Cancelled meeting caused inconvenience for visiting property owners
Published 7:00 am Friday, September 22, 2017
I am Dr. Thomas C Luke, MD. My wife Tricia – a former resident of Picayune – and I live in Maryland but we own property in the city and we have always been impressed with the prompt and courteous service that we have received from city departments and employees. I am not related to Mr. Jim Luke the city manager, though he does have a fine, though uncommon, last name.
We were notified several weeks ago by the Planning and Zoning department that a potential buyer of a long vacant property with an building adjoining our property was seeking a conditional use permit to allow him to operate a new business in the front part of the building while using the back for residential use. He will not buy the property without the permit. This property is “distressed” and he plans to invest significant time, effort and money to rehabilitate the building. We were informed that the City council would be voting on his request at the regularly scheduled council meeting on the evening of 19 September, 2017. We support approving the permit and as we were in the area for an unrelated business/vacation trip with our young daughters Piper (6) and Shelby (5) and mother-in-law, we decided to make the 40 mile drive to attend the meeting and voice our support directly to the City council if necessary.
We also decided that Piper and Shelby could gain a valuable learning experience in local representative government as they are home-schooled by Tricia (Field trip!). Time was devoted to what a City council is, does and how those young ladies would behave during the meeting. We arrived and met the potential new owner of the adjoining property, city staff employees, and a policeman on security detail, council members, and a number of other citizens. Many were elderly, some had mobility issues, and all were there to voice their concerns about a pending proposal for the city to involuntarily clean up their properties or other agenda items. These were important matters to my way of thinking.
Our potential new neighbor informed Tricia and me that he needed a yes or no on his conditional use request as Thursday he was going to settlement with the Bank that owned the property. Otherwise, he would incur significant financial penalties for each day of delay. The crowd of citizens and city employees respectfully took their seats when council members Valente, Stevens and Gouguet were prepared to start the meeting on time. Council member Valente announced that Mayor Pinero had previously informed the Council that he would not be present due to a previously planned trip but that the meeting could not start until either council members Breland or Bumpers arrived. Why? We were informed that the law requires a quorum of at least four council members before the meeting could occur (that is a correct law in my opinion). Then we sat, and we sat some more, and then people started asking obvious questions in public and privately amongst coalitions of seat mates: Where are Breland and Bumpers? When or will they come? Did they inform the council that they would not be present? Has our time been wasted? What do we do now? When the crowd learned (allegedly) that Breland and Bumpers were purposefully absent to prevent the council from acting, the people were still respectful but the questions that then arose were: “What are Bumpers and Breland trying to accomplish? Why not just inform us beforehand and save us all a lot of time, trouble and money”?
The meeting was cancelled. But something unusual then occurred. Council member Gouguet learned about the difficult situation that Breland and Bumpers were forcing on my potential new neighbor. Mr. Gouguet called the city attorney, Mr. Nathan Farmer, and asked him to return to City hall as quickly as possible. Arriving, Mr. Farmer was informed of the situation and Mr. Gouguet asked what could be done. Mr. Farmer stated that the law allowed for a special session if a quorum of the council agreed. Mr. Gouguet asked when Mayor Pinero would return from his trip. Tonight was the answer. Mr. Gouguet then assured a small crowd of curious citizens that he would contact the Mayor and other council members and request a special session either that night or the following day if a quorum agreed! And as we now know, a special session was called and my best new neighbor was granted his conditional use permit.
Now here is what Piper and Shelby (and we) learned about Picayune government in a representative constitutional democracy:
1) Being a council member in a small city is difficult work and our elected officials have our attention and respect: Even if some act poorly.
2) The rule of law reigns in Picayune: No quorum, means no council meeting, means no rulings.
3) Picayune’ s elected officials and city staffers will take timely action to consider the legitimate request of a single citizen even if it requires inconvenience to themselves.
4) Citizens of Picayune should carefully consider the conduct of current elected officials if they seek re-election prior to casting their vote in the future.
Dr. Thomas C Luke, MD, MTMH, MA, BS