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Leyens says he’s resting, then going to work

Mayor-elect Laurence Leyens picks up campaign signs from the yard of Bobby Johnston at 1714 Sky Farm Ave. Wednesday afternoon, a day after defeating three candidates, including the incumbent, to win the mayor’s post. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[06/07/01] Mayor-elect Laurence Leyens said Wednesday he plans to take some time off this weekend before meeting with city department heads Monday and working on his transition to City Hall.

“I want to spend some time with my family, my wife and daughter,” Leyens said. “We’ve really been apart.”

After posting a majority win over incumbent Mayor Robert Walker and two others in Tuesday’s municipal election, Leyens, 37, spent Wednesday with campaign workers picking up “Leyens for Mayor” signs across Vicksburg.

“I am excited,” Leyens said. And “I want to get all of my signs picked up today.”

At City Hall, election officials were busy Wednesday completing the process and hoping to have the returns certified by late Thursday or early Friday. The Vicksburg Election Commission spent most of the day going over affidavits and rejected ballots. There were not enough of either to change the results of any of the three contests on Tuesday’s ballots.

Unofficial returns indicate that North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young, 45, won her third consecutive term Tuesday and will join Leyens and newly elected South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, 53, as the new governing board.

City Clerk Walter Osborne said the inauguration of the new administration will probably be July 2, the Monday when the members will have their first public meeting.

Although Vicksburg’s special charter does not require appointment of city officers at that meeting, one of the first matters the new board of mayor and aldermen will take up is electing a city clerk, chief of police, city attorney and fire chief.

“I really don’t have any planned or definite changes at this point,” Leyens said. “We’re going to do a transition team and in fact we’re going to get together next week.”

A definite plan he said he sees for the police and fire departments is the creation of a safety commissioner who will oversee those departments. Informally, the mayor serves as police commissioner and the South Ward alderman serves as fire commissioner.

The city’s charter does not stipulate a position of safety commissioner, so Leyens would need the approval of the other two members of the city board to set up the new office.

“My wish list is that they will give up these different commissioners and concentrate on their wards,” Leyens said.

Leyens said he also plans to meet with employees in different departments before taking office and find out from city workers what is working and what needs to be changed. He said he also plans to start neighborhood meetings.

Part of Leyens’ campaign has been a promise to meet with residents regularly.

“I want the forum to be owned by the neighborhood, not the mayor,” Leyens said.

While many changes made at City Hall under the new administration may be invisible to the naked eye, Leyens said one change will be noticeable to all who travel along Crawford Street.

“I’d like to see the (Mississippi) flag back where it belongs,” Leyens said.

In April, 65 percent of voters across the state said they wanted to keep the state’s 107-year-old banner with the Confederate battle emblem in the upper left corner and rejected a proposed new design.

Under the Walker administration, the city flag is flown along with the U.S. flag outside City Hall and other city buildings. The Mississippi flag does fly at the city’s rose garden and at the foot of Crawford Street along Washington Street. There’s also a Mississippi flag in the council room.

Another issue from the current administration Leyens said he will tackle after taking office is the fate of the $1.6 million Jackson Street Creative Resource Center. He said that since no funds have been budgeted for the operation of the center, he did not know what the mission of the center will be.

“They’re just building a building for political reasons,” Leyens said.

Plans for a center to replace the Jackson Street YMCA had been delayed after the city received no bids within the budgeted amount the first three times the project was advertised. A contract was awarded last fall after plans were scaled back, but construction has been delayed due to weather and problems at the site.