No fireworks at SM’s city council meeting
Local residents and a few out-of-town activists who crowded into the council chamber at Mayor Melinda Mitchell’s request Monday did not get the show they expected.
In a Oct. 23 radio interview Mitchell had asked for their attendance to help support an effort to dissolve the city’s charter and adopt the provisions of the state’s Lawrason Act which Mitchell feels would accord more power to the mayor’s office.
No such item was on the agenda, however, and attendees expecting to see some of the fireworks that have marked recent meetings went away either disappointed or relieved.
A change to the Lawrason Act, also favored by Councilmen Juma Johnson and Edmond Joseph, would require approval by a majority of the council and by the city’s voters in a public election. Supporters of the change want to place more authority in the mayor’s office than is provided under the current city charter, which establishes a weak-mayor form of government.
Under the Lawrason Act, a state-approved framework for municipal governments without their own charter, the mayor has the power to set meeting agendas and the chief of police is an elected position.
The city charter leaves appointment of a chief to the council.
Both those issues have been points of contention during the mayor’s tenure.
No mention was made during Monday’s meeting of starting a petition of support for a change to the Lawrason Act.
At Monday’s meeting the only agenda item specifically pertaining to the mayor was a proposal by Mitchell to discontinue her $800-per-month vehicle allowance and instead purchase her a new car.
The request follows Mitchell’s failure to respond to requests that she provide proof that she has been carrying insurance on her personal vehicle, a Mercedes.
Mitchell said that she has been insured at all times, but was worried about “insuring the city” at her own expense.
But Councilman Craig Prosper pointed out that the city is now in the middle of its fiscal year and funds are not budgeted for the purchase of a car for the mayor.
When taking office in 2018, Mitchell chose to use her own vehicle and receive the allowance rather than drive a city-owned one. In the past the city has provided a vehicle for the mayor’s use.
Officials discussed what constitutes “city business” with regards to vehicle use and the complications of satisfying the insurance requirements so that the city is adequately protected from liability at all times.
The issue was tabled at the mayor’s request to allow time for her to consider her options.
Councilman Mike Fuselier presented a tentative plan for the allotment of $1,048,000 remaining city and parish recreation bond proceeds for work in the city parks, the festival grounds and other recreational facilities.
Fuselier is seeking to jump-start previously-approved upgrades to the baseball fields at Magnolia Park.
Wayne Oubre, director of youth baseball/softball programs for St. Martin Parish, told the council that the poor condition of the facilities is reducing participation in the program. Fuselier responded that improvements to the backstops, fencing and lighting are in the works.
Fuselier also pointed out that “The walking track at Magnolia is by far the most-utilized recreational asset in the city and it is badly in need of resurfacing. If we don’t resurface it with the bond funds we have now it will be years before we will be able to do it.”
Johnson pushed back in favor of spending more at Adam Carlson Park, even though up to this point and under Fuselier’s plan the highest percentage of bond funds are going there.
Councilman Dennis Paul Williams and Fuselier pointed out that all residents make use of the facilities at Magnolia.
In a related issue, it was decided to move a mobile home/office that was mistakenly approved for placement along South Main Street. The council has approved the purchase of the trailer to avoid legal action by the owner and the property owner said he will soon begin charging rent.
The council approved the expenditure of $2,950 to move the trailer to Adam Carlson Park, where it will be used as needed for recreational programs.
In other business:
•SMEDA Director Jennifer Stelly updated the council on business development progress in the city.
•The Sons of the American Revolution will be allowed to erect a memorial to local residents who fought in the war for independence on city hall property.
•The council adopted the International Building Maintenance Codebook, as recommended by contract building inspector Rodney “Cooney” Richard and Building and Zoning Director Danielle Fontenette.
•The council approved the expenditure of $150,000 for construction of a splash pad adjacent to the municipal swimming pool.