The Minden City Council gathered together for the first time in months at the Pelican Room in City Hall on Tuesday in order to have a workshop concerning the agenda for August’s Monthly City Council Meeting. While the next meeting’s agenda was the focus, a portion of the meeting was a return to long-standing disagreements that the Council/Mayor have had including the sign at the REC Center and the Employee Manual, and the retirement of former City Attorney Charles Minifield.
Perhaps in a truer return to form than some may have wanted, this Council meeting included disagreements that escalated to the point where some members chose to walk out over the course of the meeting, those being Councilman Pam Bloxom of Dist. E and Keith Beard of Dist. D.
One major change to the Council’s dynamic since they last met is the addition of Wayne Edwards as interim Dist. A Councilman. Edwards’ objective for a lot of the meeting seemed to be trying to find a conclusion for some of the Council’s long-standing issues.
During the beginning of the meeting, he said, “For the past couple of weeks I’ve been looking at the City Charter, Larson Act, and State Constitution, and to me, it clearly defines the governing authority for the City of Minden as the Mayor and Council, not the mayor by itself, not the Council by itself, and that we need to adhere to what Minden City Code… so that we can operate the city in a way that we can all count on.”
The first topic had to do with the recent expiration of a contract with the company RDS whom the City used to outsource the handling of occupational licenses. It was revealed that working with this company had cost the City of Minden over $100,000 the last fiscal year.
“$358,584.18 is how much was collected from the city for the occupational licenses. Deposited $256,046.89… this is a difference of $102,537.29,” said Phillip Smart, Director of Economic Development.
For this reason it was suggested that the City should start doing occupational licenses in house.
Councilman Edwards asked questions about the city’s involvement with the company, and through his line of questioning, it was revealed that the city hadn’t had firm communication with RDS beforehand.
“When you have a contract like this, you are supposed to assign a manager to follow up on this. Has anyone followed up on this to make sure they’re in compliance with what we’ve expected them to do?” asked Edwards.
Mayor Gardner further explained that the only time he gets reports from them is when he asks a list of who is past due.
“When I first came in the door here as Mayor, I said we need to bring occupational license back in, it’s a revenue stream for the city. What really hit home for me was when Popeyes Fried Chicken walked in the door about a month and a half ago with a check for $6000 and they said oh by the way we haven’t had an occupational license since we’ve been in business and our auditors caught it so we want to pay up,” said Gardner.
“So when they got their permit from the city, there was no mention that they required an occupational license?” asked Edwards.
“There was nothing in the past administration when you go to get your water, lights, or anything like that, that you have to have an occupational license,” responded Gardner.
“This is what we’re trying to get in place.”
Gardner then described a process the city would adopt in order to make the possession of an occupational license a necessity to get utilities turned on. “Then they will have to do their occupational license, then they can get their utilities turned on. So it’s a win-win for us because one, we’re going to have occupational licenses that we’re missing on, and two, we’re going to collect sales tax. So it’s a no brainer for us to start doing this.”
It was also stated that Minden’s Economic Development Department would be the entity taking over the Occupational Licenses.
Councilman Edwards still seemed hesitant on the idea of not renewing the contract, saying, “I’m thinking we got the tools in place, we’re just not using them.”
Councilman Terika Williams-Walker of Dist. B wasn’t necessarily for Minden doing occupational licenses in house, but was also hesitant to move forward renewing the contract without more information.
“If they receive 11 dollars every time they send out a tax notification, how do we know they’re actually doing it? Who’s checking behind them. Where’s the data for that. So yeah it is a win-win situation if the ball is being dropped and no one is asking the questions. I think some questions need to be asked first,” said Williams.
Seeming to put the topic on hold until they had more information, they moved on to approve the minutes for the past City Council meetings dating back to February. Councilman Walker and Council Vincen Bradford of Dist. C explained that their issue with the minutes was that they did not properly reflect what happened in those meetings.
