A question by a McComb selectman at the Tuesday night work session sparked a discussion that touched many topics, including attendance at work sessions and the city’s crime rate.
Selectman Devante Johnson asked board attorney Angela Cockerham if the board could pass an ordinance requiring attendance at work sessions.
“I was reading in today’s paper, and it gave me an idea for something,” Johnson said. “Could we create an ordinance that deals with attendance at work sessions?”
Johnson asked this in response to the fact that selectmen Ted Tullos and Michael Cameron routinely do not attend the informal sessions.
Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said the city charter only requires members to go to regularly scheduled meetings, but there are no penalties for selectmen who do not attend.
“This is not a required meeting based on the charter,” Lockley said, referring to the work session. “The charter mentions two meetings, and there is nothing in the code of ordinances that addresses that. That is all that is required.”
Johnson said he wanted to make work sessions required and hinge the selectmen’s “benefits” on their attendance.
“We could set an ordinance to adopt compensation of benefits for failure to attend,” he said. “If so, I would like to at the next board meeting to add to the agenda an ordinance that addresses attendance to board meetings and work sessions, and (with) failure to attend, you no longer qualify for city benefits.”
Selectman Ronnie Brock asked what benefits Johnson was referring to, and Johnson said it would be benefits like health insurance.
“You might as well go and take mine now,” Selectman Donovan Hill said. “There is no way I am going to be able to make work sessions. I’m just saying.”
Selectman Shawn Williams asked why Johnson brought this up, and Johnson said he would not say on the record.
Cockerham said selectmen need to be careful about actions that take things away from elected officials, stating that they were elected to do a job and deserve the compensation.
Johnson said the issue spawned from an article in Tuesday’s Enterprise-Journal about board members’ attendance.
“My issue here is that after reading the comments of some of our colleagues that sit at this table like they have a perfect attendance record and want to attack one particular person,” Johnson said. “We’ve had colleagues here that have missed meetings and all, and I haven’t seen a story in the newspaper about it.
“So if we want to talk about it, let’s put something in place to address it, but don’t just go out and attack one particular individual because none of us have a perfect attendance. We all have things that come up in our lives, and our first priority is our families. I mean, this job doesn’t pay us enough to even pay a car note. I just don’t think it is fair to single out one particular individual.”
Williams and Hill said they had not read the article, and Hill asked who was singled out. Brock said Hill was. Johnson said he would read the article to the board, but Hill said it “was not that big of a deal.”
Lockley noted there was a time when the board did not hold work sessions at all, so the selectmen get paid their annual salary based on only the regular scheduled meetings, but Johnson said that was not the issue.
“I’m not trying to hurt my brother over here. My issue is these two over here,” Johnson said, pointing at the empty seats where Tullos and Cameron sit. “They are just being obstructionists and want to go to the newspaper and act like they have perfect attendance records.”
Hill said he believed the article would not single anyone out when he was interviewed for it.
“When I spoke to the gentleman from the Enterprise-Journal, he verbally told me this article would not be to single me out,” Hill said. “If that is what happened, you lied to me. I know how papers are written. There’s a first draft, then there is a person, (editor) Jack Ryan or whoever, and he edits it.”
Hill said his attendance at meetings is less important than other issues happening in the city, such as crime.
“I don’t think we should be sitting here talking about perfect attendance. I think that one thing we need to be talking about right now is the climate of murders and shooting that is going on in our city,” he said. “I can care less about how many meetings I have missed. Who cares about where I am?
“We lost two people in the last month ... and shootings in our city are growing.”
Hill said it is critical that the city helps the police department, mentioning the freeze the board put on the Interim Police Chief Rodney Nordstrom’s ability to hire or promote officers as the department grapples with a staffing shortage. He said the freeze wasn’t because selectmen don’t want new officers.
“It was some structural things that were going on in our police department that we have to defend, but we are looking at ways to assist our police department with patrolling and ways of helping them out within this situation underhand,” he said.
Hill said the uptick in shooting stems from neglect from everyone, not just the board or the police department.
“There is no one person that you can point the finger at,” Hill said. “I think we are all at fault for the state that our city is in right now. It is going to take all of us to fix what we have at hand right now.”
Hill said the newspaper should be more interested in these issues than in the attendance of a selectman at board meetings.
“This is a matter at hand that we need to be talking about, even the newspaper,” he said. “I cannot believe with what is going on right now, attendance is what is important and not the climate of what our city is in and solving these murders ... and getting these people causing this ruckus off the streets.”