Board hopefuls expound on city topics
Editor’s note: Today, The DAILY LEADER continues to publishcandidates’ responses to questions on several issues facing thecity. Today’s focus is on the Ward Five alderman race. IncumbentD.W. Maxwell, a Democrat, will face Republican Fletcher Grice inthe June 2 general election. Both are unopposed for theirrespective party’s nomination. The job of alderman pays an annualsalary of $15,917.
Candidates’ responses have been checked for spelling but areotherwise printed as submitted. On Friday, the question and answerseries will look at candidates for alderman of Ward Six.
1. Brookhaven’s annexation took effect in July 2007, andcities typically have five years to provide municipal levelservices to newly incorporated areas. From your standpoint, what isyour opinion of city progress in your ward toward that goal so farand what specific things will you do as alderman to furtherprogress?
Grice:When an area is annexed, some serviceshave to be provided immediately, such as police protection and fireprotection. In my opinion this is being done. I’ve also seenevidence of street lights and understand that there are more tocome. So there is some activity of services being provided. So inmy opinion, the Mayor and board are making some progress. Some ofthe things I will do if elected, is to work with the City engineerin support of a plan for other services, such as water and sewer.Once this plan is established, I will work together with all Wardsto prioritize the plan. I also plan to work closely with the CityAttorney on the legal side of the plan. We must be careful to obeyall laws and the rights of all parties involved.
Maxwell: At this point the Mayor and City Boardhas implemented additional policemen, vehicles, and fireman who arenow serving the newly incorporated areas. Currently our cityengineers are evaluating the water and sewer needs in all the newannexation areas. Also, in Ward 5, streetlights have beeninstalled, some new paving and turnarounds, garbage, trash, varioussignage and new speed limit signs will be installed shortly. Also,just recently there have been upgrades in sewer lines in Ward 5 tohandle additional expansion of sewer facilities in the Northwestarea of the city. In the annexation area of Ward 5 we will beletting contract soon for the Field Lark Lane Bridge. The finalengineering plans, right-of-ways, letters etc. have been mailed toMDOT. The county and city is now waiting on word from MDOT to bidand let the contract. I don’t always see all the needs as I drivethrough our neighborhoods, so I ask that you call and make me awareof things needed in your neighborhoods. Working together, we aremaking progress and we will continue to make even greater progressin the future.
2. The Dr. A.L. Lott Baseball League Program has haddifficulty attracting participants, with the program being canceledfor the 2007 year due to a lack of participation. What is youranswer for increasing participation, and what would you do insituations where parents have trouble paying leaguefees?
Grice:I think every child that has an interestin playing youth sports should have the opportunity, but theresponsibility of fees, and finding scholarships to off set thecost falls to the parents or guardian. Parents know their childrenbetter than anyone, therefore the main encouragement must come fromthe parents. If a child is interested, and scholarship funding isnot available, parents will find a way to pay the league fees.Choices such as not eating out as often or cutting back in otherareas is an option. There are more costs other than just leaguefees. There is the cost of equipment. Whose responsibility is that?The City or parents? There is the cost for gas to get the child topractice and to games. Whose responsibility is that? The City orthe parents? There is the cost of time. Whose responsibility isthat? The City or the parents? Youth sports can be a wonderfulexperience for children and parents, but the ownership must comefrom the parents.
Maxwell: Last year (2008) our RecreationDirector spent a tremendous amount of time seeking privatedonations of monies to provide scholarships for those children whowere having trouble paying $35.00 for their baseball uniforms.Under state law it is illegal to provide personal uniforms for thechildren from Recreation Tax Appropriations. Only 22 out of the 148children who participated paid for their uniforms. The RecreationDirector does not have time to seek private donations and besidesthis endeavor should be a local community project. In 2008 ourRecreation Director did not have any help in raising funds from anyof the people living in the community surrounding the Dr. A. L.Lott Baseball Field and only one person in that local communitydonated to the fund, while nearly $5,000 was spent in helping 126children in the local community. Did all of the 126 children trulyneed help? Who knows other than the parents? Most parents wereunwilling to fill out a hardship form to determine if there wastruly a need for a scholarship. Its time that someone speaks-up andtells it like it should be. This is a local community need andeveryone living in the local community who believes in helpingthose less fortunate should step up and help the local neighborhoodchildren who really need the assistance. It is not the place of thecity taxpayer to pay for personal items for recreation. The CityRecreation Department pays for all the equipment etc. that iscommonly used and needed for all players.