“Let’s take that first one February the third, what’s wrong with that,” asked Edwards.
“The veto was no good. Mrs. Bloxom could not vote on that because she had interest in that. We only needed a two-thirds vote and if her vote didn’t count we’d have a two-thirds vote,” responded Walker.
She also stated that at the time, former Minden City Attorney Charles Minifield explained that Bloxom shouldn’t have voted because she had an interest in the outcome, but that what he said was ignored.
“It was stated and said for the record she shouldn’t have voted, but, when Wanda did the minutes, that was not in the minutes, and so that’s why we never approved the minutes,” said Walker.
“You know I wasn’t a part of the voting process, but I read back through some of this, and I do have some questions, and I don’t know if we can get them answered here today or not,” said Edwards.
“I know it takes a two-thirds vote, and I understand Mrs. Bloxom voted. Should she have voted, that’s the question.”
In response, Bloxom said, “The way I read the law was that if I have monetary gain coming towards me, I cannot vote. This was not paying to me, this was me paying for something that would benefit the recreation center and the kids.”
Recalling the conversation, Councilman Walker said, “When the discussion was had, when it said that the sign came down, she wanted her money back. She would be reimbursed, she said she wanted her money back. Someone said $40,000 in fact she said to be exact it was $41,000 dollars. She wanted her money back. That means she had an interest, she never should’ve voted. Then we would’ve had the two-thirds.”
There was a bit more back and forth, until Edwards said, “I strongly suggest that we get a legal opinion on this, to decide what we need to do. Because I’m not here for no swing vote, I’m here for a right vote.”
At this point, Minden Interim City Attorney Jimbo Yocum offered his legal opinion stating that “interest” is, “Something that you benefit or profit from, not simply something that you were a part of. It has to be something you seek to gain.”
“She stated that she could have potentially gained 41,000 dollars in a refund. But to my recollection, the motion on the table was not to refund. I believe there was a lot of discussion and debate as to whether or not she would receive our money back without having to file a suit of some sort.
“So my legal opinion is that it would not be interest under the legal definition of when you’re interested in a vote, that this would not be that. I think it’s closer than normal, but I don’t think it crosses that line into an interested party.”
He went on to further explain that even in the case where Bloxom didn’t have the vote, in his legal opinion, the Mayor would still have the right to veto as per our City Charter. In response, Councilman Walker stated that that is not the same opinion that she had received from the Attorney General.
The conversation shifted when Councilman Edwards asked, “How did we get here and what is it going to take to fix this?” To which both Councilman Walker and Councilman Bradford stated the answer was taking the sign down.
“The sign was put up illegally. That’s the bottom line,” said Bradford.
Yocum went on to further explain that the Jurisdiction over parks isn’t straightforward, stating that while the Council does have authority over parks, that authority had been used very little in the past meaning that people weren’t really aware of the precedent.
“As of now, the charter gives broad jurisdiction over parks to the Council. It says that they basically have a general jurisdiction over parks, sewage, lighting, adornment, different things. So, it grants to the Council the ability to make decisions concerning parks. Does the council exercise that power regularly? No. To my recollection lighting and adornment, there is not an annual vote on Christmas lights in parks. So the exercise of that authority, strictly speaking, in the past has been something to the construction of a park or the remodeling of a park.
“In my opinion, the council had never exercised their approval or that jurisdiction in that way before, so there was no way for someone to be on notice that, hey, this has to have council approval because it has not been exercised on that way before.
“Was that authority and jurisdiction there? In my opinion, it was. It is specific that the council has the authority over parks.”
Councilman Walker remained adamant that the Council had jurisdiction, the Council did not accept the sign, and therefore the sign should be taken down with any of the parties involved in the actual acceptance being the ones who shoulder the costs.
“If he is sitting here accepting it, when the signs comes down then he can give her her money back, but the council did not accept it. And you cannot name city property without the approval of the council. So that’s just where, it’s just cut and dry,” said Walker.
