Columbus City Council won't cover cost of conference

June 16, 2010 12:14:00 PM

Kristin Mamrack -


Two Columbus city councilmen won''t be attending the Congressional Black Caucus'' annual convention on the city''s dime. 


The Columbus City Council Tuesday voted against allowing and paying for two councilman to attend the 2010 Congressional Black Caucus'' 40th Annual Legislative Conference in Washington D.C. 


The request initially was part of the council''s consent agenda, which usually is approved without discussion, but Vice Mayor and Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin asked it be moved to the council''s policy agenda. 


"I just want to know, is this official city business or is it to attend a conference?" Gavin asked. 


"It''s a real good conference," responded Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem, who will attend the conference with Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens. "(We''ll get) information on how we can better our wards. I think it''s a good way for us to build relationships." 


Karriem noted previous conferences have enabled councilmen to build relationships with legislators, including Mississippi 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who serves as chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee. 


"I might not object so bad, if it was open for all the councilmen," said Gavin, noting the cost to the city, for registration, airfare, lodging, mileage and the reimbursement of meal expenses for each councilman, is about $3,500.  


Karriem said he thought the conference is open to any council member who wishes to attend. 


"I don''t want anything to divide us; we''ve been together on so many things," said Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box, noting the name of the conference implied it''s closed to non-minority members. "Everything we''ve had so far, since I''ve been here, has been open to everybody." 


Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor motioned to table the matter, but his motion, after Karriem asked the council to "vote (the request) up or down" Tuesday night, died for lack of a second. 


White council members Box and Gavin voted against the motion, as did Taylor; Karriem and Mickens voted in favor of the motion, and Ward 4 Councilman Fred Stewart abstained from voting. 


"I''m just kind of concerned with spending some money here," Gavin said. 


In other matters, the council: 


n Recognized Linda Dease, a clerk at City Hall, for 13 years of "dedicated and outstanding service" upon her retirement, which is set for Thursday. 


"Most of us ignore (government) and don''t pay attention, but we better pay attention, because it''s extremely important," Dease said. 


n Recognized Federal Programs and Building Inspections Director George Irby, who is retiring June 30, for 25 years of dedicated service and a "job well done" with "commitment, dedication and sincerity." 


"After the 30th, do not be a stranger," Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said to Irby, whom he called a "great asset to the city." 


"Thank you," Irby said. "I''ve enjoyed it and I will not be a stranger. Anything that I can do for the city, I will always do that." 


n Passed a 60-day moratorium on electronic, LED signs. 


The Columbus Planning Commission requested the moratorium to allow the city''s sign ordinance to be revised with language establishing quality guidelines for LED signs. 


n Authorized the mayor to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Mississippi Department of Transportation to renovate the historic Highway 82 bridge across the Tombigbee River into a pedestrian walkway. 


MDOT earlier awarded the city $2 million for the project; the city, county and Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau are paying the required 20-percent match on the grant. 


The council also authorized Irby to advertise for engineering services for the bridge project and appointed Smith, Chief Financial Officer Mike Bernsen and the city''s chief administrative officer, David Armstrong, to a committee to review statements of qualifications from engineering service proposals.