BY BRIAN JONES
COLUMBUS – The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to refuse the City of Columbus’ request for two voting members of the E911 board. Along the way District 1 Supervisor and Board President Harry Sanders said Mayor Robert Smith was a “bully” and called him “belligerent.”
The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously at its April 14 meeting to reorganize the E911 board. The supervisors proposed going back to its original configuration, which was five voting members – one from each supervisor district – and four at-large non-voting members: the police chief, the sheriff, the fire chief and the EMA director.
County Administrator Ralph Billingsley came before the Columbus City Council April 21 to seek approval of the plan. The council told Billingsley they wanted a voting member of the board. A letter was later sent to the supervisors asking for two voting members. The city council, at their meeting, all but threatened to stop paying their $125,000 yearly contribution to E911 if the changes were not made.
Monday morning Billingsley presented the city’s request to the supervisors.
“I’d like to leave it the way it is,” said District 3 Supervisor John Holliman.
“What happens if we don’t agree?” asked District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith. “I’m just asking the question.”
“Having been around for a while, I think this is one of the better structures we have,” said District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks. “I think the advice that the professionals can give to the 911 board is invaluable. The whole thing is to get the information they need to make good decisions. If we go in and do as they requested, what you’re doing is going back to that large board system. I really think we have a good setup.
“I’m not trying to get into a spit-spat with the mayor and city council,” Brooks said. “But I just don’t think it’s good to say in the paper that if we don’t do this they’re going to stop the funding. I think we need to have joint meetings and work through it. Personally, having seen the 911 board evolve, I think this is a good structure.”
Sanders made the motion to proceed as planned, and was seconded by Brooks. The motion passed 4-0, with Smith abstaining.
“I got a problem with voting on something without clarity,” Smith said. “There are some differences of opinion between the two entities about what should take place. Right now we’re just pulling back and forth. I think we need to find a clear direction, and not silence the other side.”
“The city wrote a letter asking for two voting members on that board,” Sanders said. “I got another letter from the mayor, and he’s said… ‘I’m advising you with this letter that it is the unanimous opinion of the Columbus City Council that the small arms firing range should be operated and managed by the City of Columbus.’ I don’t recall them having a city council meeting and voting on this, so I don’t know when they reached this unanimous decision. My opinion is since the county has got most of the money in the firing range that we should run it. We’ve got $118,000 cash money more than they do. We’ve got $43,000 more in-kind than they do. The sheriff’s department and the chief of police discussed this, and the chief said he didn’t care or mind if the county managed the firing range. We’ve got three certified trainers and the city doesn’t have any. I just think the county needs to be the lead.
“The real important thing is that we’ve got a state-of-the-art bullet collector to collect the bullets,” Sanders said. “It’s got maintenance that needs to be done. The manufacturer held a seminar about upkeep, and if you didn’t come and weren’t trained to maintain it the warranty was void. The sheriff sent people, but the city elected not to send anybody. I don’t see how they can maintain and manage this firing range. They proposed that the chief assign an experienced firing range officer to manage, and the city bill the county for one half of all costs. I think the county ought to just run it ourselves.”
“It’s obvious we’ve gotten on a slippery slope,” Brooks said. “There are a number of things that we’re working on with the city. We just need to have a joint meeting with the city. This back and forth is just not good for handling business. I just feel like we’re going to be heading in a direction where we’re clashing, and I don’t want to get caught up in it. I don’t have a problem tangoing, I’m just not in a tangoing mood. Why they would want to manage it, I don’t know.”
“We had a meeting,” Sanders said. “(County Administrator Ralph Billingsley) was there. (Sheriff Mike Arledge) was there. I was there. The chief of police was there. (Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong) was there. The mayor was there. We discussed all these things. We left it up to the sheriff and the chief of police. They worked out a deal where the county would lead. The chief said he couldn’t speak for the city council and mayor, I’m going to have to carry it back to them to see what they say. They turned around and wrote me this letter saying they wanted to be in charge. I don’t know why they want to do that. At that meeting the mayor was rude, boisterous, bullying. He jumped all over me when I hadn’t done a thing. I’ve got witnesses to that. I don’t know what the mayor’s problem is. After that meeting he jumped on me again about trying to steal his money with this Riverwalk going to the air base. Well, I didn’t have anything to do with that. This is not the county’s problem. This is not something the county initiated. We’ve done lots of work for the city. I don’t know what the mayor’s problem is. I haven’t talked to any of the city councilmen, it’s all the mayor.
