Pike County supervisors on Friday chose McComb street superintendent Wendell Alexander as the new county road superintendent, and retired Mississippi Department of Transportation maintenance supervisor William Simmons as his deputy.
Supervisor Tazwell Bowsky along with four incoming supervisors interviewed four people Wednesday and agreed on Alexander and Simmons as the top contenders, but they disagreed over who should hold which position.
The 3-2 consensus put Alexander in the top spot and Simmons as assistant.
The five made their recommendation to the sitting board, which voted unanimously Friday to approve the hires. They will take effect in early December to allow current road superintendent Mike Duncan time to train the two before he retires Dec. 31.
Alexander, 59, is a graduate of South Pike High School. He was employed by W.E. Alexander Construction before going to work for the city of McComb in 2005. He also worked at St. Mary of the Pines.
Simmons, 65, graduated from McComb High School and got a mechanics certificate from Southwest Mississippi Community College. He was manager at McComb Mill from 1979 to 2008 and worked for MDOT from 2009 to 2018. He’s currently a part-time bus driver for South Pike School District.
The jobs pay $60,000 and $55,000 a year, respectively.
Friday’s meeting gave a foretaste of some of the challenges of the road superintendent’s job.
Board responds to N. Pike
Supervisors responded to recent criticism from North Pike School District Superintendent of Education Dennis Penton. As reported in a Page 1 story Tuesday, Penton told his school board that supervisors had failed to respond to requests to pave Jaguar Circle.
Penton reportedly suggested supervisors were unresponsive since four of them are not returning to office after the end of the year.
On Friday, District 4 Supervisor Luke Brewer said, “Even if we were not fixing to change members of the board, we could not do anything with the road at this time. We are just too far behind.”
He said there are more than 900 miles of county road to maintain, whereas Jaguar Circle is a private road owned by North Pike.
“Hopefully they (incoming supervisors) can help them after the first of the year,” Brewer said.
Board president Chuck Lambert said Jaguar Circle will take more than paving, requiring shoulder and ditch work as well, a big job that would take time away from the county’s four-year road plan.
“This is the first request for work of this size,” Lambert said, noting school districts typically request a load of gravel or sand.
Bowsky questioned the wisdom of supervisors taking on such a project because it would set a precedent for other school districts.
“If you’re going to help North Pike, are you going to help McComb, are you going to help South Pike, are you going to help Osyka?” Bowsky said. “If we make the decision to help one, we might as well put in our folder to help all.”
Conflicts with citizens
Lambert addressed another problem road department employees sometimes face: irate citizens.
He said an angry resident recently went to the central repair barn to complain about a problem, and a female employee — who was alone at the time — was so upset she nearly called 911.
Because of that, the building will be kept locked with a keypad, and Supervisor Gary Honea suggested installing a security camera.
Lambert said citizens sometimes stop and harass road workers on the job as well.
“If you’ve got a complaint, come in here and bring it to the board. The buck stops here,” Lambert said. “We would ask that the public be respectful.”
He cited an old saying, “You attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”