Brookhaven alderman: Board will work well given time

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Members of the Brookhaven City Board of Aldermen will learn how to work well together given time — as they learn about one another and each one’s concerns. That’s the understanding one alderman has following the initial meeting of the newly-elected board.

Members of the new board are Democrat James Magee Jr., Ward 1; Democrat Shannon Moore, Ward 2; Democrat Charles Caston Sr., Ward 3; Republican Jeff Henning, Ward 4; Republican Fletcher Grice, Ward 5; Democrat Andre’ Spiller, Ward 6; and Republican Don Underwood, alderman-at-large. Moore and Grice are the only incumbents.

In comments both during and after the meeting, Alderman-at-Large Don Underwood said he felt the job of the alderman-at-large was to work with the individual aldermen about priorities in their wards and to help them address those issues.

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“I am focused on improving the City of Brookhaven,” Underwood said. “I am there to assist each alderman in their ward.”

Aldermen are not going to agree always on what needs to be done, on every priority or on the best way to approach issues, he said.

“If everything was smooth, we wouldn’t need wards and we wouldn’t need aldermen from each ward,” he said. “They’re there to represent the people of their wards and their concerns.”

During the board’s first meeting July 6 — a meeting that lasted close to four hours — 14 city positions were approved, though votes were divided on several.

“On the whole, I think the meeting went fine,” Underwood said. “Part of being a governing body is dealing with ‘rough spots.’ We’re going to have to learn more about each other as we go. You always have to do that. And I think on the whole we’ll settle these administrative issues as we get into it.”

In what appeared to be a general comment after all votes were cast in the first meeting, Ward 6 Alderman Spiller said, “I’d just like to see some more diversity.”

In general, diversity is the practice of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds, and of different genders, sexual orientation, etc.

“I definitely think diversity is something that needs to be looked at,” Underwood said. “I’m supportive of that. The issue comes with how do we get there, and what’s the practical method.”

The former attorney and state representative said he will consistently vote on what he thinks is right.

“My votes were based on if I was comfortable with those appointments,” he said. “I made a point to talk to the people who were up for those things, and some of them I knew. Those I made the motion on, I clearly supported. The others I was comfortable with because there were no other options given me. I could have come in with other options, but I was comfortable with those.”

The board agreed to table the appointments of city judge, city prosecutor and city attorney until more options than Mayor Joe Cox’s suggestions could be considered. The board will meet with interested candidates during the next regularly called board meeting at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, July 20.

The suggested appointments were:

• Current city judge Brad Boerner as city attorney, replacing Joe Fernald, who retired June 30.

• Current city prosecutor Greg Malta as city judge, replacing Boerner.

• Private attorney and former Ward 6 Alderwoman Shelley Harrigill as city prosecutor, to replace current city prosecutor Cheli Kellems Durr, who is now employed by the District Attorney’s office.

No information has yet been made available on who will appear before the board July 20 to be considered for these appointments.

The ethnic/racial makeup of the City Board is as follows: four are black — Spiller, Caston, Moore and Magee — and three are white — Grice, Henning and Underwood.

Of the positions approved by the board during its first meeting, four are held by Black individuals — Howard, Sampson, Williams and Magee — and 10 are held by white individuals — Ainsworth, Barrett, Melancon, Donegan, Arrington, Lewis, Fearn, Xifos, Laird and Coleman.