ABERDEEN – Members of the board of aldermen mostly kept quiet Nov. 5 when the figurative elephant in the room – state-level embezzlement charges against Mayor Maurice Howard related to city-approved travel – came into question.
During the meeting, Howard read minutes of previous board action requesting the Mississippi Attorney General and Mississippi Ethics Commission to render advisory opinions regarding any actions the aldermen should make concerning travel issues regarding the mayor.
Through the five recent embezzlement charges, though, the Mississippi State Auditor’s Office brought forth the charges pertaining to trips Howard allegedly never took.
“I’m good. The reason I am is because I have evidence and proof I went on those trips. There’s no need for a feeling of remorse. I understand if people have personal vendettas,” Howard said. “I think the board may actually want to consider having a meeting with the state auditor and sitting down and getting this even taken off the table before my court date. If not, I think before the court date I’ll have enough sufficient evidence to have this removed.”
After approving travel requests, which included a trip for Howard to attend an upcoming Mississippi Municipal League conference in Jackson, the mayor asked if it would come back to haunt him.
“I want to make sure if I go on this trip, like I did with all of my other trips, that y’all aren’t going to claim that I stole the money. Am I going to be all right if I go? Are y’all going to say I embezzled the money that y’all approved me to go on? Am I okay to go on this trip without being charged,” he asked.
Howard said after he took a trip to Atlanta to meet with Huddle House representatives, one of the five trips in question through the indictment, he brought representatives back to Aberdeen to meet with board members and said some of the board members left the meeting.
Howard said he has documentation and receipts from all the trips and added on several trips former city public relations director Justin Crosby accompanied him.
“I was just wondering why the auditor and all of that was brought into play for travel when we approved it. I know the mayor was quizzed and drilled at that point in time,” said former Ward 2 Alderwoman Lady B. Garth, adding she could vouch for which hotels he stayed in at the time. “Intellect should shoot in somewhere. If you’re actually trying to build your city, you stop doing foolishness. It’s unintelligent mess.”
She told board members vindictiveness was used to request the investigation, and it was an embarrassment to the city.
Infrastructure issues were among topics addressed during last week’s aldermen meeting, beginning with the board approving a $12,207.50 bid from Riverside Traffic for striping newly paved streets.
Aldermen tabled action on accepting a bid for the purchase and installation of a box culvert for a section of High Extended, which is sinking. The board did approve a bid of $24,990 from Hanna Contracting for drainage work alongside Walters Drive, which was $4,000 less than anticipated.
As the meeting was adjourning, Howard congratulated Aberdeen Park and Recreation Department Director Michelle Stewart for raising enough funds to overlay the General Young Park basketball court.
The Monroe County Road Department will provide labor and equipment at no cost to the city for the project.
The board approved a rental agreement for the Aberdeen Sportsplex.
“It’s non-exclusive, and the city can operate activities out there too and we can rent space to others,” said city attorney Bob Faulks.
The board also approved a quote of $4,200 from Lee’s Backhoe & Construction Inc. for a new septic tank at the sportsplex.
Aldermen also approved to adopt the state holidays of Nov. 28 and 29 for Thanksgiving and Dec. 24 and 25 for Christmas.
The board accepted low bids from Big Tex of Pelham, Alabama for trailers for the public works and water departments. It also approved a 36-month agreement with Cintas for city uniforms. The company went into a state contract agreement, which will reduce the city’s expense by half.
Aldermen approved to publish a notice twice in the Monroe Journal explaining a number garbage pickup expectations from citizens such as leaves being bagged and no construction debris or tires being picked up by the sanitation department.
“We’ll have a meeting specified just for this particular issue, and then we can see what some of our constituents’ concerns are and we will move accordingly. Some things we may remove and some things we may add,” Howard said.
During citizen input, city officials were asked to address faded street signs.
Another resident voiced her frustrations with Ward 2 Alderman Doug Stone about oversized speed bumps on Forest Street and presented a petition from residents of the area. She said she spoke with Stone previously about the issue, and he said he asked her two or three months ago to get a petition.
Later in the meeting, Stone said the commercial speed bumps are bigger than needed and he will look into a more practical size version to replace them.
Also during citizen input, concerns included instances of city vehicles not stopping at stop signs, four-wheelers riding on city streets, loud music and people wearing sagging pants.
Pat Spicer thanked the city’s workers for assisting in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Olga, which moved through the area Oct. 26.