There were more fireworks than a 4th of July celebration. Sadly, where the sparks flew on this date was at the June 8th Jonesboro Board of Aldermen meeting that was held at the Charles H. Garrett Community Center where the petty pomp between the elected and appointed officials totally outweighed the circumstances that needed to be resolved. Not one single item on the agenda went by without some squabble or pointed question being associated with it. To describe the 2 1/2 hour session would be to say it was a verbal version of a WWE WrestleMania event complete with all the grandstanding with barbs being traded instead of blows.
First shots fired! Robbie Siadek landed the first real blow of the night when he questioned why with Property Tax receipts close to $200,000.00 over what was expected and Sales Tax close to 400K over what was budgeted why was the Town still having money issues? This was followed by a suggestion that maybe where the money was being spent needed to be looked at closer or revised. This was a precursor of what was to come.
Public Hearing called! Mayor Leslie Thompson made a request to the Board to make a motion to reduce the compensation of the next tax collector to $16.00 per hour. This was met with dissension by Stringer and after all was said and done an Ordinance was introduced to hold a Public Hearing about the compensation at 5:30pm on July 13th.
Head shots! The action really got heated when it came time for the Department Head reports except for Fire Chief Brandon Brown’s report who gave information on real fire issues. Brown reported the fire department made 83 runs in May and continued the “beautification burn” program where dilapidated structures were burnt to improve neighborhoods. According to Brown there are roughly 40 structures on the list to be burned.
Things really got hot when discussing as Public Works Director Calvin Wortham and Councilmen Ginn and Siadek threw jabs back and forth about the water billing and reading of meters issues. When Wortham answered the question of were the meters being read by saying NO because they are still inconsistent and unreliable, Siadek then stated he thought the problem wasn’t with the meters but the people reading them on an inconsistent basis which led him to propose to have a third party be hired. The pair actually agreed this was not a bad idea but then others pitched in about residents being billed on a flat scale or actual readings and what did the future hold for the town being able to bill for actual usage. Half an hour later and following a request to have Attorney Doug Stokes make a request to the state Attorney General for clarification on what can be done the attention moved to doing road repairs on Branch and Hickory Street which was said to be expected to be worked on next week.
Mayor dodges punch! Police Chief James “Spike” Harris then took the podium to provide an introductory remark on why he was going to say what he did. Chuckles were heard throughout the crowd when Harris commented on the unfounded rumors of his demise after last month’s meeting and stated to Mayor Thompson that he wanted him to know that what he was about to report was nothing personal but only doing what he was paid to do.
“I have a job to do as Chief of Police,” stated Harris. “One of the areas I have to work in is following up on leads that come into my department. While 99% of them have no merit, there is not a month go by where I don’t get a call about something going on in city hall.
With that Harris explained that he had gotten a report that Mayor Thompson’s brother David had been given contracts by City Hall that could have gone to lower bidders.
“Once I investigated these allegations I turned my findings over to the State Police and the Ethics Board as I am supposed to,” said Harris. “I am announcing that while it was deemed possibly unethical for his brother to get these contracts, no laws were broken and Mayor Thompson did nothing illegal.”
Roughed up a little! Mayor Thompson didn’t come away quite so unscathed after the discussion about him getting a new car was brought up. Apparently he had proposed to purchase a car but was denied due to a governmental appropriations clause that says a public body can’t incur a debt unless first approved by the state bond commission. This also led to a question by Councilman Siadek on how can the Mayor be approved to buy a $30,000 car when just two months ago he said that there was no money for the Police Department to get a new unit.
“I knew that I would get opposition about this,” said Thompson. “The simple fact is that the car I am driving is 16 years old and has transmission problems. There is money in the budget for this while there was none in the Police budget for a them to get a unit. I have to have something more dependable.”
Undercard battle! With the main event still be unfold the atmosphere started to get prepped when Jonesboro resident and former Mayor, James Bradford stepped to the podium on what was supposed to be on behalf of the Boys and Girls Club of America. Bradford stated that he wanted to ask the Council to renounce their decision to charge the charity organization the $500.00 per month rent to use the McDonald Recreation Building in Jonesboro. With former JHHS athletic great Eldontae Osborne, who is now the B&G Club state director in the audience, what should have been a discussion about helping children turned into the former Mayor and current one acting like children. Bradford and Thompson started trading verbal shots about past and current administrations that completely derailed any possible action being taken but led to the main event of the night where Thompson had to withstand three more punches landed by Stringer, Ginn and Siadek.
Main event! As the meeting was now over two hours old, Mayor Thompson called for the adoption of Ordinance 2021-002 that dealt with the General budget to be tabled until the next meeting in July. Instead, much to the chagrin of Mayor Thompson who was surprised by the move. Alderman Ginn made a surprise motion to amend revisions to the budget which after being seconded was approved by a 3-1 vote with Ginn, Stringer and Siadek voting for and Flowers against. The same vote count stood on the next motion to adopt the revised budget. The process and actions were repeated when the next two Ordinances on the agenda dealing with the Water and Sewer budget came up that frustrated Thompson who claimed he was being blindsided by the council’s actions and stated he should have been consulted with about any changes that were going to be proposed.