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Charter, cost cutting Flaggs’ top priority

When the new Board of Mayor and Aldermen takes its seat July 5, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. plans to take care of some unfinished business.

“I believe there was a clear message in the election that people want me to lead, and you can’t lead from behind,” he said of his landslide victory in Tuesday’s general election. “In my opinion, you lead from the front and you lead by example.”

And that means getting the charter amendments passed and having city department heads re-apply for their jobs.

“The first thing I want to do is change the charter,” Flaggs said, “And I still think it’s imperative that we pass the charter so that we can have day-to-day accountability and oversight so we can continue to reduce the cost of government for the taxpayer.”

“I just think it’s so important to reorganize the city of Vicksburg, now that I’ve served four years,” he said. “There’s still too much waste in spending, and two, out of the 500-and-something employees, 20 percent of them can retire now, or within the next administration, and 80 percent of them can only perform one duty.”

Based in the city’s $30 million budget, he said, personnel costs are still too high, and overtime in the fire department is still too high.

And the police department needs to be reorganized to implement community policing and reduce property crimes.

“The crime rate, particularly property crime, is too high. We’ve had far too many calls on property crime. We’ve done a great job on violent crime, we’ve done a great job on solving crime, but we’re doing a poor job on protecting the neighborhoods from property crime.”

The city’s recreation department needs to be restructured to provide adequate recreation programs in the North Ward, he said, and the city needs to a better job with drainage problems, especially in the Kings community. “The (Kings residents) people shouldn’t have to travel through as much mud as they travel through when it rains going to and from Vicksburg.”

The city’s community services department, Flaggs said, also needs change.

“We’re losing money and we’re still not keeping the city clean,” he said, adding the board also needs to revise the city building codes. He added other departments also need reorganization to be more efficient.

“I believe we can be more productive.”

Flaggs tried unsuccessfully to get the department heads to re-apply for their jobs when he first took office in 2013.

Amending the 105-year-old city charter has been an ongoing controversy since 2015. At one point the board seem to agree on an amended charter, but balked at approving it in April after South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson said the amended document sent to the state for approval was not the one he approved.

The one signed by the governor contained a provision making the police commissioner the appointing authority for the police chief — something Flaggs has pushed for.

South Ward Aldermen-elect Alex Monsour, said he did not think having department heads re-apply was be a bad idea, “Because it’ll give me first-hand knowledge of everybody that’s in place anyway.  I think that might be a good thing. So we can get an understanding and qualifications of everyone that’s there.”

“(Since) I have not been involved in city government, I have been involved in state government, it would give me a good outlook on what exactly we have in hand.”

Concerning the charter, Monsour said he has requested copies of the present charter and the amended document to study.

“I’m actually going to get into that and study it,” he said, adding at this time he could not say whether he supported the changes until he could read the amended charter.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said he is willing to talk with Flaggs about both items.

“I’m sure he’s wanting to do some different things with the charter, but I think we’ve cleaned everything up in the charter that needed to be cleaned, other than the police commissioner.”

Mayfield, who has opposed giving the police commissioner sole appointing authority over the police chief, said he has no problems with Flaggs being police commissioner, “But I think somewhere along the line this thing has gotten mixed up.”

He said the police commissioner and the police chief have different sets of duties and authorities and “I want to make sure that’s as plain and clear as it can possibly be before I put my signature on it. The police commissioner is not there for (managing) day-to-day activity (of the police department).

“I don’t want to get into a situation where we have the police commissioner trying to run the department.”

He said the move to get employees to re-apply for their jobs will be discussed before the new board takes office.

“I know there are some things that we need to take a look at; there are definitely some positions that we need to a little more homework on as far as going forward. We do have several people who have been with the city for a long time. We need to go back and probably revamp some of those departments and elevate some people and possibly demote some people.

“It just depends on what we decide to do as a board, but I think we need to take a very hard look going forward on the actual operations of each department.”

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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