Three days after agreeing to pay for one department head to attend the Mississippi Municipal League conference, city leaders have decided maybe that’s not such a good idea.
During a special called meeting Thursday, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to reconsider sending Walter Williams, public works director, to the annual municipal conference on the Gulf Coast next month. The board also later stated that only elected officials and the city clerk will be allowed to attend any state or local conference at the city’s expense.
Ward 4 Alderman Aubry Brent Jr. was not in attendance during the special meeting, and there were no objections to the board’s most recent action.
The issue came to the table after Monday’s regular board meeting when on a 3-1 vote, the majority of the board agreed to pay for Williams at attend the MML conference. Ward 1 Alderman Ron Johnson and Mayor Diane Delaware opposed.
During Monday’s meeting, Delaware said covering the costs for Williams to attend the state meeting would create a “slippery slope” for the city. She added that it would be costly to the city to grant numerous travel requests.
“We are not rich,” she said.
Three days after Monday’s meeting, travel requests from other department heads had already began appearing in the mayor’s office.
“Let me tell you what has happened since this occurred,” Delaware told the board Thursday. “I have got applications for all kinds of training for people. Each of your department heads has completed a request to go to Mississippi Municipal League (conference). All these people think the Mississippi Municipal League will help them with their job.”
Delaware said her office received requests from Police Chief Jeff Curtis, Robert Lewis with the street department, Building Inspector Russ Carter, Cemetery Sexton Prentiss Young, Fire Chief Terry Harber, Safety Manager Danny Miller, Olivia McCoy at City Hall and Kaneilia Williams, executive assistant to the mayor.
“I am expecting that we will be getting additional requests to go,” Delaware said. “I am informing you of what is happening in the city. So people are going to be filling out lots of requests to go to things.”
Delaware added that no such requests have been granted for the MML conference in the past.
“There is nothing at the Municipal League that will specifically help most of these people with their jobs,” Delaware said. “The Mississippi Municipal League training is for elected officials and clerks. But we have opted to send a public works director. I cannot explain what it has to do with his job.”
Johnson said if there is nothing a city employee can gain from such courses, they shouldn’t attend the conferences.
“If the itinerary doesn’t have anything specific for that department head, I don’t see any reason for them to go,” Johnson said.
Ward 3 Alderman Rev. Gregory Robertson said there are classes for solid waste at the MML conference.
“Those classes are for aldermen,” Delaware said. “Mississippi Municipal League is not intended for department heads. It is for elected officials and clerks. It has been that way for years. But you all made the decision to send one new department head.”
Sarah O’Reilly-Evans, board attorney, does attend the conference at times. But she covers her own expenses through her law firm, not at the city’s expense.
The board then reconsidered sending Williams to the MML conference.
“If we are going to stick with what the Municipal League means, which is elected officials and the city clerk, we need to resend that order,” Ward 2 Alderman Dr. Jack Varner said. “That is only fair. Otherwise, we are fixing to get in a bunch of trouble.”
There was no opposition in refusing Williams’ travel request.
Varner then made the motion that only elected officials and the city clerk be allowed to attend state or national conferences. The motion carried with no opposition.