“I don’t have a problem with the county running this,” Sanders said. “I’ve watched the city run stuff, and I don’t ever run too good. All you’ve got to do is look at the Trotter. How many months behind are they on that? Did they put an elevator in there and all that other stuff?”
“I think we can operate in a way that’s less expensive,” said District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham. “We have the people on staff who can run it. We’re not going to have to add personnel.”
“We all know the personalities that they have and that we have,” Brooks said. “I’ve gotten some criticism from the city’s side where I didn’t even know what they were talking about. I just pressed on.”
Brooks made a motion, seconded by Sanders, that the county run the firing range.
“I read in the paper and hear the moaning and groaning where the police department is understaffed and underfunded and doesn’t have enough personnel,” Sanders said. “And here they are talking about taking some of their policemen and putting them down at the firing range. I don’t understand that.”
“I have no problem with the firing range,” Smith said. “We’ve been part of that process and done everything that was asked of us. That’s an easy vote. But on the (E911 board) there hasn’t been a lot of discussion. I don’t want to get into a pull and jerk.”
“In the past the county board of supervisors has always run 911,” Sanders said. “The city has had no input on it. I put (then-Fire Chief Ken Moore) on the board as my representative from District 1. That’s how the city got a vote. But he was also a county vote, because I appointed him. When JD Sanders was chief of police, he was a non-voting member. He was a charismatic person, and he came to the board and asked us to put him on there as a voting member. It turned out to be a mistake. When you get people who run the sheriff’s department, police department, fire department, they have an agenda. It’s all right if they’re in there as an advisory, but if they’ve got a vote there’s a conflict if they vote.”
The board unanimously voted to run the firing range themselves.
Lowndes County resident John Lumsden asked the board to look at the safety risk posed by a railroad crossing on Beersheba Road.
“I’ve lived on Beersheba Road for over 40 years,” he said. “I live within a quarter mile of the railroad crossing. I’m very aware of what goes on there. We’re concerned about the safety. Our research indicates that the information that has been provided to the Mississippi Department of Transportation about Beersheba Road is in error. It’s old.
“The traffic count that they cite is from 1995,” he said. “In 1995 Beersheba Road may have been gravel. A lot of things have happened. I’ve watched it grow from a gravel road to one of the busiest in the county. This documentation says it’s unpaved, but it’s been paved for 15 or 20 years. It says there are no school buses, but there are at least five buses loaded with children that cross that crossing twice a day. This situation has evolved, and it needs some attention. We’d like to get an accurate assessment of how many cars use that crossing every day. If you go down there at 10 a.m. it’s real quiet. If you from 7 to 8 in the morning, or 3 to 4 in the afternoon, there’s a lot of traffic on that road.”
Sanders said the board would try to get MDOT to put a traffic counter on the road.
“I think it’s important we do this,” he said.
Alice Lancaster of the Bernard Romans Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution asked for permission to relocate some plaques honoring World War I dead from the Magnolia Bowl to the courthouse.
“There were plaques on the inside wall that were dedicated on Nov. 11, 1933, honoring the Lowndes County Citizens that were killed in the First World War,” Lancaster said. “The city school district is renovating the Magnolia Bowl. We have talked to (Superintendent Philip Hickman) and told him we didn’t want them destroyed. We’ve written a letter to the mayor. There are two plaques made of marble. They are being stored now at Joe Cook Elementary. We’re hoping that the board will let us put them in front of the courthouse.”
Sanders asked Billingsley to work with Lancaster to find a place for them.
In other business:
- Billingsley announced two board vacancies: Rissa Lawrence’s term on the Convention and Visitors Bureau board and Scott Hannon’s term on the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority board are both expiring.
- The board accepted a bid of $865,544 by APAC to overlay about 1.6 miles of Lehmberg Road. The other bidder was Falcon Contracting, who bid $878,410. The estimate was $870,048.