ABERDEEN – During Sept. 3’s public hearing regarding next fiscal year’s budget, Mayor Maurice Howard briefly attended and after it ended, Ward 2 Alderman Doug Stone voiced his concerns to attendees that Howard had a gun on him.
Howard later contended he was legal in carrying the gun, adding he’s not a criminal or a convicted felon. He added it gave Stone another opportunity to slander his name.
“It was in a holster. It was the first thing I saw when he walked in. I saw a few of the ladies’ eyes in the audience, and they were fixated on it. It was as visible as any police officer’s weapon,” Stone said later.
Howard said he consulted with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office and Mississippi Office of the State Auditor, which both stated he did nothing illegal.
According to Mississippi Code 45-9-51, “no county or municipality may adopt any ordinance that restricts the possession, carrying, transportation, sale, transfer or ownership of firearms or ammunition or their components.”
However, Mississippi Code 45-9-51(1)(f)(i) allows a county or municipality, if they have authority under other law, such as “Home Rule,” to regulate the carrying of a firearm at a public park or at a public meeting of a county, municipality or other governmental body.
On June 18, 2013, the board of aldermen approved a resolution to adopt a city policy stating there will be no firearms on city property due to the state’s open carry law. Howard said he was unaware of any city ordinance forbidding weapons since there is no signage indicating it.
“Under the state Constitution, the legislature may regulate or forbid the carry of concealed weapons, but it says in stronger terms than the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution that a person has a right to openly bear weapons in Mississippi. Mississippi Constitution, Section 12, says, ‘The right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person or property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall not be called in question.’ That’s really strong language,” said Oxford attorney Reed Martz, who is also known as the Midsouth Gun Lawyer. “If someone were to get wrapped up on an open carry charge, they might have a very good Constitutional argument that the law they’ve been charged with is illegal.”
Stone and Ward 5 Alderman Jim Buffington were the only two aldermen present at the budget hearing, which was attended by 11 people.
“There’s two facets of it, the first being intimidation. Was he there trying to intimidate? It’s obvious the mayor and I are political adversaries. There are salary disagreements going on. I suppose that could be a factor. He has attacked me several times verbally but never physically,” Stone said.
Ahead of Sept. 10's board of aldermen meeting to approve the Fiscal Year ’19-’20 budget, there were questions as to if the budget would include a potential third salary cut Howard has faced since last July.
“The mayor barely has so much as a speeding ticket. I’ve never been a criminal in my entire life. For someone to insinuate the mayor is carrying a gun to intimidate the board is absolutely idiocy and absurd,” Howard said.
A proposal to decrease his salary to $9,600, which is the same pay aldermen receive, did not pass. Stone said last week the reasoning behind the potential cut was due to Howard’s lack of being present at City Hall throughout much of the year.
He said after Tuesday's meeting the board chose not to follow through with the additional pay cut since Howard has been coming back to City Hall to work.
“If it wasn’t intimidation, it was extremely poor judgment on his part. To come in to a public hearing with mostly older ladies wearing a pistol on his hip is totally outrageous. The example it sets for the younger people for the mayor to be packing at a public meeting…hardly a week passes when young people aren’t shooting at each other,” Stone said of cases in neighboring cities. “I don’t know if he violated any law, but he did violate any shred of common sense and good judgment.”
During Tuesday's board of aldermen meeting, a motion, made by Stone, passed to install signs at City Hall forbidding firearms, with the exception of law enforcement officers.
Howard said it is daunting the only time he has heard from the Monroe Journal recently is when it has dealt with his salary being cut or Stone’s more recent concern.
“If there’s something negative going on, then of course, it will be reported. If there’s something positive going on or, ‘Hey, let’s just drop in and check on the mayor and see what’s on the mayor’s agenda, what’s on his mind or what’s he looking forward to,’ I think our media outlet has to do a better job of covering positive stories instead of those that seem slanderous stories,” Howard said.
Speaking on other issues
Howard wished to address other issues including Fred’s leaving town, underpaid employees, high taxes and aldermen he said only get excited when they’re persecuting the him.
“We just borrowed over $1 million on a bond to pave streets that don’t even have striping, and that speaks to the high taxes situation. We have one of the most vital elections of Aberdeen’s history quickly approaching. We have a board that seems to be led by more of a dictator in Doug Stone. Doug Stone seems to have the voice of many members of the board, if not all,” Howard said.
He alleged Stone of micromanaging employees and sending employees home as if he was the mayor.
“We have an alderman in Doug Stone trying to be the mayor. We have some of the most erroneous back door, under the table deals going on in the city like I’ve never seen,” said Howard, saying he’s been stripped of his authority. “Any time I tell a city employee to do something, they have to go back and ask the board if it’s okay without listening to the day-to-day operator.”
He said he intends to run for mayor in next spring’s city election and asked for citizens to put the right people in place. He said during his term, former Ward 2 Alderwoman Lady B. Garth has been his only supporter, and the lack of majority votes has prohibiting him from succeeding.
“The mayor has put jobs before the aldermen. I have put several factories before the aldermen. I’ve put restaurants with an ‘s’ in front of the aldermen. I have put several innovative ideas before the aldermen. I have put a park and recreation swimming pool and splash pad before the aldermen way before Doug Stone brought up splash pads,” Howard said.
He said he plans to run with a team of aldermen to support his vision.