Sharp starts push to change government

Published 9:50 am Thursday, July 16, 2015

Vicksburg businessman Harry Sharp announced Wednesday he will begin a petition drive to change the city’s form of government.

Sharp told members of the Vicksburg Lions Club that residents of Vicksburg deserved a say in how they are represented in City Hall and will begin gathering signatures for a petition soon.

“I haven’t formulated a plan yet, but I would like to announce today at the Lions Club that I’m going to once again start a referendum to give the citizens of Vicksburg an opportunity to vote for the type of government they want,” Sharp said. “If the citizens decide they want to keep what they’ve got, so be it.”

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A petition would require signatures by 10 percent of the city’s registered voters. After certification by the City Clerk’s Office, the city would have 90 days to call a special election, Sharp said.

Sharp sponsored a similar referendum in 1998 when he proposed changing the city’s three-member commission government to a council-manager form. Under the council manager form, an elected city board hires a city manager who acts as chief executive officer of the city.

The petition drive failed, Sharp said, because he’s found that many Mississippians aren’t eager to have leaders who aren’t elected.

“This time, I’m going to support the strong mayor form of government,” Sharp said.

Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. in May proposed changing to the strong mayor form of government as a possible alternative to improve accountability in city government. The other suggestions were to amend the city charter or go to a true commission form with no mayor.

He later settled on amending the charter to improve city government, but withdrew his proposal after meeting opposition from North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield, who walked out of a meeting about the plan, and South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson.

Critics have called the city’s commission form of government antiquated and inefficient. Supporters say it has worked for the city for more than 100 years.

Sharp said the commission style government in which city officials split responsibility for appointing department has led to the city’s decline.

“It forces three elected officials to micromanager every day-to-day detail,” Sharp said. “It leaves no time for visionary leadership.”

The commission form of government also can lead to corruption and decision making behind closed doors, Sharp said.

“I’m not saying any of the three up there now are doing that, but it makes it very easy,” he said.

Only two other cities in the state — Clarksdale and Charleston — have the same form of government as Vicksburg.