A City Council Workshop was held Tuesday in order to discuss matters relevant to the upcoming City Council Meeting. Some of the topics discussed included the city budget, the employee manual, and other items that will appear on the agenda for the next meeting. All Council members were present except for Councilman Keith Beard of Dist. D.
This first subject to be discussed was the budget, where a new full time position under the Economic Development Department was brought under scrutiny.
The City Budget
You said that the occupational licenses wouldn’t be any additional cost to us in the city.
“You hired this guy as a full time employee where in the past we only had a part time employee for economic development?” asked Councilman Vincen Bradford of Dist. C.
Why is this a full time position?
Because we’re bringing back occupational licenses in house. It’s already in house.
This then stemmed into a disagreement that plagues many a City Council discussion, that being whether or not the Mayor has the capacity to perform certain actions with/without Council approval.
Councilman Bradford insisted that the decision to bring occupational licenses back in house was one that needed council approval, on top of the hiring of a full-time employee to take on the responsibilities entailed with processing the licenses.
“That’s administrative. That’s day to day operations of the City. It doesn’t take Council approval to outsource it or bring it back in,” said Gardner.
“You said that when you hired an economic developer, that you were saving the city $30,000,” said Bradford, “But you’re not saving the city anything if you come and hire a full-time employee, and have to pay him medical, retirement, you’re not saving the city a penny.”
Gardner responded, “We’re creating revenue is what we’re doing.”
“No, you’re not,” said Bradford.
Foreshadowing a future topic of the meeting, Councilman Walker made the point that while the City is entertaining the idea of cutting school crossing guards as a way to cut costs from the city budget, they were also going to be paying for this new full time position, which she considers to be less important.
“We’re talking about the budget, and you want to cut the crossing guards, then why would you create a position that is going to bring 26,000?” asked Councilman Walker.
“Because the crossing guards are way more important than someone collecting from occupational licenses. “
“I think revenue from the city is way important,” said Mayor Gardner.
“I think the children’s safety is going to trump somebody taking occupational licenses,” said Councilman Walker.
Suggesting a compromise, Councilman Wayne Edwards of Dist. A stated, “Why can’t we just let the position stay part-time, collect some data, come back later, revisit this, and if there’s enough money coming to make it an official full-time, if it’s worthwhile, we’ll do it,” said Edwards.
Councilman Terika Williams-Walker quickly responded with a “No,” referencing an issue that she had with a prior part-time hire.
“Because last time we had a part time position, that part-time employee, after he couldn’t be given a raise, then a position was created for him and he went into that position and became a full time employee,” said Walker.
This rehashed an old disagreement of the Council and Mayor’s, and after some time was spent reminiscing over unresolved issues, the conversation ultimately circled back to that of what the role of the Mayor/Council is.
“The Council’s roll is legislative, [Gardner’s] roll is administrative, and the judicial is our city attorney. That’s where your lines are drawn as to what our responsibilities are. So basically what (Gardner is) doing is day to day operations, which falls under the administrative roll. This is exactly what Mr. Edwards was trying to explain to us the first workshop he came to. He lined it out, the three roles,” said Councilman Bloxom of Dist. E.
“$100,000 would more than pay for the part time person to take care of the occupational license as well as filling up some of the holes that we had in the budget that we had to reduce or eliminate because we did not have the money for it.”
Councilman Edwards stated that it wasn’t so much that he didn’t understand what the mayor was doing and why, it was that initially the transition had been introduced as a way to get revenue with no additional cost to the city, something that seems to be in conflict with the addition of a full-time position.
“The biggest problem that I have with it is, in that public workshop that we had, it was clearly defined to me that the occupational license would be no additional labor, wouldn’t cost us anything. Now if we move that person from part-time to full time because of occupational licenses, that’s different from what you said. I understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, but that’s not what I was told,” said Edwards.
Mayor Gardner stated that the revenue that the position brings in through processing occupational licenses would offset the cost of hiring the new position.
“It’s not going to cost us anything, it’s going to be revenue producing. I mean it’s going to cost us, it’s going to cost us a lot of stationary, it’s going to cost us postage, it’s going to cost us man hours. But within all of that, it’s going to be revenue producing,” said Gardner.
Another issue that was brought up was that of the predetermined nature of who was going to fill the position. According to the City budget, the position wouldn’t officially begin until Oct. 1.
“It’s a full time position, and you already know who’s gonna fill the position so no one is given the opportunity to even apply for a full time position,” said Councilman Walker.
