CATEGORY: Pontotoc County
HED:Break-in compounds Ecru troubles
By Errol Castens
ECRU - As if a political impasse that threatens to shut down municipal functions weren't enough trouble, this Pontotoc County town of about 700 people suffered insult on top of its operational injuries when about $150 in cash was stolen during a break-in of city hall last weekend.
Nothing other than the cash drawer was damaged, said administrative assistant Connie Kidd. The burglar or burglars made an unsuccessful attempt to open the town's safe, she said.
Town business, including paying bills, approving a new budget (due on September 15, according to Kidd) and setting a tax levy for the upcoming fiscal year, has fallen victim for more than a month to a debate over the July 7 minutes of the board's meeting.
After the continuing absence of Aldermen Larry Swords, Albert Gordon and Delaine Mote ruled out having a quorum, Mayor Tom Todd has called another meeting for 6 p.m. Friday to try to settle old business.
Swords had introduced a motion to redefine and advertise vacancies for most non-elective city jobs at the July meeting.
"People are hired for a period of four years, then they're re-evaluated," Gordon said. Todd vetoed the motion, saying there were no vacancies.
Swords, Gordon and Mote "wanted to get rid of everybody who worked for the town," Todd said. Town clerk Helen Horton, who had served for 13 years, resigned effective Aug. 1 and the position remains vacant.
Gordon said the change was attempted in answer to citizens' requests.
"They asked us to make changes before we were even elected, and that's what we were trying to do," he said. "Now we're being made to look like the bad guys."
Todd said the threesome is to blame for the impasse.
"If they would come to a board meeting, we could discuss this," he said, adding that the primary disagreement is not over the minutes themselves. "They are wanting to change a statement that I vetoed, and if they change this statement, I'm going to veto it, too."
Gordon, Mote and Swords say that the mayor ignores the issue of approving the July minutes and the motion that prompted the impasse.
"In every other group, approving minutes always comes first on the agenda before you go on to new business," Gordon said.
The threesome also claims that Todd calls meetings without giving sufficient notice but goes out of his way to accommodate his allies on the board.
"I didn't get notice of one meeting until that afternoon," Gordon said. "But when Alderman (James) Speck had to be away, the mayor canceled the meeting."
Todd said that state law requires only a three-hour notice to call town meetings and explained his action regarding Speck's absence.
"When they adjourned the Sept. 2 meeting, we adjourned until Sept. 11," Todd said. "Alderman Speck called me on Sept. 8 to let me know he couldn't be there. I got notices to them on the 9th and 10th."
When asked why the board couldn't meet with one member absent, Todd said Speck had mentioned at the previous meeting that Sept. 11 might cause a conflict with another meeting he was to attend.
"We told him then to check on it, and if it was a problem we'd change our meeting," the mayor said. "When he notified me that it was a conflict, we kept our word and rescheduled."
Mote and Gordon complained that the mayor didn't give them notice of a meeting scheduled for Monday night, but Todd disputed the claim.
Town attorney Phil Tutor was scheduled to have a meeting with Gordon, Mote and Swords on Saturday morning to try to work out a solution to the impasse, Todd said, at which time Tutor would notify them of the Monday meeting.
"He waited for them most of the morning, but they never showed up. Finally, he left a note on his door saying 'I'm going home to watch Ole Miss play football. Call me there.' And they never called," Todd said.
Further controversy between the parties stems from a July motion by Swords to have the state auditor's office conduct an audit of town records, ostensibly to protect the new administration from any mistakes made by the former administration.
"I told him they wouldn't send anybody up here unless a formal complaint was filed," Todd said, "but I told him to go ahead and make the call if he felt it was necessary."
As far as Todd knew, he said, Swords has never called the auditor's office.