From the Desk of the Gazette City Editor: Redistricting and Fire Chief Appointment Highlight Magnolia’s Board Meeting

The November monthly City of Magnolia Board meeting was held on November 2, at 5:30 pm in City Hall. Attendance at these Board meetings has increased significantly which shows residents are interested in our city’s business.
Prior to the Board meeting, a Land Hearing in which Zoning Officer, Smittie Buie, presented a report on properties that were identified as needing to be cleaned up. The Board approved the cleaning of those properties. Three of the properties identified were 110 East Olive Street, 401 Price Street, and 193 Fred Fortenberry Avenue. Mayor Tammy Witherspoon emphasized that the city of Magnolia property clean-up will continue and efforts to clean-up abandoned and neglected properties will be a focus of her administration. The owner of the 110 East Olive Street property will be receiving additional letters citing a violation of the city ordinance for having an expired or unregistered vehicle on their property. During the discussions, Alderman Burton stated that he had 4 properties in his ward that needed attention.
City Editor’s Note: A fourth property was identified but I didn’t get the address. This is a great start on removing and clearing these neglected and dilapidated properties around our city. I encourage all Magnolia residents to contact their Alderman/ Alderwoman and/or Mr. Buie so we can get these unsightly properties addressed. Also, perhaps other Alderman/ Alder-women will follow Mr. Burton’s lead and focus on their Wards for property clean up.
While reviewing the city’s monthly expenses, Alderwoman Becky Magee had numerous questions concerning beautification expenses of $120 and purchases from our local Handy Hardware Store. Mayor Tammy Witherspoon explained that the beautification committee had a “work day” and expenses were for re-plantings and painting of the various flower stands and trash cans around the city. The Handy Hardware purchase was for light bulbs that could only be found locally at Handy Hardware (since McComb Electric has gone out of business). Alder-woman Becky Magee questioned monies being spent by the Magnolia Beautification Commit-tee and money that was spent at our local Handy Hardware store that she, along with the prior administration, had restricted purchases and support for this local business. Alderwoman Magee also did not seem to be aware that Magnolia had a Beautification committee. When Alderman Cornacchione, asked if the city was still “boycotting” Handy Hardware, Alderwoman Magee took offense stating that the city wasn’t boycotting and just not buying from Handy Hardware. Go figure…
City Editor’s Note: I’m not sure what Alderwoman Magee’s definition of boycotting is but purposely not buying from a local organization or store is boycotting according to the dictionary and Wikipedia. But wait, Alderwoman Magee wasn’t finished nit-picking the small expenses. She challenged the purchase of a briefcase to be used for city public works business. Perhaps Alderwoman Magee should focus on the bigger issues facing the city as opposed to the $120 and under purchases to local businesses and the Beautification Committee. Personally, I am very pleased that our Mayor and the Beautification Committee is active and trying to improve the appearance of Magnolia. It was also identified by Mayor Witherspoon that Handy Hardware actually donated the recent flowers that have been planted in various city locations. What is Alderwoman Magee’s agenda with these expense questions?
Mr. Carroll Rhodes, an attorney from Hazelhurst, presented a proposal on the need for redistricting Magnolia’s Wards, based on the most recent U.S. census results. Mr. Rhodes highlighted that Magnolia lost over 700 residents according to the most recent census results and the need for redistricting was required by state law because of potential population shifts among the existing Wards. The Board then approved a $5,000 contract with Carroll Rhodes and Company. One of the first actions from this effort will be to schedule a public hearing to discuss the goals and criteria of the redistricting plan.
The city is terminating its credit card services with Elavon, Inc. and entering into a new contract with Certified Payments for credit card processing. It stated that when residents pay for city services (water, permits, etc.) with a credit card the city was currently paying the credit card processing fee of $5 per transaction. With the new company, the fee is $2.35 and it will be billed back to the customer using their credit card for any city service payment. Cash, bank debits, check, and auto-draft payments for city services will not be affected or charged the fee.
The announcement of the retirement of Assistant Police Chief (and former Police Chief) Ray Reynolds was made. His retirement will be effective January 2022.
