August 16, 2014 9:35:31 PM
The following is a response to Birney Imes' column of Aug. 10 titled, "An open letter to Mayor Smith."
On Aug. 6, 2014, the Mayor and City Council of Columbus had a budget meeting. In that meeting the Council deadlocked on a number of issues related to some important pay raises for some of the City's valuable employees. In order for those raises to get approval, I had to break the tie. I was disappointed those raises were not met with more enthusiasm by the City Council.
I realize there are financial consequences for giving such raises, but in my opinion we cannot afford to continue to discount the value of our best employees at the risk of seeing them leave for higher pay in the county or elsewhere.
Of particular concern to me was the failure to give some raises to two firefighters. Chief Andrews and I requested raises for two valuable employees he and I thought were deserving of raises. I thought the council would look favorably on those raises perhaps more than some others that were proposed. But Vice-Mayor Taylor's motion to approve them did not even get a second.
We have the only nationally accredited fire department in Mississippi. The two employees Chief Andrews and I sought raises for, Mike Chandler and Anthony Colom, were some of the most well-deserved raises in the list that we took up for consideration. These requested increases were very modest, particularly for Mr. Chandler who is going to take on the job of keeping our Fire and Rescue Department nationally accredited.
This past week I had a number of discussions with Chief Andrews about the proposed raises and the lack of support for those raises was a major disappointment to him and me. I feel very strongly that the Council made a mistake not awarding those requested raises. So, on Monday, when the Council meets again for its next budget meeting, I will ask that we take these two raises as follows: $4,000 for Mike Chandler and $4,000 for Anthony Colom.
The City owes these two men a debt of gratitude for their dedicated work for this City and for the Fire and Rescue Department. These modest raises would reflect only a small token of appreciation for the work they have done and the exemplary work I know they will continue to do in the future.
I realize that the next logical question is where will the City get the money to fund these raises. I have prayed a lot about that issue and I have thought a great deal about it and I have come up with a solution. I am not going to ask this Council to spend another penny more than we were discussing at the last meeting to get these raises approved.
Therefore, as much as I feel my office is underpaid, I am a bigger person than to stand in the way of some of our best employees receiving the raises that I asked the Council to approve in the last meeting. So, I am forfeiting the $10,000 raise in order to fund the pay raises for Mr. Chandler and Mr. Colom. That will leave $2,000 more in our general fund than we budgeted for when left the last meeting.
As I stated, I am not going to accept the raise at this time. That having been said, I would like to make one thing clear. I am not forfeiting the proposed raise because of criticism from the media, and in particular you, Birney. It is especially troubling that you have been inaccurate in your reporting by stating that the City has eliminated jobs during the budget process.
Why don't you strive to be accurate and require the same from your staff? When you are leveling criticism at people, you should use even more focus to ensure you don't misrepresent the facts. The City has NOT eliminated any jobs in the Police Department or the Fire and Rescue Department.
Neither am I forfeiting the raise because of any belief that Columbus is collapsing or that raise is the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Contrary to the gloom and doom picture you painted in your Sunday open letter to me, I am bullish on Columbus.
In the years since I was elected mayor, the City has seen significant retail growth. Let us consider our good fortune Columbus has had the past few years thanks to huge investments people and businesses have spent in Columbus.
Two new hotels and two more under construction.
Tractor Supply Store.
Black Prairie Tractor and Equipment
Dick's Sporting Goods.
Logan's Road House.
Buffalo Wild Wings.
Long Horn Steak House.
New soccer complex.
Soccer Complex / Riverwalk connector.
Kroger is just completing a multi-million dollar expansion and renovation.
New bowling alley.
Premier Ford is rebuilding its show room.
Kim and Dan Bennett are renovating the old City tax office for a new downtown restaurant.
Love's Travel and Fuel Center to open soon.
These are only a handful of the hundreds of developments that have happened in our community over the past few years. There are many others that are obvious to anyone who wants to try to find something positive to talk about. The companies that invested here, obviously have confidence that the City will prosper.
Birney, The spirit of this great city is not broken. Columbus is a great place to live, work and raise a family. It doesn't do the City any good for naysayers to focus on, and whine about the challenges we face. How does constant criticism and complaining from you and The Dispatch staff help this City?
It is high time the media, and particularly The Commercial Dispatch spent some time rallying around our investors and reporting about our successes and quit searching for something designed to tear down the City and frighten our citizenry. I suggest we need to renew our efforts to have unity in the community and pull together to fight our problems. If we spent more time on that, and less time on the negative, the potential of this town is unlimited.
Thank you for printing this letter, and hopefully for considering the negative impact that negative press has on spirit of the folks in this City.
Robert E. Smith Sr.
The writer is mayor of Columbus.
Birney Imes replies: The mayor's criticism about inaccuracies relates to budget procedure. We did not report nor did I write in my column the city was "eliminating jobs," which implies people are being sent home. The 10 positions in question existed on the Police and Fire departments' budget worksheets, a wish list provided by department heads. The Council chose not to fund those positions.