Aberdeen Ward 2 Alderman Doug Stone, center, questions Mayor Maurice Howard’s alleged affiliation with a Louisiana law firm’s demands for $850,000 in legal fees connected to a 2016 solar development deal. The confrontation played out on Howard’s Facebook Live feed.

ABERDEEN – Letters recently received regarding special counsel and outstanding legal fees associated with a proposed solar development at Stinson Industrial Park prompted a heated discussion during June 4’s board of aldermen meeting.

The matter regarding special counsel stemmed from a document dated June 8, 2016, which recently came to the board’s knowledge, employing attorney Walter Zinn, Jr. for negations regarding the solar development. Ward 2 Alderman Doug Stone said the document was signed by Zinn and Mayor Maurice Howard and notarized by Columbus attorney Hal McClanahan.

Stone said the documents stated the City of Aberdeen agreed to pay Zinn an initial $5,000 retainer and a $300 hourly fee plus expenses for the project. He asked Howard if he signed the document on behalf of the city without board approval.

“Have you learned in the last year and a half you’ve been here that everything you have attempted to do to harm me has ricocheted? There’s nothing you can do to touch me, and so this will not matter as well because the way the government is set up in the City of Aberdeen, the mayor cannot do anything without a majority vote,” Howard said. “Stop wasting our time.”

He said there have been several times documents have gone before the board he said included his forged signature.

The board approved to declare the contract with Zinn unauthorized, null and void. After Stone made the motion, Howard said it wasn’t necessary since the board never approved it.

City attorney Bob Faulks added an attorney from Wilson Law Firm of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who is representing an attorney with Withers & Withers Inc., also in Baton Rouge, sent correspondence to him and Howard requesting $850,000 for 1,000 hours of legal services related to solar development.

At one point, Howard said he didn’t know if someone sitting at the board table typed the letter.

“Mayor, this letter, I received a certified copy, but the letter was addressed to you. I don’t know any of these people. I’ve never heard of them. This came out of the blue. Nobody up here made any of this up. We don’t know who these people are, but they made a demand for $850,000 in lawyer fees,” Faulks said.

Howard voiced his frustrations, saying he was under attack by Stone and Faulks.

“If the mayor did anything illegal, then why am I still here? Y’all tried to impeach me,” he said. “The only thing you do, Mr. Stone, is try to attack me and every time, I get away, so what are you going to do now? Your time is almost up. You will have to watch from afar. That seat belongs to [Stone’s previous political opponent] Lady Garth. You’re here by default. You got beat 1,000 times, and the reality is if you guys weren’t nasty before, her son [former Ward 2 Alderman Cloyd Garth, Jr.] would still be sitting here.”

Aldermen approved for the city to deny the claim for legal services. Howard repeatedly asked why the board was discussing it to make him look bad since the action was never authorized by the city.

“You are still not answering the question. If it’s not authorized, just like they said before, if it don’t fit, you must acquit. I’ve never seen it, okay? You’re continuing to try to embarrass me, but it does not work. You make yourself look bad,” Howard said.

Stone added he is making sure the city’s position is solid and not caught up in any wrongdoing.

“I’m really just ashamed that after all this time we continue to have to go through the same thing over and over again,” Howard said. “If this was a competition for maintaining the city, Doug, you would get a trophy. But if you’re trying to talk about trying to move this city and grow this city, you need to be removed.”

Working on buildings

In the first of three building-related items, Faulks explained a move for the city to accept two buildings in Prairie once owned by the Mississippi Authority for the Control of Fireants.

“The authority is no longer in business, and there is private legislation that authorizes the department of agriculture to execute a deed to convey those tracts back to the City of Aberdeen. They were previously owned jointly by the City of Aberdeen and Monroe County,” he said.

The county has proposed to pay for a required survey to describe the tracts of land and the deed. The county’s condition is once the property is conveyed back to the city, it will convey one-half interest to the county to be joint owners. Aldermen approved.

The board gave Faulks the authority to offer the appraised value of $18,500 for a former service station at the corner of Commerce and Maple streets. Stone said the city will borrow from its Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) program and pay it back at $300 per month.

“The visitors bureau is currently paying rent to Aberdeen Main Street, and our intention is to remodel the Cooperwood station and make it partially a museum and also a visitors bureau to let the rent the visitors bureau is paying Main Street go into our UDAG fund,” Stone said.

Additionally, Faulks said the city has received offers from two parties who paid the 2015 ad valorem taxes for the former Big Star building, who are entitled to receive tax deeds from the city and county. There was discussion in the previous day’s board work session about the city making a counteroffer.

Ward 3 Alderman David Ewing suggested discussing the situation further before potentially taking action at its next meeting.

“If we decide to purchase this property, the county has agreed to help us demolish and cart off the old building to get the site in shape. The things we talked about have been a splash pad for our children,” Stone said, adding the city has expressed seeking grants for it and a walking track at Newberger Park.

In other business, the board approved to pursue getting quotes for a flagpole and its foundation at General Young Park.

Aldermen also approved a motion to declare July 5 as an additional city holiday to go with July 4.

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