Flaggs criticized for treatment of chief

Published 11:27 am Friday, August 28, 2015

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. was taken to task Wednesday evening over his treatment of Fire Chief Charles Atkins and for the proposed pavilion for the Vicksburg Farmers’ Market at corner of Washington and Jackson streets.

The criticism came during Flaggs’ town hall meeting at the Warren County Library attended by about 10 people. The meeting was the third of five town hall meetings. Flaggs said he was not bothered by the sparse attendance.

“I’m not surprised,” he said of the low turnout. “That’s a sign I’m doing good. If I was doing bad, it would be packed. It’s a sign you’re doing good when you have a small attendance. People pack when issues are concerned.”

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The comments on Flaggs’ treatment of Atkins came from Tillman Whitley, who told the mayor he and other people were upset over his treatment of Atkins at a July meeting in which Atkins walked out of a planning meeting on the fire department. Atkins left after Flaggs criticized him for apparently not wanting to listen to the mayor’s proposed changes that involved closing a fire station and relocating another.

During the discussion, Flaggs told the chief, “If I had a chief sitting in that seat that understands analytical data, and was competent enough to understand what I’m talking about, I think we’d have it (the changes the mayor wanted),” Flaggs said.

“That’s no way to talk to a black man,” Whitley said.

Flaggs and Atkins have been arguing over the operation of the fire department, closing fire stations and fire department overtime costs that exceeded about $700,000 so far this fiscal year. The mayor said the long-standing disagreement is the result of philosophical differences.

“They (Aldermen Michael Mayfield and Willis Thompson) made the right decision about the fire chief and the right decision about the police chief (after taking office in July 2013),” Whitley said. Flaggs voted against keeping Atkins and Police Chief Walter Armstrong because he wanted to put new people in both positions. His nominees were never discussed.

Whitley also asked Flaggs about a 20-year plan for the city, how many grant writers the city had and wanted to know what the city was doing to improve the county’s education system.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen in March approved a new 20-year comprehensive plan for the city. Flaggs said many of the changes he wanted to make in the fire department were in the plan, he said. He offered to get Whitley a copy of the plan.

The city employs two full-time grant writers. Whitley said the city should have four or five.

“You’re talking about ‘everything’s got to come out the city budget.’ You should have at least four or five grant writers up there constantly searching funds; constantly searching for money,” he said. “You get on the TV and you make it seem like this the city budget and we can’t do nothing else.”

He added, the city should get more involved with programs to improve reading scores, saying the county’s education system is substandard and needs improving.

“We’ve got to overhaul this system,” he said.

Flaggs said the city has invested money in the Leader in Me program and other education-related programs.

Whitley said he planned to be at Flaggs’ other town hall meetings.

“I’m going to exercise my constitutional rights,” he said. “I’m going to come to all your meetings, whatever meetings I can come to and I’m going to continue to raise issues.”

Suzi Altman, a Jackson photographer, who has worked to preserve Margaret’s Grocery, Vicksburg’s famed folk-art “Bible castle” on North Washington Street that was built by the Rev. Herman in the 1980s and 1990s to honor his wife, Margaret Dennis, said the farmers’ market site should be a park with plenty of green space “not some concrete and steel structure.” The board has approved $550,000 of the city’s $9.2 million bond issue to build a multipurpose pavilion at the farmers’ market site that will provide covered space for vendors and can also be used for community programs.

Altman asked Flaggs if the board would reconsider the pavilion and possibly selling the property to someone who could convert the space to a park.

Flaggs said the board had hired an architect and the design for the pavilion with open green space has been made.

He said the pavilion will be discussed at board work session in his office Monday.

“You are welcome to attend the meeting and look at the design,” 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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