This year 77 children registered within the required time and noone has received a scholarship through the Recreation Department.Only a few people even ask if it was available until after thedeadline for registering. As a result, earlier this year thedecision was made that the Recreation Director would not spendseveral weeks seeking monies for private scholarships. Now, afterthe registering deadline, we have parents asking why their childrencannot play and also why there are no scholarships to pay for theiruniforms. I ask you, the parents, WHY did you not register withinthe allotted time? There was information sheets sent home withevery child from school and our Recreation Department contactedeveryone that had played in 2008. If the need for scholarships hadbeen known earlier, then your local community could have worktogether through an organization such as the Boys and Girls Club orthe local churches to have met this need.
Once more peace and loving harmony comes back to Dr. A. L. LottBaseball Field along with a supportive local community, which ithas been to a great extent this year with 77 children registeringtimely and paying their fees, I believe participation will continueto improve. Again, this is a local community need not theresponsibility of your city government.
3. The subject of liquor sales came up during a recentcity planning discussion. Proponents of legalized liquor sales citethe benefits of increased sales tax collections while opponentsworry about negative social consequences. What is your position onthe issue? If opposed, what suggestions do you have to find newsales tax revenue for the city?
Grice:It is true that liquor sales willincrease sales tax. It is true that most of us, if not all of us,have visited other cities and have eaten at restaurants that serveliquor. In some ways, I find it hypocritical to oppose the sale ofliquor in our city, yet frequent an establishment in another citythat sales it. One option might be to allow restaurants to serveliquor by the glass, but not to allow liquor stores that sell bythe bottle. I have mixed emotions about this subject. We all knowthe destruction that alcohol can bring to a family and we know thelasting impact of a loved one who has been in a motor vehicleaccident due to alcohol. But, what makes Brookhaven different? Weshould be proud of our city’s family atmosphere? Doesn’t it setBrookhaven apart from other cities not to sell liquor? Could thatfactor be a selling point to attract new business and new residentsto Brookhaven to increase our tax base?
Maxwell: Currently the City of Brookhavenallows the sale of beer only. Under present state law the City ofBrookhaven cannot consider legal liquor sales without the vote ofall the county voters. It is my understanding that ten percent ofthe COUNTY’S qualified voters must sign a petition requesting avote on such an issue, and then each and every voter of LincolnCounty would have the opportunity to vote on such an issue eitherto approve or disapprove liquor sales. Sales can be allowed eitheronly within the City of Brookhaven with special exception, or theentire county. With special exception, sales may also be limited bydrink only in restaurants. Should this issue ever arise in anyform, each voter of the county will have an opportunity to decide.It will not be your Mayor or your Alderman who will decide theissue of liquor sales. It will be YOU, the voter. Each voter in thecounty will make the decision about any negative socialconsequences or any additional revenues generated through the saleof liquor in restaurants or retail establishments. Only upon themajority approval of liquor sales and only then will your CityBoard have to deal with the detail of this matter. If legal liquorsales were to be approved, then your City Board will have the dutyto deal with such matters and must approve or disapproveaccordingly to our state law.
I have always been a promoter of new businesses within the Cityof Brookhaven and they certainly don’t have to sell liquor to be agreat business for our wonderful city. Brookhaven is the automobilecenter for Southwest Mississippi and better times are coming forthis industry. We should promote our automobile businesses here inBrookhaven as we travel around the state. The same is becoming trueof the banking industry. I believe we are on the verge of becomingthe banking center for Southwest Mississippi. We have a lot ofcommercial and residential growth in Ward 5 and with your help wewill continue to support that growth in a proper manner as yourAlderman. Our downtown area has become a showcase for smallbusinesses and apartment dwellings in Southwest Mississippi. Asyour Alderman, I will support expansion of remolding of olderbuildings and erecting new buildings for businesses in our vacantlots downtown. Our downtown endeavors are beginning to set us apartfrom our neighbors in Southwest Mississippi.
4. Brookhaven has an acute shortage of assisted livingfacilities. What is your vision for creating and furtheringdevelopment of assisted living facilities in Brookhaven? How do youplan to accomplish this goal?
Grice:The one thing we certainly do not want todo is discourage development in this area. The city needs to workwith developers that are interested in building assisted livingfacilities. We must continue to market ourselves as the best cityin Southwest Mississippi to live. We could approach otherfacilities and ask them what we could to have you expand to ourcity. Tax cuts are always a good incentive for development. Forexample, an undeveloped piece of property, with low taxes could bekept low for a determined amount of years after the property hasbeen developed. Also we give our police department and firedepartment tools they need to keep our city safe. Those of us whohave family members in an assisted living facility, know the valueand peace of mind it brings in knowing our loved ones are safe.
Maxwell: We certainly have a need for assistedliving as well as apartments, condos and/or townhouses for ourelderly. I also see a need for transportation to be includedbecause an elderly person’s needs in most places around Brookhavenwould require some short travel to the necessary facilities wherethey must go. In places where we now have apartments for theelderly, I am receiving requests about having public transportationwhereby the residents could gather together and go out at night fordinner. I see a real need for these services in Brookhaven.
