by Danny Wade
The Humboldt Board of Mayor and Aldermen met last Monday and finalized the city’s 2018-19 budget. A public hearing was held prior to the meeting for two budget ordinances—one for next year’s budget and the other for amendments to the current budget.
During the regular meeting, the first item on the agenda was Ordinance 2018-02 fiscal year ending 2019. The first reading of this ordinance was approved at the previous board meeting. Monday night, Mayor Marvin Sikes presented the ordinance for approval. The board voted 4-0 to approve the second reading of the ordinance. Alderman Don Graves did not attend the board meeting.
During discussion of the budget, Alderman Leon McNeal asked Public Works Supervisor Willie Reed how many people his department needs. Reed replied they had been short three people but have new staff coming in.
McNeal asked if these new hires would be working on cleaning out the drainage ditches. At the previous meeting, some citizens voiced their concerns about overgrown trees and other vegetation clogging up the ditches, causing them not to drain properly. McNeal asked if the new people would be operating the trackhoe and backhoe.
Reed said they would.
“We will do whatever it takes,” Mayor Sikes said of getting the ditch work done. “We will get it done.”
Sikes noted that all the department heads worked hard staying within their budgets.
“It’s a balanced budget,” Sikes explained. “Kim (Hadley) and I worked hard on the budget. It started out $1.4 million over. I give credit to the department heads that had to find cuts and they did that. There’s no tax increase.”
Some of the highlights in next year’s budget include a 3-percent pay increase for all employees, new van for the Senior Citizens Center, new gear for both the police and fire departments, additional maintenance at the airport, and new staff and equipment for the Public Works Department.
The remainder of the meeting went along smoothly until an agenda item for fire department resignations came up.
During the board’s previous meeting, D’Marco Collins had submitted a resignation letter dated May 9, 2018. At that time, discussion led to the board tabling his resignation.
Monday night, the board motioned and seconded to remove the resignation letter from being tabled in order to discuss the firefighter’s request.
Mayor Sikes told the board that Collins was attending the board meeting and wished to address the board.
“I would not like my resignation to go through and I ask to withdraw my resignation,” Collins told the board. “I had issues to work through. I want to let you know I want to be a fire fighter and want to be a fire fighter in Humboldt.”
Board member Bob Pruett asked Collins if the issues were personal or departmental.
Collins said the issues were within the fire department and some were personal as well. He said the issues had been resolved.
After more board discussion, McNeal told Fire Chief Chester Owens that it is his decision to hire or fire Collins.
Chief Owens replied that he has no authority to hire or fire anyone.
Alderman James Shivers asked the chief if Collins would be a good fireman.
Owens told the board he went above and beyond when Collins was hired, working with him, getting him trained.
“Do you want him or not,” McNeal asked Owens.
“I have to follow policy. I have to stay professional for the board, the citizens and for safety,” Owens replied. “I have not spoken to D’Marco about issues to be resolved.”
Chief Owens’ statement that the two had not spoken since Collins submitted his resignation letter threw the board for a loop since Collins said all the issues had been resolved.
Mayor Sikes spoke up to stop the discussion for fear of entrapment for the chief and for Collins.
“I’m for him (Collins) to sit down with the chief and work it out,” McNeal stated.
“I agree 100-percent with Mr. Leon,” Sikes said.
Pruett noted the reason it was tabled during the last meeting was so the two could come to an agreement. He also said Collins hadn’t worked since early May. If it stayed on the table, it would be two months Collins would be off work by our next board meeting.
Mayor Sikes suggested not to un-table Collins’ resignation request, and allow the chief and Collins to work things out.
There was confusion among the board members what they were voting on. With a motion and second made to un-table the request, all four board members vote yes.
Sikes said that’s not what the board meant to do. If it was un-tabled, then a decision must be made to accept Collins’ resignation or deny it. The board was in agreement for the two men to resolve the issues.
With the first vote rescinded, Sikes called for a second vote. Again, all voted “aye”.
Once again, Sikes explained to the board un-tabling would mean taking a vote on the resignation.
Finally, everyone was on the same page and Sikes called for a third vote. This time only Pruett voted to un-table the resignation while McNeal, Shivers and Donna Johnson voted “nay”, keeping the resignation tabled until Chief Owens and Collins can have dialogue to resolve the issues.
McNeal suggested Mayor Sikes set up the meeting to make sure it does take place. Sikes said he would.
Two other letters of resignation were submitted from Humboldt firemen, Brian Bain and William Charles Zabriskie.
In Bain’s letter, he said he will be taking a position with the city of Jackson Fire Department.
Zabriskie did not give a reason for leaving.
The board unanimously approved both resignations.