Board appointment leads to lengthy debate at city meeting

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A routine Picayune City Council meeting went into overtime due to a lengthy discussion over an appointment to the Picayune Housing Authority Board.

Board Chairman Mary E. Davis’s term expired at the end of November, and Tuesday Councilman Wayne Gouguet made a motion to re-appoint Davis. However, Councilman Larry Breland and Councilwoman Lynn Bumpers both argued someone from Precinct IV should be on the board instead. Breland represents Precinct IV and he argued that although Davis has decades of experience leading the housing authority as its director then as the chairman of the board, he would like someone from his precinct on the board. Also, he pointed out that most of the housing authority’s housing units are in his precinct.

He wanted to nominate Cassie Bolden, and he asked the council to consider both candidates.

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Gouguet rescinded his initial motion, and from there the council debated the best way forward to pick the best candidate. With the help of the council’s attorney, Nathan Farmer, Mayor Ed Pinero eventually decided the council would have three votes. One vote for Bolden, then one vote for Davis and then a vote to support the majority winner of those two votes as the new chair of the housing board.

During the discussion over Bolden’s qualifications, Breland made a familiar argument, that his nominees to city boards do not often get supported by the other council members and therefore he has had little success in staffing various boards in town with people from his precinct. Although race was not explicitly mentioned, Breland said more than once that systemic denials of his candidates amounted to exclusion reminiscent of the old South. Breland referenced the city’s motto, “New South, old charm,” in his arguments.

“How can we be new South when we’re still doing old ways,” he asked the council.

“We’re still not doing what we need to do in 2015,” he added. “We are being denied an opportunity to get these committees diversified. And if we don’t make a start somewhere, it’s going to get worse and worse.”

Bumpers, who, like Breland, is African American, agreed. She said she feels ineffective as a councilwoman because her nominees don’t get picked.

“Since I have been sitting on the council board I feel like I’m not doing anything, and the reason is, we can’t come together as a council and do what’s right,” Bumpers said. “Let’s get down to business and work as a council and work as one. That’s what I’d like to see.”

None of these complaints were addressed by any of the other council members.

When a vote was taken for Bolden, Gouguet voted against, Bumpers for, Pinero for, Council member Tammy Valente against, Breland for and Council member Janice Miller Stevens against.

When Davis came up for discussion, both Stevens and Valente pointed to her lengthy experience.

“I did a little bit of research on Ms. Mary myself, and not only does she have years and years of information she needs to pass on to someone before she retires and is gone …. she also worked as the interim executive director without being paid for six months. I sort of think it would be a slap in the face not to bring her on. She has saved a ton of money and she has a lot to do with the reason we have the new building we have.”

Breland pointed out years of experience only accumulate if someone is offered an opportunity first.

“If someone had not given her that opportunity 60 years ago, she wouldn’t have had (the experience),” he said.

In the end, Davis got the council’s nod.

Gouguet voted for, Bumpers against, Pinero for, Valente for, Breland against and Stevens for.

Davis was then formally approved as the chair of the board.

Many residents of Precinct IV groaned as the arguments wore on and the vote was held. At the end of the meeting, several residents spoke and offered emotional rebukes.

“I am pleading with this body to move forward,” former Council member Leavern Guy said. “Don’t get caught up in this craziness. This city is deemed for greatness, but playing this type of politics, it’s not going to work guys. You’re going to have a shadow cast over this city.”

Also during the meeting, the city council got an update on the splash pad at Friendship Park from Daryl Smith of the Partners in Leadership program. He said there will be a formal groundbreaking ceremony soon for the pad, although city crews have done some preliminary dirt work already.

“It will be up and running in the coming spring, 2016,” he said. “We’ll have a lot of little happy children running around.”

In other news, the board approved a change order for the system-wide replacement of cast iron gas mains; they declared an old police car as surplus and they accepted a donation for the handicapped swing at Friendship Park.

The next meeting will be at City Hall at 5 p.m. Dec. 15.