By Jeremy Pittari, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Divisions within Picayune’s City Council continue, and while Tuesday’s division was minor, it led to a stalemate on the appointment of a school board member for the Picayune Separate School District.
The appointment was for the position currently occupied by Ray Scott, a local CPA. Council member Wayne Gouguet made a motion to again appoint Scott to the position, with council member Jason Todd Lane seconding that motion.
However when the matter came up for a vote between only four council members, due to Mayor Ed Pinero and Council Member Larry Watkins recusing themselves because their spouses work in the school district, it failed. The vote was 2-2, with Gouguet and Lane voting for it, and Council Members Larry Breland and Lynn Bogan Bumpers voting against.
Bumpers then made a motion to appoint Sheena Antoine, which also failed on a 2-2 vote, with Bumpers and Breland voting for it, and Gouguet and Lane voting against that appointment.
City Attorney Nathan Farmer said since the council could not come to an agreement on the appointment, the matter will be sent up to the governor’s office to make the decision. The two names nominated during Tuesday’s meeting will be the choices the governor will decide between, and Farmer said the council can send resumes for each candidate to assist in the governor’s decision.
Since the nomination needs to be decided by the end of March, Farmer expects the governor’s office to move quickly on the matter.
City Manager Jim Luke asked if the council had to take any further action before sending the information to the governor’s office and Farmer said “no.”
“It’s because the council couldn’t act is why we have to submit it to the governor,” Farmer said.
The council was told an audit finding, for the third year in a row, has been very good, said CPA Chellie Eavenson with Keene Bourne Sanderson Haigler and Eavenson in Hattiesburg. The audit was given an unqualified opinion. Eavenson said an unqualified opinion is the highest opinion an entity can get from an audit. While Eavenson said she did make some minor recommendations to the city clerk’s office, she said nothing was material in nature, or significant.
Good points, Eavenson said, include the city working towards building the suggested three months of reserves, and city clerk Amber Hinton was described as helpful and eager to provide whatever information or documents needed to conduct the audit. Breland asked Eavenson to give the city a ranking of 1-10 pertaining to the results of the audit. Eavenson said under that unofficial scale the city would get a 9.25.
Municipal Court Judge Gerald Cruthird presented the council with an update on the city’s use of Judicial Correction Services to collect fines and fees for court convictions when they are not paid on time. Cruthird said if a defendant pays a fine within 15 days of a conviction, then Judicial Correction Services is not involved. The cost of the service is paid through fines levied to the defendant, meaning no money for the service comes from the city.
Over the past year of using the service, the city has been able to collect more than $200,000 in fines and fees. Cruthird has noticed there is a large number of assault, shoplifting and DUI charges coming through his court. He said he expects classes to be offered soon, “To teach thieves not to be thieves and drunks not to be drunks.”
Jan Davis, Judicial Court Services Mississippi Manager, said the classes will help defendants rethink about actions that led to the offense.
Cruthird hopes the city’s use of the service will help serial traffic offenders realize years of convictions for traffic offenses being ignored are past and that contempt of court charges will be filed when fees are not paid.
The Picayune Police Department announced during Tuesday’s meeting that its application for renewal of its accreditation was approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies in November of last year. Chief Bryan Dawsey said earning and maintaining national accreditation under CALEA is a team effort and thanked his staff for making it happen.
“I think we have accomplished something here this city, especially you guys, can be proud of,” Dawsey said to the council.
Dawsey said accreditation is good for three years.
The department first became accredited in August of 2006 after working for two years to earn the status. Since then the department has had its accreditation renewed twice.
The council approved a motion to sign a change order that will allow work to be done on the historic city hall’s heating boiler. Public Works Director Eric Morris expects the cost to repair the boiler to be about $6,500, in a worst case scenario. An exact figure is still being determined, and if that figure is close to the cost of a new boiler, then Morris said he will present that information to the council for its consideration.
The council approved a motion to allow city department supervisors who respond to off duty emergencies to take home their work vehicles, so long as they live within, or less than 15 miles outside, the city limits. Morris said the change will help reduce response times.
Work on city hall is expected to be complete by the end of the month, weather permitting, said Luke. If the building is finished in time, city offices will begin to move into the building in early March, and begin holding council meetings there in April.
The next council meeting is scheduled for March 5, at 5 p.m.