Charter delayed: Agreement between city leaders falls apart

Published 10:03 am Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Adopting the amendments to the city’s 105-year-old city charter could become the responsibility of a future administration.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen in January approved a series of amendments to the city charter that Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said would bring the charter into the 21st century. The amendments were advertised in The Vicksburg Post and received the blessing from the state’s Attorney General and the governor, and registered with the Secretary of State.

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But plans Monday to adopt the changes failed to get a consensus after South Ward Aldermen Willis Thompson said the amendments before the board members Monday were not the ones they approved Jan. 3.

“I would like to have some more discussion on that before moving forward,” Thompson said.

“My contention is what we signed and what was agreed upon was different than what came back,” he said. “For that reason, I’m not going to sign it right now.”

The dispute hinges on a clause in the version of the amendments that was advertised and sent to state officials. It names the mayor police commissioner and gives “the authority to select and appoint the police chief with the consent of at least one of the aldermen,” something Thompson and North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield have consistently opposed.

Flaggs contended the amendments approved Jan. 3 and signed by him and the aldermen included the clause naming him police chief and giving him appointing authority.

“What we signed and what we were obligated to read with clarity is what we sent to the governor,” he said.

However, according to a copy of the amendments approved by the board and included in the minutes of the Jan. 3 meeting, there is no provision naming the mayor police commissioner or giving the mayor the authority to appoint the police chief.

According the minutes, the amendments give the board the authority to appoint the city clerk and city attorney and municipal judge, and gave the mayor the authority to appoint an economic development director “with the consent of at least one alderman.”

Flaggs said the document published in the paper was the one the board voted on and sent to Jackson for approval.

Thompson, disagreed.

“We can have discussion; we can send it back and get it ironed out,” he said.

Flaggs said the board couldn’t do that because the amendments were now law.

“What you can do is never sign it and it will never go into effect, but you can’t send it back,” he said. “That’s law. It’s been registered with the governor’s office, it’s been registered with the Attorney General’s office, it’s been registered with the Secretary of State’s office. All we have to do now is (for) us to spread it on our minutes. If this board should not choose to put it on its minutes, then the next board can put it on the minutes the first day of the next board.”

Thompson said after the meeting the amendments he approved authorized the board members to decide who would administer which departments.

“We all agreed on that, and that’s the draft we approved,” he said. “The draft that was sent over there (to Jackson) that came back was different from a previous version. We did offer to send it back and get corrected, because is didn’t take effect until the next administration. It’s just the point that what we agreed on is not what came back.

“Why approve something that not everybody’s OK with? Pull it back and work it out, but he didn’t want to do that.”

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said after the meeting he believes the board should sit and discuss the amendments.

“We made some amendments that I thought were good, but when you get to the point to where you want to appoint people (and) to have sole authority and no checks and balances, there’s problems with that,” he said. “You can’t get caught up where one person, regardless of which one it is, has sole authority over any given division.

“I don’t have a problem with the mayor being police commissioner; I don’t want to get in a situation where I have given my authority to one person. I think it’s dangerous, myself. There’s some things we can iron out. This is no one man show at City Hall.”

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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