The first City Council meeting of the new year was held Tuesday night. The first item on Tuesday night's city council agenda involved a salary adjustment for Sanitation Director Bobby Jones, who was hired on Jan. 1, 2011.
According to his attorney Phillip Allen, also present with Mr. Jones, at the end of his probation period of six months, Mr. Jones, “was then supposed to make a certain salary, I believe was $43,500. The city continued to pay him his probation period salary." Allen continued, "I believe he is owed six months at $3,461and we come in here tonight to try to get this matter behind us."
City Clerk Ramsey noted, "At the time Mr. Jones' issue came up about being moved from $36,000 to $43,500, the [City] Council voted the next year to pay him his $43,500 on effective Jan.1 of that year. Since it is on record that it was approved, now he is asking for August through December of 2011, so we could not pay it without your approval since you had already voted not to give it to him." Ramsey continued, "The issue now is that all of your department heads make $43,500. At the time they came for Mr. Jones and Mr. Banks...y'all voted not to give him the money until the next year, but all of your department heads – every single one of them make $43,500. There was nothing stated that Mr. Jones was or was not doing his job...you just voted not to give it to him. So now he is just asking for his six months and it will be up to y'all whether or not he can get it, but every one of your department heads make $43,500."
Following Jones' request for his six months of back pay, a heated unintelligible and lengthy argument ensued. Councilman Jay Hollowell, after 10 minutes of debates, made the motion to "pay the $3,461 to Jones for the six months after his probationary period. I will put that into a motion and continue discussion from that point.” Councilman Clark seconded the motion.
After another half hour of loud and unrecognized discussions regarding the issuance of back pay to Mr. Jones, Councilman Joe St. Columbia noted, "The facts are we do owe the man the back pay that he did not receive in that period of time – it is not a question, it is a matter of we should have given it to him at the right time, if I understand what you are saying. So we need to make right and errors that were made wrong so I ask for the vote and get this behind us; we need to go to better things. We don't need to sit here all night and talk about this."
Wanda Crockett responded, "I don't think it's fair for Mr. Jones to call for the vote now because the way that it stands, it's three of us that were not even on this council at that time."
Page 2 of 3 - St. Columbia responded, "If we owe it, we need to give it to him." To which Crockett responded, "The ordinance do not say we owe him. That's the thing we been trying to get across tonight."
A change in the ordinance that controls the rate of pay during and following a probationary period of employment was discussed, noting that immediately following the 180 days of probation, all department heads would make $43,500.
Following Crockett's response, Hollowell noted, "Wanda, I guess my question is, the ordinance that you are proposing, that the council is talking about, is not going to go back and deal with past issues, it is going forward, so why do you have a problem?"
Following the vote, there were three abstentions, one absent, two no's, and four yes, leaving Jones without the back pay he sought for the six months of work following his probationary period of employment as department head over sanitation.
Rev. Danny Robinson addressed the H-WH city council Tuesday night for continued funding for the South Helena Community Center.
Robinson began his remarks, "All of us are touched or affected or inspired by a number of things in this city. Some, by the economic situation that we are facing and others by the crime that we see, and there are those of us that are excited by the new attractions that bring in tourists. But mine is about the hunger that I meet every day in this city." Robinson continued, "You can see the number of children in the center yesterday during historical low temperatures – that many parents sent their children to that center yesterday because Helena has nothing to offer children of that age group but the South Helena Community Center."
Robinson continued, “We have four school teachers – three from Central and one from KIPP – to come over and work with our children every day. And those children know what hunger is all about. I know how many sleep on pallets on the floor. I know which ones change clothes every day...I hope you can adopt this program again like you have done for the past two years and motion to put it into your budget for 2014. That is our purpose for being here."
After some discussion and debate over adjusting line items in the budget for 2014, the South Helena Community Center was approved for $500 per month ($6,000 annual) to help operate the center.
Also discussed in Tuesday night's council meeting was Ordinance 1-2014. This ordinance is an update to the Fair Housing Standards Ordinance, the passage of which would allow the city to apply for certain state and federal grants for housing. Entitled, "An Ordinance Dealing with the Policy of the City of Helena-West Helena to Provide, Within Condtitutional [sic] Limitations, for Fair Housing Throughout its Jurisdiction", the ordinance was moved to the third and final reading and was passed unanimously following a heated discussion when Councilman Chris Franklin accused Mayor Arnell Willis of refusing to let nine new homes to be built in the Meadowbrook Subdivision.
Page 3 of 3 - "That is a bold-faced lie!" responded Willis.
Another item on the agenda discussed Tuesday evening included discussions on roof repair on the city hall building in West Helena at 98 Plaza St.
City Clerk Ramsey noted, "We are spending money just patching it and it is continuing to leak and ruin computers, desks, and flooring and I would like permission to contact an architect to get us some prices to see what they would charge us to come over and draw up a plan for a roof and then put that roof out for bid."
She noted that in the past, contractors have given quotes ranging from $8,000 to $39,000 and she noted that, "We need to get a professional to come in and take a look at it and put it out to bid locally." Hollowell suggested that the leaking roof should be reported to the Municipal League to see if there could be any financial help available from them as well.
The last topic on the agenda included a lengthy debate on the ambiguousness of the role of the local court jurisdiction in the hiring and firing of security officers assigned to the district court. Councilmen and women questioned Judge King and Judge Porter on their professional input regarding the need to hire a full-time and a part-time security officer for the court at the rate of $10.50 and $9.50 per hour, respectively. The city council voted unanimously to allocate resources to hire the needed personnel.
The finance committee, as noted by Hollowell, will meet in the near future.