When discussing the issue of another meeting’s minutes, Councilman Walker said, “That’s when we were talking about the employee manual… and Mr. Taylor offered a substitute motion that a freeze would be placed on hiring until the employee manual was completed, and the motion passed but the Mayor said that he wasn’t honoring the substitute motion.”
“The substitute motion wasn’t germane to the original motion,” said Bloxom.
“They would not let us send it to a labor attorney to have approval. Mrs. Walker and Mr. Bradford… those councilmen wanted it to go to Minifield for Minifield to look at it, and Minifield said that he would look at it, and we’re still waiting for Mr. Minifield to look at it and give it back. Had we gone ahead and sent it over to the labor attorney, we would’ve had it back with his recommendations, that’s where we are with the employee manual,” Bloxom continued.
“OK, so at some point, you’re going to sit at this table and tell the truth. Now, that is not where we are with it,” said Walker. “Excuse me, I’m not going to be called a liar,” said Bloxom. “Well you are,” said Bradford.
At this point voices were raised and Councilman Bloxom gathered her things and left.
“This is where we are with the employee manual. You asked Mr. Minifield to put it on hold because you wanted to talk about getting the alcohol ordinances done. That’s where we are with the employee manual. No sir. You all will not sit here and give false information.”
When asked for his legal opinion on the matter, Yocum stated, “I informed him that the City Attorney is not really the proper party to do that. In our charter, it lists the duties of the City Attorney. Employee law is a very specific thing. Moreover, an employee manual is more of a human resources issue because it governs internal affairs.
“I would be happy to look at it and give my very broad opinion, but it would be my legal opinion and my recommendation as an attorney to send it to a law firm who have specifically dealt with these things, that can give you a full opinion,” said Yocum.
Another issue brought up during the meeting was that of the increased amount of special meetings that were held over the past few months. Bradford argued that they were not meetings given the fact that they were not put in the local journal 24 hours before they occurred.
“Those were not even meetings. They were not sent to the local journal. I’ve got papers here. I’ve got all the newspapers. You guys weren’t putting that in there 24 hours before the time of the meeting,” said Bradford.
“You couldn’t. You had one meeting on the sixth and then one on the seventh. The sixth was a Wednesday, and the seventh was a Thursday. The paper only comes out on Tuesdays and Fridays, so you couldn’t have.”
Gardner responded, “We send it to our local journal. They put it out as they feel necessary. We post it on social media. We put it on the website. We put it on the front door. We notify the council and in many cases, I had yours hand-delivered.”
“It’s got to be posted in the paper. Your official journal,” said Bradford.
Councilman Walker suggested that if the Minden Press-Herald couldn’t sufficiently publish meeting notices 24 hours beforehand then they shouldn’t be the official journal.
“So then that brings us down to another one of the agenda items. Well then they shouldn’t be the official journal,” said Terika.
In agreement, Councilman Bradford stated, “They can’t publish it, so they can’t be the official journal.”
At this point Mayor Gardner opened up the discussion of potentially finding a new Official Journal. “Then I suggest when we have to adopt our official journal that possibly we need to change,” said Gardner.
The topic went on hold while other item were addressed, but when the topic resurfaced, Gardner stated, “There’s several we could use, one of them being the Minden Press-Herald, the other being the Springhill something or other, and the next one is the Shreveport Times.”
Councilman Edwards then asked City Attorney Yokom for his position on the matter, and he responded, “The law requires that you have an official journal. It has to be one that’s circulated within that region. So you have options. My personal opinion would be to keep it the Minden Press-Herald, just because I think that’s probably the most circulated in Minden, so that’s going to hit the most folks.”
Yocum also dived into whether electronic publications are sufficient when it comes to giving proper notice about Council Meetings.
“Now as to the print vs electronic, I can’t answer that. I guarantee you there are opinions out there on it, because as we all know, the more we get into the electronic age, the less people read a hard copy paper, that’s just the nature of it. I know there would be opinions out there concerning it, but as far as the legal requirement, is that we select an official journal and it something that’s commonly circulated within the municipality of Minden.
