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9 employees out, 7 hired in first 3 weeks of administration

[07/18/01] In three weeks since taking office July 1, the new city administration has terminated nine employees while hiring seven others.

Actions taken during closed sessions of the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday and last week included two transfers, three resignations, elimination of one city post and the termination of five employees for violating city policy. During those same meetings the board approved the hiring of four firefighters and three new administrative positions.

“There are a series of positions we are planning to eliminate,” Mayor Laurence Leyens said. “I think each board meeting you’re going to see a series of terminations. I’m getting rid of stupid positions.”

Leyens would not say what city policies were violated by the five employees fired, but said one person was fired from the custodial department for “conduct unbecoming a city employee” and four were fired from the sewer department for “using city property inappropriately.”

“They were using city property for personal use, and that’s against the rules,” Leyens said.

Vicksburg Police Chief Mitchell Dent said his department is not investigating the former city employees. He said the matters had been resolved internally.

“The department heads handled those matters,” Dent said.

Leyens said the board has also eliminated the position of information officer, currently occupied part-time by former mayoral candidate Eva Marie Ford, while the other parttime information officer resigned at the first of the month. Leyens said that Ford would be given the opportunity to transfer to another department before July 20, the effective end of the position.

Other City Hall positions eliminated were an administrative assistant for Leyens and one for North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young. Former Mayor Robert Walker’s former assistant, Tammi Sims, was transferred to the inspection department and Diane Smith, a former assistant to Young, was promoted to head of the new human services division.

While little has been said of the terminations, the creation of three new administrative positions including the $98,500 strategic planner position created some drama at the start of Monday’s meeting. Former Democratic mayoral candidate Eric Rawlings and former candidate for North Ward Alderman Sylvester Walker asked the board for an explanation of Paul Rogers’ salary in the new position.

“I would like for the board to justify that position and that pay to me,” Rawlings said.

Both former candidates cited recent concerns over the city’s budget and compared the new position of the former city clerk to a city manager. The three members of the new administration all defended the unanimous decision to hire Rogers.

“Paul Rogers is very important to what we are trying to do as a board,” South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said.

Young, who has long opposed changing the city’s form of government to include a city manager, also defended the decision.

“Mr. Rogers is not a city manager,” she said. “I made sure of that.”

Changing the form of government would require action by the Legislature. Under the city manager form of government, the appointed city manager answers to the board and the municipal department heads answer to the manager.

The strategic planner works with division heads on budgets and planning. Division head will continue to answer directly to the city board, Young said.

“He is there to help our division heads,” Leyens said. “Mr. Rogers has no decision-making powers.”

In the other two newly created positions, John Allen was named city television programmer and will be paid $23,920 a year and Robert Hubbard was hired as community improvement coordinator and will be paid $37,375.

All of the personnel matters were handled by the board in closed executive sessions. State law allows governing bodies to enter closed session meetings to discuss limited items such as personnel, contract negotiations, matters involving litigation and others.

The Mississippi Open Meeting Law, enacted by the Legislature in 1975, requires public officials to explain the reason for going into closed session before doing so. The law also requires officials to report to the public any actions taken during the closed meeting.

The board had called a special meeting for Wednesday morning. The single agenda item was a personnel matter in the fire department.

The next public meeting of the board will be at 10 a.m. July 25.