Board eyes faster derelict lot action

Published 8:00 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Aldermen want to see derelict lots cleaned up faster and the mayor has dropped plans to directly involve aldermen in the hiring of assistant department heads.

     Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell expressed concerns at Tuesday evening’s board meeting about the once-annual lot cleanup process. Maxwell complained that aldermen submit derelict lots, but that new problem lots often arise after the hearings have been held.

     And once problem lots have been submitted to the building inspector for action, Maxwell said he believes results are slow to come by.

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     “This board seems to have a problem getting things done timely,” Maxwell said.

     Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates supported the idea.

     “By the time you get the certified letters out and get them back, the grass is dying,” Bates said.

     Maxwell suggested lots be submitted and hearings scheduled every two months or once a quarter.

     City attorney Joe Fernald supported the latter. He said the legal procedures to request a lot be cleaned and to take action take too long for an every-two-month schedule to be practical.

     “This has to be done right,” Fernald said. “You have to have a calendar and follow it.”

     Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron added that he wants to see the city aggressively pursue hiring a code enforcement officer. Aldermen have agreed in prior meetings that such an officer could help aldermen ensure ordinance and code violations throughout the city are addressed.

     A code enforcement officer was budgeted into the 2011-12 fiscal year, but the post was never filled. The 2012-13 budget again includes the post, and aldermen seemed determined this year to see the post filled.

     In another matter, after some discussion, Mayor Les Bumgarner backtracked on plans to have select aldermen interview candidates for assistant department head vacancies in the Street and Water departments.

     Bumgarner had previously proposed a committee of four aldermen interview the final candidates selected by the department heads. Bumgarner had brushed aside concerns that four aldermen, a quorum of the board, would constitute a formal meeting of the board.

     Ultimately, aldermen, including Shirley Estes of Ward Four, expressed fears aldermen and department heads might disagree on the final selection of a candidate, leading to conflict.

     “Why should we overrule department heads?” Estes asked, citing the increased familiarity of department heads with the job requirements.

     After no alderman strongly supported their own involvement in the interviewing process, Bumgarner reversed course and determined department heads and the mayor would select a final candidate and present them to the board for approval.

     “All I want is someone that will be good for the city,” said Keith Lewis, head of the Brookhaven Water Department.

     The city also approved Lowery, Payn, Leggett and Associates to perform the city audit for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The audit will cost approximately $26,000.

     “This is money well spent,” said Ward Six Alderman David Phillips, mentioning the liability of the aldermen should any fiscal missteps go uncaught.

     City Clerk Mike Jinks said the audits used to cost more than $50,000 before the city switched auditors.

     In other business, the board formally approved a beer license for the operators of Los Parrilleros Mexican Grille, granting an exception to the requirement that such restaurants be open for business one year prior to receiving the license.

     The city has another work session scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. to discuss next year’s budget before a public hearing to be held Aug. 28. Aldermen may also discuss redistricting plans Thursday.