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Council Approves Pay Raise — Mickens Challenges City Engineer Over Bills From Former Opponent

Jeff Clark - logoCity Beat

The Columbus City Council on Tuesday voted 3-2 to initiate a $4,000 pay raise for themselves effective July 1. Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box and Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin voted against the measure. Ward 4 Councilman Fred Stewart did not attend the meeting — his last as an elected official.
Although the pay increase was not on the printed agendas at the meeting, Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens asked Mayor Robert Smith to add it to the agenda before the council voted to adopt its policy agenda. Mickens made the motion to approve the raise and Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem seconded the motion.
The pay raise, which will take effect July 1, had to be approved before the next council begins its term July 1. Council members currently make $17,500 annually and they receive Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance and a public employee retirement plan through the state.
Smith said the council has not had a pay increase since 2005.
“Mayor, I would like to state that I’m opposed to this,” Box said. “We all knew what the job paid when we ran for office this year. Compared to other cities around us, we are well-compensated for what we do.”
Box said the raise was a “mistake.”
“I believe we are making a mistake by giving ourselves a 30 percent raise when we haven’t been able to give our city employees a raise — they’ve only had one raise in four years,” said Box as city employees applauded.
“Mayor, I’m opposed to the raise for the same reasons Mr. Box stated,” Gavin said. “It is my understanding the council before us voted a raise for us. We have firemen and policemen and other employees that need money. I’m not saying the job is not worth more money. Anyone that has served up here knows probably that it’s worth more than it pays. I didn’t get into this for the money. I got into this to help the folks of Columbus, Mississippi, make this a better city, and I’m opposed to the raise.”
Before the council voted for the pay raise, Mickens questioned City Engineer Kevin Stafford over some charges he had allegedly billed to the city. According to Mickens, Stafford had billed the city for three Neel-Schaffer invoices that were work requests from his former Ward 2 opponent, Susan Mackay.
“I’m looking at a bill submitted by Neel-Schaffer, but it was made at the request of Susan Mackay,” Mickens said. “Ms. Mackay is not a council member, nor does she work for a city department. Why would you send us a bill from a resident from the city?”
Stafford said Mackay had asked for public information and that some city personnel, including Smith, were aware of her requests.
“Ms. Mackay is a constituent of the City of Columbus,” Stafford said. “She came to me on three occasions asking for information that was public information that the city engineer has. The things she asked for  — not only was she involved but (Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority Director Roger Short), the Mayor and (deceased Public Works Director Mike Pratt) were also involved.”
According to Stafford, Mackay’s invoices were for a report on the retention pond near the East Columbus Gym, a list of paved streets and a new map of Ward 2.
As Mickens continued to question Stafford, Mackay, who was watching the proceedings on TV, showed up at the Municipal Complex, where she angrily approached the podium, saying, “I’m going to pay this right now.”
Columbus Police Lt. James Grant, CPD Officer Stephen Kemp and Smith told Mackay to sit down. Grant and Kemp escorted her to an empty seat in the complex.
On Wednesday, Mackay said she went to City Hall to pay the invoices, which she believes were slightly over $100, but was told by Chief Financial Officer Louis Rawles that she would not have to pay them.
“They wouldn’t take my check,” Mackay said. “I don’t think what I did or said was out of line. I just wanted to explain myself and take care of the situation.”
Mickens could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.



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