Council divided on issues

Published 12:51 pm Thursday, January 17, 2013

“Well, it’s election year,” Mayor Ed Pinero Jr., said at the end of Tuesday’s city council meeting.

His comment came at the end of a meeting where council member Larry Breland brought up a number of things that have been bothering him over the course of the current administration.

Breland’s concerns included an attempt to secure grant funds to repair sidewalks for schools in his district and how that grant seemingly died, and how he feels divided from the rest of the council when he wants to add a topic to the agenda.

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Breland began airing his concerns when the topic of the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School Program came up. The council attempted to apply for the same grant last year, where to his understanding the funds were to be used solely in his district to repair sidewalks near South Side Elementary. For whatever reason, the grant was not approved and the work never done.

Breland said the prior attempt to secure such a grant died after the motion to apply for the grant was approved by the council, but then a council member — Wayne Gouguet — who was absent from that meeting asked to have the matter addressed again. Then, for an unknown reason the grant “fizzled,” Breland said.

Council member Larry Watkins said his issue with the previous grant application was when the matter was first discussed by the council it would be used at all schools within the city limits, not just one.

Council member Wayne Gouguet also believed the grant was supposed to be used for three schools. However, his contention was that the grant was signed and submitted to MDOT before the council had a chance to approve applying for it, which led him to ask for the matter be discussed by the council again.

“The grant was submitted to the state two weeks before it was approved by the council,” Gouguet said. “I think the notion that only one school has a critical need is not right.”

Gouguet believes any grant to renovate school sidewalks should be split three ways between the three elementary schools within the city limits. Why exactly the state did not approve the grant sought by the previous application was never mentioned at the meeting.

Special Projects Manager Christy Goss said the current grant application is to fund work at the three elementary schools in Picayune: South Side, Roseland Park and West Side. Nicholson Elementary is part of the Picayune Separate Municipal School District, but is outside the city limits. The council approved applying for the grant.

During the council members’ concerns section of the meeting, Breland moved on to his other concern. He believes that when ever a need is found within districts two and four, (the two predominately black districts) it is difficult to get that matter added to the agenda. Breland asked why, when a council member wants to add a matter to the agenda, all members of the council have to be polled for their opinions. Breland said he believes that process leads to matters pertaining to precincts two and four being left off the agenda. Council member Lynn Bogan Bumpers agreed with Breland and believes that if she is not reelected that will be due to something she did not do because it could not be added to the agenda.

This year is election year for the council and mayor.

City Manager Jim Luke then asked City Attorney Nathan Farmer to elaborate on how a council member requested agenda item is added. Farmer said there is no law that states a poll has to be taken before an item a council member wants to discuss is added to the agenda. In fact, it is up to the council to decide how council members have an item added to the agenda, and so far this council has opted for the polling process. Also, Farmer said during the first meeting of the month, any council member has the option to amend the agenda during the meeting.

Even after Farmer mentioned that the council can choose its own method of adding items to the agenda no council member, Breland and Bumpers included, made a motion to change the process.

During discussion of the docket Breland also asked about the funds remaining from the city-wide paving project bond issue, and how they would be used. He said he fails to see how the estimated $14,000 left in the fund will be able to pay for any one of the three projects mentioned at the last meeting. Those projects include paving the road leading to the new airport, a turn lane off of Mississippi Highway 43 onto Adcox Road, or improvement work to the section of Memorial Boulevard near Interstate 59. All of those projects are projected to cost more than $14,000, Breland said.

Luke said none of the projects would begin unless all of the funds were available to complete it. Breland made a motion to approve the docket with Luke’s comments to be added to the record.

In other business, the council approved a motion to have about 14 of the 87 trees that line Goodyear Boulevard removed because they pose a safety hazard. Public Works Director Eric Morris said in the recent past two accidents, one fatal, have occurred on the road due to the failing health of some of those trees. One involved a limb that fell off of a tree and hit a car. The second accident occurred during Hurricane Isaac where an entire tree fell on a vehicle killing the driver. Through the use of an independent tree specialist, the city found that 14 of the trees along the road pose a liability to the safety of drivers due to the trees’ failing health.

In the next two weeks, a third party company will cut the trees, after which city employees will remove them from the roadway, Morris said. The cost to do the work is estimated to be about $5,800, Morris said.

The next meeting of the council will be Feb. 5, at 5 p.m.