Stirgus kicks in balance for mayor to travel

Published 12:05 pm Friday, September 10, 2010

James Stirgus Sr. stepped forward Thursday with a $350 private donation to Mayor Paul Winfield to help send the mayor to Washington, D.C., next week to represent Vicksburg at a two-day national summit focusing on community service.

The donation from Sturgis — formerly a public school superintendent and director of the Vicksburg Housing Authority — came two days after North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman refused to sign off on a transfer of about $350 to fully fund the trip, which will cost about $2,115 total.

“If this is going to help the advancement of Vicksburg, I think $350 is too small of an amount to keep the mayor from attending,” Stirgus said. “I just think it’s the right thing to do. Who knows what it will do for our economy?”

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Winfield said Tuesday he intended to foot the $350 needed for the trip if the aldermen would not sign off on the funds transfer. Of the $12,700 in the administration’s budget for conferences and travel in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, $1,759 is left — creating the $350 shortfall. Mayfield said his refusal to sign the transfer was never about the amount of money in question, but instead about not setting a precedent in which funds are transferred from outside the administrative budget to accommodate travel.

“I certainly appreciate the thoughtfulness of Mr. Stirgus, and his commitment to the community,” Winfield said Thursday. “That’s the kind of community support it’s going to take to move Vicksburg forward.”

Stirgus, who also supported the mayor with a $1,000 campaign contribution in the 2009 election, said he cleared the private donation with his attorney and Winfield, also an attorney, before offering the cash.

“They said there’s no conflict of interest and that it’s all legal,” he said.

Donations from private sources account for $44,000 of the city’s current $31.1 million budget ending Sept. 30, and $1,000 of the $31.3 million budget expected to be approved today by the mayor and aldermen for the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

The National Service Capitol Hill Day annually brings together elected officials from cities across the country and legislators to discuss funding of community service initiatives. At this year’s event, which is Wednesday and Thursday, participants will urge legislators to fully fund the Corporation for National and Community Service at $1.42 billion — a 23 percent increase for the agency.

Winfield said he’s been invited to speak to members of Congress and others about community service needs in rural America, as well as health and economic development issues. He said he hopes to steer federal grant funds to Vicksburg in the process. Stirgus said that’s why he made the donation and feels certain Winfield’s efforts will pay dividends.

“With that kind of national exposure, I’m almost positive that Vicksburg will get something out of it — if not when the mayor gets back, then further down the road,” he said.

Meanwhile, a $1 million wrongful termination and defamation lawsuit Stirgus filed in May against former Mayor Laurence Leyens, former Police Chief Tommy Moffett and four VHA commissioners has yet to be resolved or have an initial hearing. All of the defendants have filed for a dismissal and to have all of their legal costs charged to Stirgus, and Special Judge Billy G. Bridges has been appointed by the Supreme Court of Mississippi to preside over the case in light of a June 3 recusal filing by local circuit court judges. In the suit, Stirgus alleges the defendants conspired to have him fired from the VHA in May 2009 after he had been director for just shy of 21 years.