The Magnolia Public Works Department has hired 2 additional employees, Toymie Grady and Troxey Bullock. From previous Board meetings, there was a concern that the Public Works Department was understaffed and having vacancies that were hard to fill. Mr. Grady and Bullock were introduced by Public Works Director, Mr. John Wilkinson, and they provided a brief description of their experience and capabilities. Filling of these vacancies will assist the Public Works Department in meeting its responsibilities.
Police Chief, Sonya Woodall, introduced Tyreek Magee as a certified part-time officer with the Magnolia Police Department effective Nov. 3. Mr. Magee presented his experience with 3 years in law enforcement and a part-time instructor at the Police Academy. He appears to be a great addition to the Police Department’s staff.
The appointment of Dennis Tobias as Magnolia’s representative to Pike County’s Economic Development District Board was tabled. There was a concern that other candidates were not considered and Mr. Tobias is not a Magnolia resident. He lives in Fernwood.
City Editor’s Note: When his appointment was made in the last administration I questioned why a non-resident of Magnolia was representing Magnolia and serving on the Pike County Economic Development Board. In all my covering of city Board meetings, I have not seen or heard of any actions, recommendations, or reports by Mr. Tobias. So, this is little insight into his accomplishments and efforts for the city. Perhaps, we should look at a city resident (and perhaps local business owner) to be our representative to this Board to bring jobs and economic opportunities to Magnolia.
There were lots of questions and concerns with the appointment and salary increase for the city’s Fire Chief. Mayor Tammy Witherspoon identified that the Fire Chief appointment was mistakenly overlooked a few months back when other city department appointments were made. As per the agenda, an initial motion was made to appoint Terrell Bell as Fire Chief with a salary of $36,990.72. Alderman Joe Cornacchione requested the appointment and salary be separated into 2 separate motions. Alderman Cornacchione had concerns over the proposed salary increase from last year’s $22,880.82 to now $36,990.72, almost a 40% increase. Mayor Tammy Witherspoon responded that the position was moving to a full-time position and Mr. Bell’s other duties, which were being paid for separately by the city, would be merged and paid for by this increase. Alderman Cornacchione stated that, for the size of Magnolia, a full-time Fire Chief is excessive; there has never been a full-time Fire Chief position in the city since the Fire department is a volunteer “paid per call” operation. An initial Board vote of the combined motion (appointment and salary) resulted in a “no” vote with 3 of the Board members voting “nay.” The Mayor then amended the agenda to separate the appointment and salary into 2 separate votes, which resulted in a unanimous vote for the Fire Chief’s appointment and a passing (with 1 “Nay”) vote for the salary. But, following the vote, several Board members seemed confused as to what they just voted on concerning the salary and requested a re-vote. Discussions of the salary ensued and a suggested salary of $35,500 was made by Alderman Burton. Alderman Cornacchione still voiced concerns about the salary, but a re-vote on the Fire Chief’s salary was initiated with 4 “yea” and 1 “nay” for the salary of $35,500.
City Editor’s Note: Now, if you are confused about what happened, I’m right there with you. In a matter of 5 minutes the votes changed from 3 “nay” votes to “1” and the salary increase of an “arbitrary” $35,500 is still over a 35% increase. That coupled with the monthly Fire Department reports showing an average 15 to 25 actions a month just doesn’t seem to justify the salary increase. I’m still not sure some Board members knew what they were voting for. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Bell still claims expenses and salary for his other duties relating to school activities, animal control, and other city duties.
Neel-Schaffer presented that an agreement is being pursued with the Pike County Board of Supervisors to use their debris removal contract on a task order basis to help with clearing large debris on city property. This will eliminate the city having to obtain its own contract and get reduced rates for city work. The contract would also allow for cleanup of any city owned property including Reid Park and Central Park, which have been closed due to safety and debris issues. Discussions with the Pike County Supervisors concerning this agreement will be made at the next Pike County Board meeting.
Finally, a City-Wide Clean-Up day is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 13. More details in next week’s Magnolia Gazette. Please make plans to participate!!

City Editor’s Note: Next week’s article will focus on the Trailers and Magnolia discussion that was stated at this month’s Board meeting. Don’t miss it!!

by Terry Jackson, Gazette City Editor – [email protected]

on November 29, 2021, 10:59 am

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