BY BRIAN JONES
At the first meeting of the new board, the Caledonia Board of Aldermen accepted the resignation of longtime board attorney Jeff Smith.
The decision came during an hour-and-fifteen-minute executive session to discuss rehiring municipal employees, which is a routine item of business following an election.
When the board returned to open session, Mayor Bill Lawrence said that Alderman Bill Darnell had made a motion to rehire Smith, but his motion died for lack of a second.
Alderman Quinn Parham made a motion, seconded by Alderman Steve Honnoll, to accept Smith’s resignation, and the motion passed unanimously. Chris Hemphill was hired on a unanimous vote as interim board attorney. The board will accept applications until July 31 for the post.
Smith has served as board attorney since 1982.
After the meeting, Smith released the following statement:
“I started as Caledonia’s Town Attorney 31 years ago today, as a young lawyer working with Gen. Shields Sims and not long out of law school. The late Chancery Judge William W. Bearden had been the Town Attorney since 1960. He resigned when appointed to the Post of Chancery Judge for the 14th Chancery Court District by then-Governor William Winter. He replaced Hon. Lenore Prather after she was appointed to the Supreme Court Bench, replacing the late Supreme Court Justice Suggs from Eupora.
“I served 31 years (to the day) as the Town Attorney, replacing an icon such as Judge Bearden. During the years as town attorney I served with many good men, and, during my last 20, women. I hope I did some small amount of good with my service to the Town and its citizens.
“In early 2012 I was appointed Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the Mississippi House of Representatives. It is so time consuming and takes away from my duties I could devote to the Town. Thus rather than being stretched too thin, I thought I would give someone else a chance to represent this growing town. Give Mayor Lawrence and his folks a chance to have a fresh start, with someone else. I felt I had done my duty, and will still represent the area in my Legislative Seat; yet not have to drive back and forth from Jackson 12 or l5 times a year, at night.
“I have served with grandchildren of the original Board members and see so much happen to the Town, and hope this new Mayor and Board move forward, and wish them Godspeed.”
[The aldermen were behind closed doors for about an hour when they called Mr. Smith back into the boardroom. He couldn’t have been back there for more than a minute or two at most before he emerged again and left. While I don’t question the board’s ability to rehire or not rehire their attorney, it seemed a cheap way to end the tenure of someone who has served the town for as long as Mr. Smith has. Mr. Smith is currently the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the state legislature, and he has often been a staunch advocate for the town. I hope the mayor and aldermen haven’t shot themselves in the foot with this decision.
[When prior mayor George Gerhart left office, I hoped I had seen the last of the behind-closed-doors personnel maneuverings that marred his final term. I am more than a little disappointed to see that Mr. Lawrence’s first meeting at the helm ended with more of the same. – Brian Jones] All other employees were rehired with little comment. Park Director Alan Glenn, who, as a new hire, has been on probation, was removed from probation and became an official employee. The board also sifted through 14 applications for the town clerk’s position, and voted to call five candidates back for an interview on July 11. The post has been vacant since Interim Town Clark Krista Hill resigned earlier this year; former Town Clerk Judy Whitcomb has been handling the position on a part-time basis.
With the exception of the executive session, the new board blazed through the remainder of their agenda in about thirty minutes.
Water Superintendent Benny Coleman reported that the town’s request for a water rate increase is, once again, before the Public Service Commission. The town has been struggling for the better part of two years to get a water rate increase approved, but has faced roadblock after roadblock. Coleman reported that the Water Department is “pretty steady into its reserves” to make the monthly payments on the new water plant.
The next step is for the PSC to advertise a notice of the request for an increase. If anyone objects, the town will have to hold a public hearing.
In other business:
• Tami McCool was appointed chairwoman of the Caledonia Days Committee.
• Lawrence asked the board to approve a limited scope audit of the town’s finances. His request was unanimously approved. “This is customary with a new administration,” he said.
• Smith reported that the town’s application for a $150,000 Small Municipalities Grant was before the Mississippi Development Authority in Jackson. If successful, the money will go towards the town’s upcoming sewer project.