I believe private development and entrepreneurship will be thequickest answer to solve the problem. Even though our local housingauthority will be erecting new housing soon, it will only solve asmall portion of the real needs. Also, I have had discussions withKDMC about assisted living and they could be a great help insecuring a developer for such facilities. Our citizens, CityPlanning Commission, city personnel, and City Board all must worktogether to accomplish this goal. This is not a new subject withthe current City Board. We all are aware of this need and I havemade some inquiries as your Alderman. I will recommend to our CityBoard that we make a greater effort in this pursuit individuallyand as a City Board. With a combination of different people, Ibelieve we can find private developers and entrepreneurs for thesevisions and we can help a developer accomplish what is really ourgoal.
5. Should aldermen be allowed to vote on their own payraises and have them take effect immediately, or should pay raisesbe made effective at the beginning of the next term?
Grice:Aldermen do have the right to votethemselves a raise. But I think that raise should take affect atthe start of the next term. This allows the voters to evaluate yourjob performance, and if they are not happy, they can vote you outof office.
Maxwell: This is another item that has beenestablished by state government. If our legislators didn’t vote fortheir pay raises, they would never get one. The same is true forcity alderman throughout the state. If the City Alderman did notvote for pay raises for each of the department personnel and eachof the city officials they would never get a raise. I realized thisis always a sensitive issue from a taxpayer’s prospective as wellas myself as a taxpayer and it should be. However, if a great cityexpects to continue to be great and grow, the city must make aneffort to find ways to pay the deserving personnel a living wageand benefit that is comparable to private industry and as anAlderman, we also must remove personnel that are under performingin our city departments. I believe in helping personnel improvebefore dismissal, which our city has just accomplished through twoof its employees who were under performing because they did nothave a commercial drivers license as required. With the city’sencouragement and push, the city now has two more good truckdrivers with a commercial license. They are now a greater benefitto our city and they have helped themselves with a pay upgrade.
My opinion is that all city personnel, City Mayor, other CityOfficials, and Alderman should have salaries brought in line withcomparable cities and/or local industry, which I believe this CityBoard has accomplished over the last four years. The City Board hasdone this in different years with different departments during ourterm. Specifically, as to the City Alderman, they have voted onlyfor a modest cost of living raise for each of the last 3 years.From this point going forward, I believe all pay scales are mostlyin line where they should be. Therefore in the future the CityBoard should only have to address a modest cost of living increaseeach year for everyone. This should also include Alderman on ayearly basis so that they don’t fall behind and have to request alarger raise at some point in the future. If you feel that anAlderman does not earn what they are being paid, then make us moreaccountable by calling and letting us know your opinion about citymatters and city problems in your neighborhood so that we mayaddress them. As your Alderman, I welcome those calls. I don’t knowyour opinion or necessarily your problems unless you call and letme know. Sometimes I may not be able to assist you as a CityAlderman, because the problem lies on private property or sometimesthe problem is part of a larger problem requiring much money tosolve. I get a lot of calls, almost daily, for problems, over 200work orders and many worked hours will attest to that fact, but Ireceive very few calls from you expressing your desires andopinions about city matters. Just to let you know it’s not alwayseasy as an Alderman. It’s my desire to serve the people and striveto do my very best for the city. There are more problems to solvethan there is money available and as a result frustration sets inwhen we cannot solve all the problems. However, I truly believeduring this term your current Mayor and City Board has set a recordin seeking and receiving extra money for various projects aroundthe city, which we hope will pay great dividends in the future.
6. Open meetings and public records laws are designed toensure that the public’s business is conducted in public, but thereare some topics in which a board may go into executive session todiscuss. How frequently – if at all – should the city board closetheir meetings?
Grice:Executive sessions should not haverestraints placed on them. Some matters are private and should bekept that way to protect those individuals involved, and out ofcourtesy to those parties involved. Some situations may result in alegal matter. For example having to deal with an employee that hasbroken the law or a matter of an employee’s job performance. Therehas to be a balance between openness, and privacy, that protects aperson’s rights. No company, no church, no business, conducts everymeeting in public.
Maxwell: I believe the City Board should alwayshave the right to go into closed executive sessions as often asneeded, but only for certain purposes such as personnel issues,contract negotiations and legal issues. It is usually many detailedfacts and sometimes unknowingly non-facts that are discussed duringexecutive sessions, which if made public may be harmful ordetrimental to some person or the city. If any of the discussionswere later proven not to be factual and if they had been discussedin open meetings, the city could possibly have some legal liabilityor in the case of contracts irreparable harm could result to thecity.
When the City Board decides to take action on any discussionduring an executive session and upon the City Board coming out ofthat executive session, the City Board then immediately takesaction on the said issue and the necessary facts are then madepublic.