, he added.
The council agreed to use $10,000 from the city’s general fund to finance the initiative, but city officials also are seeking financial contributions for the program from community members, churches and businesses.
“We’ll go as long as the guns come in and the money lasts,” McQueen said of the duration of the program, noting business leaders also are urged to donate merchandise or in-kind services, as well.
In Other Matters, the Council:
• Received an update from the city’s chief operations officer, David Armstrong, on the process of replacing the city’s former chief financial officer, Mike Bernsen, who recently resigned from the position.
Armstrong noted 56 applications for the position were received and a committee — comprised of Armstrong, Bernsen, the city’s financial consultant, Mike Crowder, and Human Resources Director Pat Mitchell — narrowed the applicant pool to five applicants to be interviewed.
The committee subsequently further will narrow the pool to three applicants and Box and Karriem then will join the committee to make a recommendation on an applicant to the City Council.
“I feel very good about the choices we can bring to you,” Armstrong told the council, adding he expected to have a recommendation for the council by their first meeting in March and for the position to be filled by early April.
• Heard from Berry Hinds, a resident concerned over possible violations of the Open Meetings Act, which ensures all public bodies, state and local, hold open meetings on public matters.
“I’m a big proponent of open meetings and transparency in government,” he explained, noting he was concerned about “observations” of discussions in executive sessions closed to the public and the council’s failure to report actions taken as a result of such discussions.
Hinds also said “every document given to (council members) for (council) meetings should be made available” to the public and he met with City Attorney Jeff Turnage to discuss the feasibility of copying every document for public use prior to the meetings.
Hinds praised Turnage for “looking for alternatives” in making the documents available.
Turnage noted the documentation currently can be found on the city’s Web page and a single copy of the documents also will be made available for public consumption at the council meetings.
“It always amazes me anybody would have an idea of what was discussed in a closed meeting,” Turnage said, before noting he reviewed Hind’s complaints regarding possible violations of the Open Meetings Act and found none. He also said in instances which Hinds noted no action was reported, no action was taken by the council, because “none was needed.”
• Approved a memorandum of understanding between the city and the Mississippi Wireless Communication Commission, allowing emergency personnel to use a new state-wide radio system, developed following Hurricane Katrina, in the event of a major emergency or problem with the local network system.0