Hernando aldermen recently grappled with the need to revamp the city's long-outdated personnel policy and handbook and a salary comparison with comparable cities in the Mid-South that all too often siphon away city employees for higher-paying jobs.
In a wide-ranging meeting last Tuesday, aldermen approved an agreement with the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University to conduct salary comparisons and begin work on a policy and personnel update.
Tuesday's board meeting was punctuated with back-and-forth discussion between Mayor Tom Ferguson and City Attorney Kenneth Stockton on a wide range of issues affecting the city, including a major discussion between developers and residents regarding the failure to install sidewalks in the Forest Meadows Subdivision.
At the outset of the meeting, the first major controversy to be broached included whether or not the appointment of Historic Preservation Committee appointees are made or selected by the city's mayor or board.
The city attorney said in the past, under the two previous administrations, the board always approved any selection, including the mayor's selection.
Ferguson said he was confused as to whether he appoints the Historic Preservation Commissioners or if each aldermen had an appointee.
It was discovered that the terms of all Commissioners had expired — a discovery made just as Ferguson was being sworn into office in July.
The Commission, which rarely makes decisions of substantive material fact involving structures in the historic district — but can and has done so in the past — can potentially carry weight if a historic structure is at issue, involving modification or renovation of that structure.
Ward 4 Alderman Michael McLendon complained if there was ever a grievance with the decision of the Hernando Historic Preservation Commission, the matter was taken up in court, not by the city board.
The fact the terms had expired was simply "overlooked at City Hall," Stockton explained.
A sticking point during the discussion was the word "elected" rather than "appointed" in the verbiage of the motion on the agenda that would have established the new slate of Historic Preservation Commissioners.
Stockton said the verbiage was a matter of semantics, or that it is a material fact that the city board elects the Commissioners by voting for their approval.
However, if city board members felt more comfortable with the word "appoint," the word "appoint" could be substituted.
Ward 2 Alderman Andrew Miller said he could see no good reason to table yet again the appointment of these Historic Preservation Commissioners, which has already been delayed for months.
"We've been haggling over this thing for months," Miller said. "It's time to move forward. We can appoint the Historic Preservation members and let them review it. This is ridiculous."
"Is there someone on here you don't like or there is a question about?" Ward 5 Alderman Cathy Brooks asked.
McLendon, for his part, did not answer that question directly, but instead pointed to the fact that he questioned whether or not the Historic Preservation Commission could make such a decision based upon the fact all terms had expired.
"If there is a grievance, it bypasses this board," McLendon said.
"You don't have an active (Historic Preservation) board," Stockton replied. "The terms have expired. If you want to review the bylaws, you can. They are from 1997."
Almost to a person, aldermen were in agreement that bylaws needed to be updated, along with a new employee handbook policy and other policies and procedures, some of which are now decades old.
"If the only concern is one word, let's get that word (elected) changed," said Alderman At-Large W.I. "Doc" Harris. We've been dancing around it. It sounds like to me we need to rewrite the bylaws."
Ward 3 Alderman Gary Higdon urged fellow aldermen to approve the slate of new commissioners and update the bylaws, if necessary.
Hernando Planning Director Keith Briley recommended the appointment and then election (by board vote) of commissioners and then urged the subsequent updating of bylaws, if needed.
Alderman Andrew Miller made the motion to appoint the list of names put forth. That motion was seconded by Harris.
Aldermen voted to approve the slate of new commissioners, with the exception of Alderman McLendon, who voted "nay."
Another matter which garnered a great deal of discussion included the request for elimination of sidewalks on five lots in Forest Meadows subdivision, Phase 5.
Sidewalks were required per the directive of the Hernando Planning Commission but were not installed due to topography, erosion and drainage
concerns, according to engineer Nicholas Kreunen, representing developer Chris Montesi.
However, local attorney Mike Graves said he was incredulous that the developers and engineers would cite drainage and erosion issues as the excuse for not properly installing sidewalks, as required, when subdivision lots bordering his property were not not sloped to the proper grade and erosion in that subdivision has long been a concern of residents and surrounding neighbors.
"I came tonight in order to voice objection of any kind to giving any waiver until a significant erosion problem is corrected," Graves said. "I will tell you they (developers) are not concerned about stormwater."
Graves said he had met several times with City Engineer Joe Frank Lauderdale and former Planning Director Jared Darby.
"I've been told by both the city engineer and the planning director (Darby) that this erosion is a significant problem. It continues to erode down the back side of my property."
Graves said he wished to show a slide presentation of the erosion issues, but Mayor Tom Ferguson said he wanted to stay on the topic of the discussion which was the request for the waiver of sidewalks on the five lots by developers. Ferguson did say he would take the slides under consideration as part of the historical record.
Another attorney, Vance Daly, said the sidewalks are tied to the subdivision plan which was submitted and approved. "This has already been done," Daly said. "Sidewalks are absolutely required for sidewalks to go down in our neighborhood. It should go through the proper channels to go through the Planning Commission. Public notice is supposed to be given. Two houses are already built where sidewalks should go. They (developers) built their houses at their own peril, knowing this subdivision requires sidewalks."
City Attorney Kenneth Stockton said in his view the matter should go back before the Planning Commission.
In other matters, aldermen voted to allow the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University to conduct a study of salary comparisons involving surrounding cities in the Mid-South. Personnel policy is also something that us being looked at for updating, according to Ferguson.
Ferguson was also tapped to enter into discussions with Entergy about installing lights along a very dark section of Commerce Street Extended involving the side street entrance to the Hernando Walmart.
"I've been down that corridor many a time and it's bad dark," Miller said, making the motion for Ferguson to continue in talks with Entergy about the lights.
Gale Center rental for West End Ministries was also discussed, along with authorization of Ferguson to sign the DeSoto County Schools Facilities Use Agreement.
The cost of a city-provided ambulance versus a county-provided ambulance also came into discussion. The county, in the course of a regular conduction of business, enters into mutual contractual arrangements with county ambulance service to make sure an ambulance is available to those city residents who need it.