All in attendance should have been aware of what was to come as soon as the Public Hearing portion of the Jonesboro Board of Aldermen began. It was a great preamble to the “merry-go-round” of discussion that followed, defined that way as it lasted for a long time, had lots of ups and downs but didn’t go anywhere.
It was during the Public Hearing, that had no one from the public spoke but gave Town Attorney Douglas Stokes the opportunity to attempt to clear up whether Jonesboro was operating with a vaild budget or not. He failed miserably but shine in giving the reason why he could not provide an answer one way or another.
Citing several defing sections of the Lawrason Act which governs operational procedure for municipalities like Jonesboro, Stokes attermpted to explain the Town’s budget status. Council members in attendance: Devin Flowers, Pete Stringer, James Ginn and Nia Evans-Johnson along with Jonesboro Mayor Leslie Thompson, heard citation after citation that all boiled down to the critical word “substantial” and how it is defined.
To set the stage for the debacle of whether or not the Town of Jonesboro has a valid operating budget, which is still not clear after the Tuesday session, you have to go back to the Council meeting in June. That was when the Town Council surprised Mayor Thompson by not only not voting to adopt the budget the Mayor had submitted but submitted one of their own and voted it in. Per his capability, Thompson vetoed the move. The council came back at the next meeting and followed procedure to override the veto and once again ratify the budget. Done deal, right?
After much discussion was had over the next several days that proved every step along the way was done legally by both sides the operating general, water and sewage budgets were considered to be valid. As result the thought was that now town officials would focus on infrastructure problems and move forward to attempting to secure grants and financial aid. NOT SO FAST!
Mayor Thompson was not through with his research and theories on why the budget should not be vaild. He contacted Attorney Stokes with his findings which looked legitimate as they referred back to stipulations of the Lawrason Act and proceeded to tell the Police, Fire and Public Works department that until everything was finally resolved he was declaring that the town of Jonesbor would be operating on a 50% budget capacity.
Fast forward to Tuesday’s session where Attorney Stokes, now having time to thoroughly research the situation provided a lenghthy explanation that was summarized by stating that actuall both sides have valid points to their disputes and what it boiled down to was whether or not the budget that was submitted by the Town Council in June to take the place of the Mayor’s original budget had “substantial” changes in it.
That set off a new series of discussions over what “substantial” changes should be classified as. Alderman Ginn stated that in his opinion changes of just a few thousand dollars here and there didn’t constitute “substantial” changes. Mayor Thompson said that changes involving tens of thousand of dollars to a department did.
Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows…..
After a full hour of back and forth they still don’t know where the determination of wheter the budget is valid or not will end up. Maybe though a light will be shed on the darkness soon. After Stokes informed them that if the two opposing sides couldn’t come to an agreement that it would have to be resolved in court finally cooler minds prevailed.
It was Nia Evans-Johnson and Pete Stringer who finally got session members to move past the petty bickering. First Johnson demanded to know that if the budget was not resolved would the town be forced to operate under the “50% rule? Stringer followed by stating that in the best interest of everyone involved that a special meeting needed to be had as soon as possible to discuss the differences in the two budgets and come to a once and for all concensus. That meeting was set for 5:00pm on Tuesday, September 21st to be held at the Charles H. Garrett Community Center.
While there was no public comment during the special meeting portion fo the dual session there were several public comments made at the start of the regular session. First up was Renee Stringer who informed the Council that she was “still in sewage” despite winning her lawsuit against the town that required the sewage problems be resolved. She followed by asking the board to use some of the $800,000.00 that the town was supposed to receive soon to finally fix the problem. Following was Jackson Parish Chamber of Commerce Director Wilda Smith who gave an update on the schedule of events slated for October and thanked the Mayor for his statement made that the Town of Jonesboro would be participating more heavily with the Christmas Lights this year.
In other business an application to put a mobile home at 801 Leon Drive was approved as well as the Rsuton Daily Leader being selected as the Official Journal for the Town of Jonesboro for the upcoming year. A public hearing was declared to take place on October 12th at 5:45 pm in regard to the sale of surplus property.