Hernando City Hall

Robert Long|DTT

Hernando aldermen Monday reconvened a recessed meeting to make appointments to the Hernando City Planning and Election Commissions.

The recessed meeting was carried over from last week's contentious city board meeting.

The only items discussed involved the appointment of three vacancies on the Hernando Planning Commission and the appointment of two individuals to the Hernando Election Commission.

Statutorily and legally, recommendations for all eight of the appointments could be made by the mayor but tradition has held throughout the past subsequent decades of city boards that the mayor receives an appointment and the vacancies in the Planning Commission can be filled by nominees from aldermen from those respective wards.

At Monday's recessed meeting, the slate of newly appointed and approved planning commissioners are: Dennis "Dink" Upchurch, Jr., Mayor Tom Ferguson's selection; Robin Cotten, Alderman at large W.I. "Doc" Harris's pick; Natalie Lynch, selected by Ward 1 Alderman E.R. "Sonny" Bryant; Keith Hawkins, selected by Ward 2 Alderman Andrew Miller; Bob Wolfe, the designee chosen by Ward 3 Alderman Gary Higdon, who was absent at Monday's meeting. Miller put forth Wolfe's name in Higdon's absence after Planning Director Jared Darby assured the board that Wolfe was Higdon's pick to be renominated; Chad Wicker, as selected by Ward 4 Alderman Michael McLendon; Ellen Jernigan, chosen by Ward 5 Alderman Cathy Brooks; and Leigh Wills, as selected by Ward 6 Alderman Jeff Hobbs.

Jernigan, a former alderwoman, has served on the Planning Commission for the past four years. Wolfe has served for approximately eight years; Hawkins has served for a little more than a year; with Leigh Wills serving approximately seven years and Robert Carter for about two years. Pirtle had served approximately four years.

Wicker, 32, a 20-year resident of Hernando, will replace Randy Pirtle; Wills was renominated by Hobbs to serve; Upchurch, a BankPlus executive, will replace Brad Sims; and Cotten, a former U.S. Naval Intelligence officer and former IBM employee and commodities broker on the New York Stock Exchange, will replace the late Marjorie Williams. Cotten also has experience on the Germantown Planning Commission.

Reba Wright and Alice Barnes were chosen to the slate of City Election Commissioners.

One election commissioner remains to be appointed. Longtime election commissioner Dale Bellflower notified Alderwoman Brooks over the weekend that he had resigned. Ashley Wadsworth, who has served in the past as Republican Party Executive Committee member, had expressed a willingness to serve and Brooks put her name forth.

However, McLendon said he would like for the board to have more time to consider additional names.

Since the majority of the city aldermen were not aware there was an open slot, aldermen voted to carry the Election Commission appointment over to the next meeting.

At last week's meeting, aldermen opted to consider the agenda put forth by former mayor Chip Johnson.

Ferguson submitted his own agenda the day of the meeting. Traditionally, the outgoing and incoming mayors sit down and have discussions about the timetable in order to prepare for a smooth transition.

This apparently did not occur. Aldermen typically receive an agenda several days prior to a meeting in order to familiarize themselves with items to be voted upon.

By a vote of 5-2, aldermen voted to consider the agenda approved during the waning days of the Johnson administration. The vote was 5-2, with Aldermen Michael McLendon and W.I. "Doc" Harris voting against the adoption of the agenda submitted by Johnson. Aldermen Sonny Bryant, Cathy Brooks, Andrew Miller, Jeff Hobbs and Gary Higdon voted not to adopt the Ferguson agenda, which would have postponed any appointments or reappointments until Ferguson has had time to meet and evaluate staff.

Aldermen fearing that city business would be interrupted — as voiced by Ward 3 Alderman Gary Higdon — voted to reappoint the city officials currently in office.

McLendon pointed out that Horn Lake's flow of business was not interrupted four years ago when newly-elected Horn Lake Mayor Allen Latimer voted to basically make all officeholders as "hold-overs," waiting for his evaluation.

Ferguson said during that meeting and in a subsequent interview Friday that he only wished to be able to re-evaluate city employees and officials in citywide posts.

"I want to visit with every department," Ferguson said. "We may have the best team but just give me the opportunity to evaluate. I'm not trying to disrupt things. I want to play by the rules. It's just due process of law. That's all that I want. Being new, I was very unfamiliar with a lot of the items but I hope to gain a lot more experience as a public official."

Ferguson said he is set to attend the annual meeting of the Mississippi Municipal League, an organization which holds classes for newly-elected public officials and orients those new officials with Mississippi law.

Samantha Hill with the Mississippi Municipal League said Friday that she could not comment on Mississippi's system of traditionally "strong board, weak mayor" forms of governments, which shoulders more authority to elected aldermen in any given city.

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.

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