“We should exercise all due diligence in figuring out what the legal requirement is. Whether it be printed or making sure it is posited electronically is sufficient, or what have you.”
He further stated that he would look into relevant case law and legal opinions in order to find existing legal precedent.
After moving on from adopting the minutes, the Council started moving down to other agenda items, including the electing of a Mayor Pro Tem for the remainder of 2020.
Councilman Beard suggested that since Taylor held the position before, and Edwards now fills the seat, it should simply transfer over to him. The Mayor and Council seemed to agree that Edwards would be an excellent fit.
In regard to the new police and fireman hires, the Council, after some discussion, seemed to be in agreement of hiring Tommy John Hughes, Jr. to the Minden Fire Department. Gardner stated that the two new police hires had since found work elsewhere, and thus were taken off of the agenda.
When discussed it seems the council was behind voting for the 100% backed FAA grant for the Minden Airport as well as using those funds to award bids for the airport’s runway rehabilitation projects.
After going over all the agenda items, Gardner went over a list of suggestions he made in order to try and find some alternative revenue streams for the city. These included an increase in the monthly price for certain individuals or businesses in the city that pay for security lights, an opportunity to allow another company to pay for access to one of Minden’s antennas, and the installation of a Photo Speed Enforcement Program.
The first suggestion was that of increasing the monthly fee associated with properties in the city who are and who plan to use security lights.
This price, initially 4-6 dollars, would be increased to roughly 11 dollars in order for the city to break even on the costs of keeping the lights on. Furthermore, when new lights are installed or current ones need to be replaced, they will be replaced with LED lights which were presented as being more cost-effective to power.
“We’re trying to go to LED. LEDs are not that much money, but we are not there, we have hundreds of these things out there and they’re not LED, and it’s costing us that money right there. So yes, we’re still losing our shorts over security lighting,” said Jeff Ellinwood.
He also introduced another proposal, that of a company that would pay the City of Minden $1500 to mount a beacon onto one of the cities antennas that would then be used to broadcast a signal to help their GPS network. It wouldn’t be directly plugging into any of the city’s systems, it would just have to be powered electrically.
“They want to put a little beacon on top of an antenna on top of our building, and this beacon broadcasts a signal. So when they are doing GPS locations, they can triangulate off of us. They put them all over the place. They’ve got them in Haughton, Bossier Shreveport, they’re everywhere. They take our site because we have the antenna already that they can just mount on,” said Ellinwood.
He also stated the costs associated with powering the device is roughly $5 a year.
The last and most divisive proposal was that of employing a photo speed enforcement program for school zones. This would essentially allow a company to install cameras around the school zone of Minden. They would catch people speeding on these cameras, the individual would be ticketed, the company who owns the cameras would take a majority of the fine and a portion would go to the city.
“It doesn’t cost us anything to put it in. The minimum ticket is $75. They mail it out to them. This company gets $40 of the $75,” said Gardner. “It’s just another revenue stream for the city.”
Councilman Edwards voiced his hesitance in enacting a system that uses security fines as a means of revenue.
“They put it in for revenue? I kind of have a problem with doing security for revenue,” said Edwards.
Councilman Walker also commented that the company would be getting a majority of the ticket fees, and stated we could make more doing it in house.
“I deal with numbers. $45 dollar fee, and then 40% of the ticket price, that means they’re actually going to get more than us. That’s not good,” said Walker.
“What’s good about it is, they have the investment, they maintain it, they process it, we get our percentage, our money, and we didn’t do anything for it,” said Gardner.
When gauging input from other Councilmen, Edwards and Walker voiced that they wanted to kill the idea for now.
Councilman Walker pointed out that Gardner had yet to get Beard’s input on the matter. At this point, tensions started to boil over.
“Just kill it,” said Beard. “I’m through . It’s over sir.”
