June 19, 2013 10:33:10 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
Columbus councilmen voted to give themselves a 23 percent pay raise during their meeting Tuesday despite applause from people in attendance for members who announced they would vote against doing so.
A 3-2 vote adjusted salaries up $4,000 from $17,500 to $21,500 effective July 1, when members are sworn in for the next four-year term.
An item regarding pay raises was not listed on the agenda emailed to The Dispatch last Thursday, nor was it added to the agenda made available to the public at the municipal complex just before the meeting began. Councilman Joseph Mickens, who would later make the motion to accept the increase, appeared to move closer to Mayor Robert Smith just before the council was to decide whether to accept the policy agenda and whisper something to him. At that point, Smith announced that an item regarding a raise for councilmen was added to the end of the policy agenda.
Councilman Kabir Karriem, who told The Dispatch Monday that he would not bring such an item to the council for consideration and said it was a "moot issue," seconded Mickens' motion after a lengthy pause. Gene Taylor, who told The Dispatch Monday that no city official had spoken to him recently about placing a resolution proposing a raise on the agenda, represented the other vote in favor. Charlie Box and Bill Gavin were the two opposing votes. Fred Stewart was absent from what would have been his last meeting as a Columbus councilman. Marty Turner will take his place July 1. He will be the only new board member.
The pay increase gives Columbus councilmen the highest salary of elected municipal leaders in the Golden Triangle. West Point selectmen currently make $18,000. Starkville aldermen currently receive $12,000 annually, but that number will increase to $15,000 at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2015.
Tupelo councilmen receive $16,932 yearly, with the president earning $19,932. Meridian councilmen are paid $20,000 each year, except for the president, who makes $22,000.
After Tuesday's meeting, Mickens refuted statements from Box and Gavin, who said there were other public employees who needed raises before councilmen did.
"We're just trying to be competitive with other cities and other municipalities," Mickens said. "For the past two years we have given raises to city employees. We gave city employees a raise in 2011 all the way across the board. We gave another city employee raise last year, so we have taken care of the employees of the city."
During the meeting, Box said the salaries were already competitive.
"Compared to the cities around us our size, we're well compensated for what we do," Box said. "With our current budget situation, I think we're making a mistake by giving ourselves a 30 percent raise when we haven't been able to give our city employees a raise. They've had one raise in four years."
Gavin said while the job is worth more than it pays, public service is not about money.
"The previous council before this voted a raise in for us before they left office, but we have firemen, policemen and public employees that need raises," Gavin said. "I'm not saying the job is not worth more money. Anybody who has ever served up here knows probably that it's worth more money, but I didn't get into this for the money. I got into this to help the folks of Columbus, Mississippi, and try to make this a better city."
In other city business, Smith swore in five full-time police officers and two part-time officers. The board appointed Betty Miller to serve the remainder of Mike Pratt's unexpired term on the Historic Preservation Commission, re-appointed Andrew Colom to the City Utilities Commission, and appointed four people to the Municipal Election Commission, including Penesha McDowell-Harrison, Barbara Ann Mitchell, Joyce Abrams and Roy Milton Hicks. There are two vacancies remaining on the HPC and one on the MEC.
The board and Smith also honored retiring employees Stewart, Lou Dudley, Derrick Nash and Woodrow Clark.
In executive session, the board took no action on prospective litigation, suspended an employee for one day without pay for violating Columbus Police Department standard operating procedure, refused a request to extend medical leave beyond the Family and Medical Leave Act time for a Columbus Fire Department employee, terminated a municipal court employee and denied three requests from people who wanted to retire and return as part-time employees. Interim public works director Casey Bush's salary was raised to $50,000.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.