Tuesday night's Helena-West Helena City Council meeting included several points of interest to the community. The council discussed issues ranging from code enforcement to recycling, to the normal inquisitions of the council regarding conflicting budget numbers and statements made by the mayor in public.
The meeting began with an appearance by the new code enforcement officer Takela Martin.
Martin, recently hired as the Helena-West Helena code enforcement officer, has been the target of increasing criticism from the community regarding the ambiguous nature of her qualifications. Following her introduction to the council, Councilman John Huff asked her, “Have you had any training?” To which she replied that she trained for two weeks in Forrest City and in Memphis last week with a permit technician and “I'm training every day and I am learning every day and I train every Wednesday with a HVAC inspector and a plumbing inspector.”
Martin reassured the council that she has been working on a budget, which she will discuss in the code enforcement budget workshop on Nov. 25 at 5 p.m.
Other business included a motion brought forth by Councilman Eddie Clark to raise every councilperson's rate of pay to $11,000. Clark noted, “I do not think that council members' pay is on an equal platform and I think we all need to get the same amount of pay.”
After some discussion, Wanda Crockett, council member from Ward 1 asked Clark, “How can we sit here as a council and request a pay raise when we can't get the people who work daily a pay raise?” She continued, “We have had numerous conversations about combining departments to save money, so if we are harping on saving money, how can we even ask for a raise?”
The motion was never seconded and the issue died.
Clark made another motion that the trial period that all part-time city employee must work to be eligible for their Christmas bonus (six months) be amended so that all part-time city employees, regardless of their length of employment, would be eligible for the bonus. This motion also died for lack of second.
The meeting took a turn when councilman Huff took exception to Mayor Arnell Willis' recent statements at a local Rotary Club meeting. Huff recited a recent article in The Helena World where Willis was quoted saying that, regarding the decline in revenue the City Council would not allow him to make certain cuts in the budget.
“Mayor, can you explain to me when, how, and where did you suggest a cut? And the City Council interfered with you? Will you stop going around and making these untrue statements to these people?”
Crockett also took offense to the Mayor's recent comments, “You [Mayor Willis] tell people the council won't let you do anything? And you make it look like we are fighting you and you not fighting us? I am asking you to quit lying on me.”
Page 2 of 2 - Councilman Christopher Franklin then questioned the mayor on discrepancies on budget number over the past few years, “The 2013 budget is thicker than the 2011 budget. Where will cuts be made?” Franklin continued, “The budget is a million and a half dollars short…how are the changes being made when we are steadily spending more than we are taking in?”
Willis assured the City Council that cuts would be made in the upcoming budget workshops.
The budget workshops for nine departments will begin on Nov. 18 and run through Nov. 25. The two workshops on Nov. 18 will include the fire chief at 5 p.m. and the landfill director at 6 p.m.
The Nov. 20 workshop will include the police chief at 5 p.m. and the senior court clerk at 6 p.m. The Nov. 21 workshop includes the street director at 5 p.m. and the sanitation director at 6 p.m. The final budget workshop will be Nov. 25 and will include discussions with the code enforcement officer at 5 p.m., administration at 5:30 p.m., and the Helena Community Center director at 6:30 p.m.
The workshops will be held in the Helena-West Helena Council Room.