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“I QUIT!” 2019-2020 City Budget: News and Commentary

New Albany MS 2019-2020 city budget discussion (l-r) Community Development and Tourism Director Billye Jean Stroud, former Magnolia Civic Center Director Brittany Baker, and UCDA Executive Joanne Lesley are shown at the Sept. 10, 2016 Board of Aldermen budget hearing.

New Albany, MS: For the first time the annual budget for the City of New Albany has gone over $7-million. Creating a 2019-2020 city budget for New Albany has drawn more interest – some of it chaotic and tardy and not all of it happy – than in many years.

2019-2020 City Budget problems from the “get-go”

NAnewsweb.com reported Thursday that the city Board met that day and removed Mayor Tim Kent’s three percent raise from the 2019-2020 budget. While that was perhaps the most dramatic budget oddity, it was not the only peculiarity in this year’s city budget process.

Feedback received at NAnewsweb.com in recent days has included curiosity as to whether the aldermen themselves would accept their own three-percent raises for the coming year.

The typical budget process

City Department heads are required to have their budget requests in by July. However, not all department heads make timely budget request submissions.

Once citizens and some public officials make their druthers known, budget work falls mostly to two people.

As in the past several years, Second Ward Alderman Johnny Anderson had the primary burden for developing the city’s budget for the coming year. City Clerk Frankie Roberts worked with Anderson. They had to plow through literally thousands of individual items that make up New Albany’s $7-million budget.

Creating the city budget is no more a part of Anderson’s job than it is that of the other aldermen. He gets no extra pay for the many hours of tedious work involved. None of the other aldermen or the mayor does any significant portion of the work. It’s just Anderson and City Clerk Roberts, grinding their way through a 20-page, six-column Excel spreadsheet with over 5,000 entries.

Magnolia Civic Center problems

An item on the budget of the city-owned Magnolia Civic Center (MCC) drew special attention this year. Three years ago, the Board of Aldermen authorized the MCC board to hire a part-time director to manage the facility – an exceptionally fine one for a city of this size. Aldermen set the city-paid salary for the part-time job at $27,500 per year.

From early on, there were wide-spread complaints about the job performance of the young woman hired into the part-time job. The MCC board had discussed the matter, but decided last year to “give her another chance.” MCC Board President, Phil Nanney, wrote a very lengthy job description for the job.

This year the aldermen decided to move responsibility for management of the MCC to the Community Development/Marketing/Tourism/Main Street Office and its Director, Billye Jean Stroud. Accordingly, they took the $27,500 out of the civic center budget and put it into Stroud’s operation.

Magnolia Civic Center Board problems

The “final” draft of the city’s 2019-2020 city budget was finished and widely distributed before the regular Tuesday, Sept. 3 meeting of the Board of Aldermen. Some aldermen said at the Sept. 3 meeting that they had not had time to review the budget, so the budget hearing was re-scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 10.

Meanwhile, members of the Magnolia Civic Center Board, who had apparently not read the new budget, scheduled a meeting at the old post office building at Bankhead and Camp Streets at noon Monday, Sept. 9. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the status of the part-time director. Immediately prior to that meeting, the MCC board members learned, in a casual way, that the part-time director’s $27,500 pay had been removed from their budget for the coming year.

The then MCC Board President Phil Nanney reportedly became “pretty angry.” He declared to the other civic center board members, “I quit. I am through with this.” The MCC board acknowledged Nanney’s verbal resignation, installed member Clint Reid as its new MCC president and Reid presided at the meeting.

September 10th budget meeting problems

The MCC drama continued at the Board of Aldermen’s budget hearing the following day. MCC board members Reid, Cathy Garrett and Justine Stewart appeared at the Sept. 10 budget meeting at city hall. So did Brittany Baker, the part-time MCC director

Reid, Garrett and Stewart stated to the aldermen that they wanted to continue to have a say in the operation of the civic center. Stewart told the aldermen, “We have no problem as long as that person reports to us. That’s the only caveat.”

Alderman-at-Large Keith Conlee said, “I have been told that there is someone in that position [part-time MCC director], but I don’t know her.”

Baker then spoke up and said she would like to continue in the job. She said she did not know there was any dissatisfaction with her work.

In further discussion during the Tuesday aldermanic budget hearing, the subject of the lengthy job description for Baker’s job was raised. MCC Board Member Cathy Garrett told the board, “Phil Nanney wrote it [the job description] for himself. He wanted that position for himself. We know that. Phil quit yesterday.”

Billye Jean Stroud assured members of the Magnolia Civic Center Board that she would welcome input from them regarding operation of the civic center. The aldermen let the budget change stand, moving the $27,500 to the Community Development/Marketing/Tourism/Main Street budget. Thus, the Board of Aldermen made their intentions clear. The responsibility and authority for civic center operations now rests with Stroud.

Tennis facility budget problems

Another matter at the Sept. 10 city budget hearing had to do with money for resurfacing tennis courts at the city tennis complex in BNA Park.

Jolyn Cooke, one of the pioneers of the city tennis program, said, “You gave us [the tennis complex] $5,000 for supplies and $10,000 for maintenance, landscaping, etc. So are the capital expenses above and beyond that? Let me mention that we have a need to resurface the courts.”

Alderman Anderson responded, “No. We didn’t know anything about capital expenses [for the tennis facility] until tonight. Nobody has mentioned anything to me about capital expenses. I got zero requests.”

Cooke apparently believed that Bo Bowman, the city employee responsible for the tennis complex, had made the request. However, she told NAnewsweb.com in a telephone conversation Sunday, Sept. 15th, that she believed Bowman had not made the 2019-2020 city budget request until, perhaps, sometime in August. That was after the July deadline for 2019-2020 budget requests was past.

City Clerk Roberts told NAnewsweb last week she had checked and double-checked her records – including her email “spam” files. She said she had no request for money for resurfacing tennis courts.

Further concerns about the 2019-2020 city budget

The finished City Budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year takes effect two weeks from tomorrow, Tuesday, October 1, 2019.

Not addressed in the city’s financial plan for the coming year were:

  • Anything in the way of substantial attention to the city’s long neglected streets and infrastructure.
  • Funding for the city’s new development, as anticipated in the coming city plan. Aldermen are paying the Orion Group $120,000 to create that city plan.
  • Any reaction to the ambitions of the city school board to spend up to $30-million – more than four times the total municipal budget for the next year – to build a palatial new three-story high school behind the existing one on Highway 15.

How will the City Father’s resolve these competing and gargantuan money needs?

EDITOR’S NOTE: In a brief meeting at city hall after the September 10th meeting of the Board of Aldermen, the Civic Center Board met with Brittany Baker and accepted her resignation.

 

For more information: New Albany Mayor’s salary raise rescinded. 

More about the tennis facility

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