“No it’s not,” said Bradford.
Keith responded, “Yeah it is…” “You don’t tell me if he’s still talking,” interjected Bradford. Beard responded, “Please stop yelling at me.” Bradford replies, “If I don’t then what’s going to happen.”
At this point the two Councilmen got confrontational, and after some more exchanged words Beard is heard saying, “I know why you hate me!” Bradford responded, “Well tell me what!”
“Because I’m white, that’s why you hate me,” Beard replied.
After that, the argument slowly subsided, with Beard taking his leave and Bradford returning to his seat. Afterward, those remaining in the meeting simply moved on to the next topic, not really addressing outburst.
The last major concern to be brought up during the meeting was the appointment of Jimbo Yocum as the temporary City Attorney while Louisiana is in a state of emergency.
A big factor in the disagreement was whether or not Gardner was aware that Minifield had rescinded his resignation.
Councilman Walker asked, “You do know we appoint the city attorney?”
“Under normal circumstances,” responded Gardner.
“No. We appoint the city attorney, so the state of emergency, at the time that you sent it out, we still had a City Attorney. In fact, he rescinded his resignation right?” asked Walker. “Not to me no,” replied Gardner. “He rescinded his resignation,” repeated Walker.
“Not to me no. He never walked in my office, or in my assistant’s office, and handed us a letter. No, he did not,” said Gardner.
After a bit more back and forth, Terika stated, “I know he never put it in your hands or he never put it in Wanda’s hands. I’m asking you, were you aware that he rescinded his resignation for retirement?
Gardner replied, “I realized he cancelled over there but that doesn’t have anything to do…”
“Ok so you were aware that he rescinded his resignation,” said Walker. “So why did we get this emergency appointment.”
“He gave me the resignation. What he did with rescinding over here with retirement. That’s him, that’s not anything to do with the city. He never gave me a letter in my hand, in my office, or Mrs. Pittman’s hand, that he was rescinding that,” said Gardner.
Councilman Walker then asked for Yocum’s legal opinion on the situation.
“So Mr. Minifield said I’m retiring May 31st. Mayor Gardner then said, ok, effective June 1st, I’m appointing Jimbo Yocum as City Attorney. So to my understanding, Mr. Minifield then comes back and tells the retirement association that I’m no longer taking my retirement, but never actually notified Mayor Gardner that he was rescinding his retirement status here. Just simply that he was not going to take his retirement payment from the retirement board.”
“As far as the legality of the proclamation, I mean, yes mam. The legal footing is there. That that was a proper appointment. Now if I’m not doing a good job, if y’all aren’t satisfied…”
“It’s just that we didn’t appoint you,” said Walker.
Walker later asked if Minden was still in the emergency, to which Garder replied yes, the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Oh really, no, like, what’s the emergency for the City of Minden that warranted this proclamation right here,” said Walker.
“I just want to make sure that I have a good understanding because not only the City of Minden, but this is worldwide, but the imminent emergency or disaster that we’re in that warranted that proclamation is still my question.”
“I could not sit here without a City attorney,” said Gardner. “We had one,” replied Walker.
“He retired. We had to have somebody so the Attorney General’s office and the LMA Gallagher Law Firm advised me on how to appoint since the City Council people would never would show up. So that’s what I did, and that’s that. So write the attorney general and get his opinion.”
Yocum, noting the controversy surrounding his appointment, stated, “I just want to be clear that I hope I haven’t done anything to offend any of you. I’m just an attorney who was asked to do a job, and I hope I’m doing satisfactorily.”
Walker responded, “This is not about you. It’s about doing things the right way. Doing the right thing the right way. It’s nothing personal against you.”
The Regular City Council meeting takes place on the first Monday of each month, the next being scheduled for Aug. 3. While typically open to the public, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is recommended that those interested in viewing the Council Meeting do live from the city’s Youtube Channel, City of Minden – Feels Like Home.