August 15, 2014 1:34:44 PM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
Columbus Mayor Robert Smith will ask city councilmen to rescind a $10,000 pay raise he voted himself last week.
Smith made the announcement on a local TV station Friday and in a letter to the editor he emailed to The Dispatch the same day. The letter appears on the opinion pages in today's paper.
Two weeks ago, during a budget work session, the mayor broke a 3-3 council tie regarding the potential raise, which would bump his salary to $88,797.
Smith voted in favor of the raise.
During WCBI's noon news broadcast Friday, Smith said he will seek a re-vote on the issue during another budget session Monday.
Smith has not responded to calls from The Dispatch.
"The main reason behind it is the distraction that this has caused," Smith told WCBI. "It's not about Robert Smith. My main goal and objective is what's best for the citizens of the city of Columbus, the taxpayers and the employees of the city."
He said he had received "maybe four or five" phone calls from constituents regarding the raise.
"As an elected official, it's incumbent that you listen to what the citizens have to say and you weigh your pros and cons," he said.
Councilman Gene Taylor made the motion to give the mayor the pay raise during the Aug. 6 meeting. Councilmen Joseph Mickens and Marty Turner voted in favor. Councilmen Charlie Box, Kabir Karriem and Bill Gavin opposed, before Smith broke the tie.
The matter was taken up in the work session after councilmen were told that a potential budget shortfall could lead to the city dipping into its reserve fund to balance next year's budget.
Smith earns $78,797 a year as mayor.
Smith also told the TV station he was disappointed with the council for not voting in favor of raises for two Columbus Fire & Rescue employees: Mike Chandler, the department's fire accreditation manager, and Anthony Colom, who handles the department's public relations.
Last week, Taylor made a motion to approve CF&R Chief Martin Andrews' request for the raises. The motion died for lack of a second.
Smith said he will ask the council to reconsider the raises Monday. He noted that the Columbus fire department is the only department in Mississippi and Alabama that is nationally accredited.
"I will be humbly asking (the council) instead of $5,000 for the public relations and $2,000 for the accreditation manager, to do $4,000 for the public relations person and $4,000 for the accreditation manager," Smith told WCBI. "They can take the other $2,000 (from the rescinded raise) and they can put it back in the general fund."
Smith also refuted that the council cut seven police officers and three firefighters from the city payroll as part of the proposed budget. The Dispatch reported that the budget cut seven positions from the Columbus Police Department and three positions from Columbus Fire & Rescue. It did not report that current employees would be laid off.
"During the budget process, each department head, they turn in a wish list," Smith said. "A wish list is like a Christmas list. You wish for the stars, but there are limits to what you can get according to the finances.
"As far as cutting officers or cutting firemen in order to give the mayor a raise, that's not true," Smith added. "That's ludicrous"
The council will hear requests for appropriations from local organizations and further refine next year's budget during Monday's session. It begins at 3 p.m. in the old courtroom at City Hall.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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