ABERDEEN — The crowd at the Tuesday”s meeting of the Aberdeen Board of Aldermen twice applauded appeals for peace and healing from city officials. Now if only they could stop arguing long enough to heal.
During the citizen comment portion of the meeting, the crowd took turns bickering at one another and demanding accountability from Mayor Jim Ballard and the board. The board was asked to explain why no city employees were training with independent contractors to take over meter reading duties; warned not to accept the recommendations of a department head accused of perjury; and criticized for asking an elderly man to tear down his old, abandoned house instead of recruiting the fire department to burn it down. Meanwhile, the gallery split along racial lines regarding who is or isn”t working to bring blacks and whites together.
Nobody was above reproach. Ricky Bowen, pastor of Aberdeen First Pentecostal Church, who was arrested, tried and cleared of all charges after launching a personal investigation into corruption at the Aberdeen electric department, was accused of not going far enough to invite blacks to his planned Old Fashion Downtown weekly gatherings.
“If anybody should have a beef (with the city), you”re looking at the guy,” said Bowen. “We need to get past all of this and get to healing the city.”
Bowen hopes his old-time Saturday get-togethers, complete with homemade ice cream and free popcorn, will convince citizens to congregate downtown. But he was forced to go on the defense when a black citizen complained Bowen was not reaching out to the larger black community.
“Over 100 people of my congregation are black,” Bowen explained.
The racial finger-pointing went on for the remainder of the citizen comment portion of the meeting before the aldermen took the floor to make personal pleas for reconciliation. Ballard was forced to bang his gavel several times to restore order as citizens interrupted or heckled him, aldermen or one another.
They mayor didn”t miss a beat in his duties after being arrested Thursday on bribery charges. By Tuesday, the man who filed the charges, bail bondsman Keith Morgan, had dropped the charges on the advisement of his lawyer, Jim Waide of Tupelo.
Morgan claimed Ballard, who has served as interim manager at the Aberdeen electric department since January, threw $30 at him in an attempt to keep Morgan quiet about a contested electric bill. Ballard denies he threw the money at Morgan, but the point, according to Waide, is moot. Even if Ballard had thrown the money at Morgan, Waide says the act wouldn”t have violated the law.
“What”s described in the affidavit is not a crime. You can”t bribe a private citizen,” said Waide.
The question of when a new electric department manager would be named was raised by a citizen during the comment portion and the board voted to take up the matter in executive session.
Ward 2 Alderman Cloyd Garth reported the board settled on four candidates for the electric department position to bring back for a second round of interviews.
“We hope to have someone hired within the next week,” said Garth, whose cousin, Adrian Garth, was formerly electric department head before his arrest on felony extortion charges.
The largest portion of regular session was devoted to discussing which city fund to dip in to pay for roof repairs to the Parks and Recreation building. The estimated cost of the project several months ago was $27,000, but factors determining the price may have changed. Also, the Holley building, an industrial building jointly owned by Aberdeen and Monroe County, needs roof work.
Ballard and Garth clashed over whether to draw the repair funds from the Urban Development Action Grant fund, which currently contains around $21,000, according to comptroller Karen Crump, or the S&J fund, a property sale fund containing an estimated $176,000.
The UDAG fund, which was established in the 1970s, is used to make urban development loans, and the collected loan payments and their interest are fed back into the fund.
“I”m in opposition to this. Every time you need something you/we rob the UDAG fund,” said Garth.
The board eventually tabled the issue until the next meeting, agreeing to get two more quotes for the roof work in the mean time.
In other business the board approved raises for policeman Jason Franks and electric department linemen Danny Morris and Nicholas Orr. The board also approved the retirement of Q.C. Townes from the street department.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
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