Mayor sets Saturday meeting with firefighters

Published 10:54 am Thursday, October 8, 2015

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. is taking an alternative route to resolving problems in the Vicksburg Fire Department, inviting the city’s firefighters to meet with him Saturday.

But, the move by Flaggs is drawing strong criticism from fire department’s leadership and support from other city leaders.

According to a letter sent by the mayor to the firefighters last week, Flaggs will be available from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday in the boardroom at the City Hall Annex without the city’s aldermen, the media or Chief Charles Atkins and his staff present.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“I just want to give them the opportunity to meet me face-to-face and have an open dialogue about the future of the fire department and how we can strengthen the fire department,” he said. “I’m going to give them two hours, whether one person comes or two people come or all of them come. I just want to talk to them directly so they hear from me.

“I think it will be a very productive meeting. I just want to be able to move this city forward and all of us moving in the same direction.”

Flaggs said there has been what he called “a disconnect in the communication to them from me. I haven’t been able to communicate to them.”

Atkins said he is disappointed in the mayor’s letter, sent secretly to the firefighters, even suggesting that the media and the city’s aldermen would not be present. Atkins also said he had earlier told Flaggs that the mayor could not hold a meeting with the firefighters previously.

“I asked [Flaggs] not to talk to them because anything he could tell them, I thought he could tell me and I could tell them, or whatever the case may be, but evidently, he doesn’t trust me with that situation,” Atkins said. “I think there’s been enough discussion about George Flaggs and the fire department, and the salaries and the overtime. If it’s affecting the Vicksburg Fire Department, I think they ought to address me personally.”

Flaggs said as mayor that he should be able to meet with any of the city’s personnel and citizens.

“The chief told me I couldn’t talk to them. As mayor of this city, I think there ought to be a line of communication with every citizen in this city,” he said. “I want to hear from them just like I do the department heads.”

Atkins said aside from the way the mayor handled the invitation to the meeting, he is concerned about what might be discussed.

“To be honest, I really don’t appreciate that,” Atkins said, adding he will not stop firefighters from meeting with Flaggs. “If the guys want to go, go, but he’s going to try and paint a bad picture about me and my staff and knowing the way he is about me, he’s probably going to call me incompetent all over again.”

Flaggs accused Atkins of being incompetent at a July meeting, which the chief left after the criticism.

Atkins said he is growing more and more frustrated with Flaggs about the ongoing debate over the department’s overtime and trying to meet Flaggs’ demands.

“Anytime I try to get something done, it’s all about overtime,” Atkins said. “He tells me to do one thing, I try to do it and then the next thing I know, he’s on something else.”

Aldermen Michael Mayfield and Willis Thompson said they were aware of the letter, but were not sure Flaggs had in mind for the meeting. Both said Flaggs had not discussed his plans for the meeting with them.

“As the mayor … he has every right to invite them up for comment on any issue they may face in that particular department, so I don’t see where it’s out of line, myself, that’s between him and them,” Mayfield said. “It’s strictly voluntary, and the way I read the letter, he’s inviting them up to sit down and have open dialogue with them, so anyone feels he has an issue they want to discuss with him, then he’s inviting them to come up an do that on that day.”

Thompson also supported the mayor’s scheduling of the meeting.

“As an administrator, it’s his prerogative to meet with any employee,” Thompson said. “In his role as mayor, it’s his prerogative to do it at anytime.”

Thompson believes it’s good to meet with employees, adding they can be informative.

“And with some of the things going on with the fire department, I think you’ll only find the answers you’re looking for by talking to the firemen, especially when you’re making decisions that are going to affect them,” Thompson said. “I don’t think it’s ever a bad thing to ever try and call them in and talk with them.”

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.

email author More by John