City Council offended by claims of wrongdoing

Published 6:21 pm Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Picayune’s mayor and city council members were offended when the practice of council members appointing the chair to the city’s Planning Commission came under public fire.

The matter came up when Council member Leavern Guy and Planning Commission chair Melvin Hicks applied to have a plat of land on Davis Street subdivided into six 50 foot wide lots. In a previous council meeting several community members of the area expressed concerns about the request, such as infrastructure strains, and the possibility of increased flooding.

Tuesday the matter was wrought with more controversy, even after the applicants changed the request to subdivide the parcel into four lots instead of six, thereby negating a need for the previously requested 50 foot lot variance.

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After council member Donald Parker made a motion to approve the amendment to the agenda to exclude the now moot 50 foot wide lot variance from the request, several community members still stood up to voice their opinion.

Larry Breeland asked council attorney Nathan Farmer how the planning commission chair is selected and if it is the responsibility of the council to appoint positions in the commission. Breeland’s concern was that since it appeared the council had appointed Hicks as current chair, it appeared to be a conflict of interest. Farmer said that any conflict of interest was negated when Hicks and Guy recused them selves from their respective meetings when their request for parcel subdivision came up.

Two other community members also stood up to voice their opinion, Kenneth Fortenberry and Robert Jefferson. Fortenberry, who also expressed his concerns at the previous meeting, touched on the matter of the council appointing Hicks to the chair position. Mayor Greg Mitchell said he could not recall with certainty that the council had appointed Hicks to the chair position and then expressed discontent with community members alleging wrongdoing on the council’s part. If there was a question to how the chair to the commission was chosen then it could be addressed with council minutes.

“Don’t come up here and say that I did this on purpose,” Mitchell said.

Parker also was unhappy at onslaught.

“We don’t pass things because of who it is, actually I feel insulted,” Parker said.

City of Picayune Community Development Director Barbara McGrew, said it has always been the responsibility of the council to appoint the commission chair, so Hick’s appointment as such implies no wrongdoing. Public Works Director Chad Frierson said he has witnessed the council approve lot width variances for others similar to the one Guy and Hicks had submitted.

Jefferson wanted to know why the matter was not taken care of in the last meeting, and wanted to see something done with it at Tuesday’s meeting.

After all the discussion the council approved the request for the subdivision of the parcel into four lots.

On another topic, the upcoming meetings to discuss a possible partnership with the city and the Pearl River County Utility Authority on a new waste water treatment plant will begin Thursday in council member Guy’s district. Each of those meetings will begin at 6 p.m. in the council’s chambers at city hall. Jefferson requested one large meeting to cover the whole city, not five for each district.

“If we got to sell it to the people it should be under one tent,” Jefferson said.

City Manager Ed Pinero Jr. said that after all the individual district meetings had been held, then a city wide meeting will be announced. Even though Thursday’s and next week’s meetings will be primarily for a particular council member, any city resident in any district can attend any meeting that his or her schedule will allow. This will give all community members an opportunity to become informed and share their ideas on the matter, Pinero said.

The last bit of controversy involved a long standing problem with a broken water main, which is causing flooding of Cecile Baugh’s property. She brought the problem to the council a couple of months ago, and has yet to get the situation solved. Now the water is destroying trees and plants and creating rivers and ponds at her home.

“Now I have a river over my driveway,” Baugh said.

Baugh’s husband is more concerned about the foundation to their home than any plant life. Frierson said his department is aware of the situation and a plan to remedy the problem is on their agenda.

In other business The council went into executive session to discuss a high powered gas line that is currently under the Superfund Site off of Rosa Street. In the discussion it was determined that the Environmental Protection Agency will pay to have the line moved since it can not stay under that site, Pinero said.

The council also approved to advertise for bids on police uniforms.

The next council meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesdaym Dec. 18.