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Thompson offers proposal for city government

South Ward Aldermen Willis Thompson combined suggestions that future Boards of Mayor and Aldermen have the opportunity to set their own organizational charts and giving aldermen a say in developing the city budget with previously discussed proposals for streamlining city services and merit pay raises for employees in a recommendation for improving city government.

The recommendations, which were sent to Mayor George Flaggs Jr. and North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield, were prepared in response to Flaggs’ proposal in May to change the city’s charter.

Thompson said he reviewed and considered Flaggs’ proposal “but I do believe some of the items can be addressed through effective management. Efficiency should always be a goal on the road to leadership.”

Flaggs said Thompson’s proposed changes “are what we have now.”

When presented in May, Flaggs said his plan, which would have placed city department heads under his and the aldermen’s direct management and given him authority to prepare the city’s budget, was designed to improve accountability and day-to-day supervision of city departments — something he said the city’s commission form of government did not provide.

He withdrew the plan in June in the face of fierce opposition from Thompson and Mayfield.

The aldermen opposed the budget provision and Flaggs’ most controversial amendments that allowed him to appoint the fire and police chiefs, city attorney, city clerk and finance director.

Thompson would take the parks and recreation director, human resources director and information technology head, while Mayfield would be responsible for appointing the public works director and community development director. All appointments would be approved by the board.

Soon after taking office in 2013, Flaggs and the aldermen divided supervision over city departments, with Thompson taking the recreation, IT and human resources departments, and Mayfield public works and community development.

Thompson’s proposal would let the members of each new administration adopt its own organizational chart and divide the responsibilities within 60 days of taking office.

“We shouldn’t assign departments to a board member in the charter,” Thompson wrote in his proposal. “When the administration changes, the mayor and aldermen may want to manage different sets of departments. Each administration should decide on its management structure.”

His proposal would put the city’s finance and administration division and police department under the mayor, the fire department, information technology, human resources, recreation and public transportation under the South Ward alderman, and the public works and the community development divisions under the North Ward alderman.

The city clerk and city attorney, because of their duties, he said, should answer to the full board.

“We all share the same responsibility in legal matters, and the clerk is the keeper of the records. They should not report to just one individual,” he said. “Overall, the clerk and attorney report to everybody.”

As for the other departments, Thompson said, “If you make it (the board members’ responsibility) static in the charter, a new board may try to do it differently. I just think with the charter you should take time, have some type of structure in place. The thing to do is work together and figure it out on your own.”

He did not believe it would be a problem to give members of a new administration time to develop a plan. “If they don’t come up with a structure, the structure that’s in the place at the time will stand until they come up with a new plan,” he said.

“At the end of the day, all the employees report to everybody. It still takes a two-thirds vote to move or change anything,” he said.

With three people of equal authority, it just makes sense to come up with a way for day-to-day management from a standpoint of daily operation and accountability, he said.

Mayfield agreed with giving future administrations leeway in determining who would supervise which departments.

“An administration needs about 60 days to look at the different departments and learn how they operate and get to know the departments heads,” he said. “After that time, they should be ready to determine who will oversee what department.”

Flaggs said the fire and police departments are the city’s biggest budget items and should be under his supervision.

“If he can put the fire department under the mayor’s office, I probably could go with it,” he said. “You’ve got to keep the fire department and the police department together, because that’s the public safety of Vicksburg.”

The philosophical difference between his proposal and Thompson’s, the mayor said, “He’s (Thompson) trying to protect the fire department from being under me. Those were the two major appointments I didn’t get.

“He’s basically governing the way he did the first day. I’m better off staying where I am and running for re-election on changing the charter of Vicksburg.”

Thompson softened his stance on Flaggs’ budget proposal, saying he was not opposed to the mayor presenting a budget to the board provided the aldermen have an opportunity to review and make recommendations.

“I just believe the aldermen are the first line of support for the public and we need an opportunity to be able to put things in the budget, be able to make recommendations,” he said, adding Flaggs’ proposal didn’t provide a way “for the aldermen to have any input or time to review it and be an equal representative of the people.”

Mayfield said the aldermen should be involved in the budget, and have time to review the budgets for each department and hold budget meetings with department heads to determine their needs.

Flaggs said Thompson’s budget proposal tracks the board’s present budget process.

On the issues of streamlining city services and merit pay, Thompson and Mayfield said both subjects have been discussed before by the board.

“We talked about cross-training some in the last administration,” Mayfield said.

Thompson favors a merit pay system instead of across-the-board raises.

“I think we ought to give credit where credit is due and have a system in place so we can reward high performance and quality,” he said.

While Mayfield supports merit raises as a way to recognize employees who perform exceptional work, he believes the board should not abandon across-the-board raises. “People want to know that you recognize their work and their service to the city,” he said.

Besides cross training, Thompson said the city needs a succession plan to provide a pool of employees who can step into a management position when a department head leaves.

“We have people who can leave now,” Mayfield said, “some because of the years they’ve put in and some because of age. Some employees have both.”

“We need to be proactive instead of waiting until someone is gone and then try to make a hasty decision,” Thompson said.

Thompson who was a city employee before he was elected, said one of the problems he saw was a lack of training to ensure someone cold take over a department if a supervisor left.

He also wants to eliminate duplication of services.

“We need to look at our organizational chart and see where some departments are providing the same services and combine them where we have four people working in the same area can get things done a lot faster,” he said.

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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