Published 10:13 am Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. is taking his case for changing the city’s form of government and its charter to the people, calling a 5:30 p.m. public meeting on the issue May 21 in the boardroom of the City Hall Annex.

“These changes are necessary in order for the city to create more efficiency and possibly save about $1.5 million in costs to the budget,” Flaggs wrote in an emailed announcement that will be mailed to about 1,300 local business and civic leaders. He said he is also doing an opinion article on the change.

He said he called the meeting to explain his plan to the public. The “live mike” program will be broadcast live over TV23, the city’s government access cable channel.

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“One of my things is you answer questions quickly and precise and move on,” he said. “I’m going to explain it to them and answer questions. That way, you take all the heat out of the controversy. I’m going to just give them some ideas of (how he can get) the $1.5 million savings, but I don’t have the authority to do it.”

In a May 5 letter to Aldermen Michael Mayfield and Willis Thompson, Flaggs said the Board of Mayor and Aldermen either needed to change the city’s 103-year-old form of government to a mayor-council form of government with seven part-time councilmen or amend the city’s charter to give him more authority to appoint certain department heads and Mayfield and Thompson authority to appoint others.

A third alternative amended the charter to eliminate the office of mayor and establish a board of three commissioners who would elect a chairman. Flaggs said he preferred the second option.

Since it was approved by voters in 1912, Vicksburg has operated under what is called a commission form of government, with three commissioners elected at large, one being the mayor, and all with equal authority. The city’s previous form of government was a mayor-council form with nine part-time councilmen.

Initially, the aldermen were part-time. The charter was amended in 1977 to make the aldermen full-time with a salary of $20,500 and set the mayor’s at $27,500. The mayor’s salary is now $93,450, and the aldermen’s pay is $74,550.

The commission form was approved by the Legislature in 1908, and was popular with many major cities, including Biloxi and Jackson, until the 1980s, but the problems caused by growth made the system ineffective, and its at-large elections did not meet the one-man, one-vote rule under federal elections.

Flaggs has been critical of the city’s form of government since the new board’s first meetings in July 2013, when he was unable to get his nominees for police and fire chief and city judge approved by the board. Since those early meetings, he managed to adjust to the system and has gotten along well with Mayfield and Thompson and the board has been unanimous in its actions involving city business.

Flaggs resumed his push for a change in government in April in a speech to the Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce, when he said the city’s present form was unable to meet the demands of a changing city.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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