Gardner explained that it had been an employee who had been working on occupational licenses for the past six months.
“We’re gonna need somebody to collect occupational licenses. He’s been working on it for the past six months. He knows what he’s doing. It’s a part-time position, and we’re moving this with the other part-time, so together it’s going to be a full time position.
As it seemed that the very passing of the city budget was in the air, questions started to arise about what the consequences were for the city failing to pass a budget.
If the budget is not approved, and the money is not there, we can’t do projects. According to the information that I looked in at the state, the employees can’t work, because there’s no resources for them,” said Edwards.
“All I know about projects, what he’s talking about under bid law, is that you have to have the money allocated for the project, the money had to be in the budget,” said Martha Conly, Assistant City Clerk.
“When a budget is not approved, you’re moving with last year’s budget, so that means you have 50% of the salaries. So they can work up to 50%. If it’s not approved in 6 months, with 50% gone, at that point I’m not sure what happens to the employees.”
“At 50% the state comes in and takes over your city,” said Councilman Bloxom.
“We might need them to come in here,” said Councilman Bradford.
No changes have been made to the Employee Manual since it was last discussed back in Feb. earlier this year. During the conversation, after one of the department heads requested to get a copy of the employee manual before the council voted on it, Councilman Walker stated, “We probably won’t even vote on it, to be honest.”
Addressing the question later in conversation, Councilman Bloxom asked Councilman Walker, “Why is it that it isn’t going to pass this next time? Because this is what you’ve been wanting for 18 months so why is it not going to pass?”
“Because I don’t trust you all, and so I need to make sure I look through it thoroughly, if you want the truth,” said Councilman Walker.
“You will change things without us knowing.”
There was some more discussion surrounding the involvement of the Council in the par raises of the City employees, but while changes were introduced, ultimately none were made and the Employee Manual won’t appear on the agenda until it undergoes further review by the Council Members.
School Crossing Guards
The topic of crossing guards came to the discussion given that it was a potential area that was going to be cut in the upcoming City Budget. Councilman Walker made her position clear earlier in the workshop, that being that the subject of having crossing guards was not up to debate, as no one can put a price on children’s safety.
Minden Police Chief Steve Cropper talked about how on the first day of school he had stationed officers at the different locations where there would be crossing guards to take note of the amount of students who crossed the road.
When talking about one of the intersections, Chief Cropper voiced similar concerns to that of Councilman Walker, noting that even if a handful of children cross the street, he would rather there be a crossing guard there for their safety.
“We had three children cross there this morning, zero kids crossed there this afternoon. But with that being said, people don’t drive slow on those roads, and it scares me to death to even have one child crossing there with one crossing guard,” said Cropper.
With last year’s budget paying the crossing guards through the rest of Sept., it seemed as though the Council and Mayor agreed to see how the reopening of schools plays out before making further decisions related to the crossing guards.
“They’re in the budget, so they can just continue to work until October, and then at that time we’ll know if we actually need to cut, because again, today (was) the first day of school,” said Councilman Walker.
Adopting the City Journal
While going over some of the agenda items for the Sept. City Council Meetings, the item of Adopting the City Journal came up.
Mayor Gardner introduced the topic by stating, “Under the Louisiana Revised Statute 43.45 the only option for our official journal is the Minden Press-Herald. That’s what our City Attorney said.”
Councilman Bradford, echoing similar concerns from the last workshop where the topic was discussed, asked, “How are they the only option if they can’t supply our needs?”
“What do you mean supply our needs?” asked Gardner.
Providing an example, Bradford stated, “Mrs. Pittman doesn’t fill out the agenda till Thursday, so there is no way they can get it in the paper by Friday, because they print the paper’s on Thursday.”
Attempting to explain the delineation between what the Minden Press-Herald is sent to publish as a matter of public record and what is sent to the paper to simply as a means to keep them aware of city business, Gardner stated, “They don’t have to tell us when the Council Meeting is, the agenda. They don’t have to tell us that.”
Mayoral Assistant Wanda Pittman further explained, “They don’t have to supply that to the public.”
“They never have. I’ve sent it to them even when they had a daily paper. They may pick it up an article and write a little bit about it, but they don’t print the agenda.”
The City Council meeting takes place on the first Monday of every month starting at 5 p.m. While the meeting is open to the public, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those interested are asked to watch the live stream of the meeting which can be found at the city’s Youtube Channel, City of Minden – Feels Like Home.