The Regular City Council Meeting took place on Tuesday, Sept. 9 at City Hall, where the main topic of discussion were the City Budget, the Employee Manual, a presentation of the City of Mindens Audit for the Fiscal Year of 2018/2019, a new police hire, and the selection of an Official City Journal.
The City Budget
Before the City Council meeting officially began a public hearing was held to allow discussion to take place before the Council voted on whether or not to approve the City’s Budget. Councilman Terika Williams-Walker of Dist. B asked if the school-crossing guards had been added to the budget.
Mayor Terry Gardner responded by stating that they are not in the budget currently, but can be amended at a later date. “We will amend the budget at a later date, and the crossing guards will be in there, I assure you of that,” said Gardner.
This wasn’t the only issue brought forward regarding the budget. Councilman Vincen Bradford of Dist. C brought back up the issue of the new hire the city made that was a main focus during the last City Council Workshop.
After asking if it was taken out and Gardner responded that it wasn’t.
Furthering her opinion on why the new hire shouldn’t be in the budget, Terika stated, “In this job description it does not say anywhere about collecting occupational taxes. In fact, it says for the essential duties and responsibilities, it just says, “as described in the summary section of this job description.” “And as I look through the other job descriptions, this is the only job description where you don’t have duties and responsibilities outlined,” said Councilman Walker.
Mayor Gardner responded, “If you would like to change the job description, you are the legislative part, so you change it, and we will vote on it.”
Later in the meeting, when it came time to vote on the Budget, Councilman Wayne Edwards of Dist. A provided a substitute motion, stating, “We place this budget on hold until a later date this month, so that the discrepancies identified in the budget can be corrected.”
The substitute motion was passed with three for and two against, the two against being Councilman Keith Beard of Dist. D and Councilman pam Bloxom of Dist. E.
Audit Presentation of the Fiscal Year 2018/2019
Kristine Cole of Wise, Martin, & Cole LLC came forward to present the City with findings from their audit audit of the City of Minden for the 18/19 fiscal year.
“Our opinion on the financials was unqualified, and an unqualified opinion means that the financial statements are fairly stated and in accordance with the United States Generally accepted accounting principles,” said Cole.
While an “unqualified opinion” may sound negative, in this context it’s actually the ideal opinion to receive from an auditor, and indicates that they are satisfied with the reporting of the city’s finances.
Further explaining the city’s current position, Cole explained two types of activities that they look at for the city, those being governmental activities and business activities.
“There’s governmental activities, which for the city, that’s going to account for the general government, public safety, the expenses for streets, economic development, parks and recreation. The business type activities, that’s where the city accounts for, mainly, the water, sewer, electrical charges and expenses related to those activities,” said Cole.
She did state that the total revenues for governmental activities from 2018 to 2019 had seen a decrease of 3.4 million, with total revenue for 2018 being 14.1 million and total revenue for 2019 being 10.8 million.
“The decrease is largely due to the fact that in 19, you did not receive as much in airport grant funding, and there was also a decrease in sales tax revenues in 2019. Sales taxes are one of the major sources of funding of the governmental activities. 57% of the governmental revenues of the city. Sales taxes were actually down by over $523,000 compared to 2018,” said Cole.
“The overall expenses of the governmental activities increased approximately $429,000. The top three areas of expenses were public safety being about 38%. General government being about 24%, and parks and recreation, costing about 17% the total costs of those governmental activities.”
“Governmental activities actually recorded a decifiet of about 3.5 million. And that decificeit was funded by about 4 million dollars of transfers … from the utility fund for the water and sewer activities,” said Cole.
While the revenue for governmental activities went down and the cost went up, the opposite can be said for the business activities of the city.
“The revenues in the business activities reported an increase over last year of about 1.5 million. Part of the increase is a capital grant for about $800,000 dollars, as well as an additional 1.2 million coming from the SWEPCO lawsuit settlement and power cost adjustment. The total cost to operate the utility system was 19.4 million dollars, slightly less than last year’s cost of 20.3 million,” said Cole.
She stated that net surplus was $5.4 million, and once again emphasized that a large portion of that money was being used to offset the deficit of the governmental activities. “As I said, the business activities actually transferred about 4 million dollars of it’s surplus to cover the governmental activities’ deficit.”
Councilman Edwards asked Cole, “I imagine this is my fifth time listening to you doing the presentation for the audit, and just from reading the material, and listening to you speak, year after year our position really isn’t getting better is it?”
Cole, being wary of providing an over simplified answer for such a nuanced question, stated, “There are several things you want to look at when it comes to the position of the city. I focus more on the numbers side, so there are also other things, non financial factors that affect how well the city is doing.”
Cole did emphasize her point from earlier about a large portion of governmental activities being funded through transfers from the surplus of the business activities of the city. While not necessarily being a bad thing, she did want to Council to be aware of the fact when making future budgetary decisions.
“The thing that I notice every year is of the surpluses that that system does generate, you are transferring a large portion of those surpluses to cover the cost of the governmental activities, and that’s fine,” said Cole.
“The whole point of bringing those out is to make the city aware that it’s not just today, it’s what are the costs that we may have in the future that we may need to fund.”
New Police Hire
Caitlyn Harrison was voted in as the City of Minden’s newest Policeman.
Introducing her to the Council, Police Chief Steve Cropper stated, “She has no law enforcement background, but she does have a medical background. She is a certified nursing assistant. Been in the medical field for seven years. Some personal things happened in her life and she chose to have a career change. She has a lot of people skills and I’m looking forward to having her on board.”
“Mrs. Harrison I spoke to several people that knew you and you come highly recommended. Don’t let us down,” said Councilman Edwards.
The motion passed 4-1, with the only one opposed being Councilman Walker.
Selection of the Official Journal for the City of Minden
“Newspapers published in the parish of the municipality/cooperation which meets the requirements of a newspaper as defined by RS 43:140(3),” read Bradford. “We never saw RS 43:140(3). We need to see that before we make a decision on this.”
For anyone interested in reading the specifics of RS 43:140(3), the revised statute can be read here, though City Attorney Jimbo Yokum provided an abridged version of it during the meeting.
“RS 43:140(3) goes through and specifies the qualifications for what makes a newspaper. Basically, it has to be published at least once a week, it can’t be primarily used for entertainment or advertising purposes like a thrifty nickel or the Inquirer wouldn’t count. The only paper in our municipality that I know of that is published period is the Minden Press-Herald. It’s definitely the only one that meets the qualification of a newspaper under Title 43,” said Yokum.
After being motioned in by Councilman Pam Bloxom Dist. E and seconded by Councilman Keith Beard of Dist. D, the vote passed with three for and two against, those opposed being Councilman Bradford and Councilman Walker.
When the item of the Employee Manual was up for discussion, there was immediate pushback from Councilman Walker, stating that she had requested it not be on the agenda during the last Council Workshop.
“When we discussed this at the workshop, you were asked not to put this on the agenda because we were still going over some things, but you put it on the agenda anyways, and you knew that we were not finished with the discussions of the employee manual,” said Councilman Walker.
“I asked three times, and for the past 16 months, you have wanted it on the agenda,” responded Gardner.
“But you put it on here anyway, because now you want to make it seem as though I’m not ready for it, but you went through and changed the revisions that we talked about and now you want to give it to us to vote on? I have a substitute motion to table this until we can finish discussing it, and also we’re going to open some things with the department heads to make sure we have clarity before we vote on it,” said Councilman Walker.
“I put it on the agenda so we could vote on it. All the changes that you asked for are in there,” said Gardner.
“No they are not,” said Walker.
Given that this topic has a long unresolved history with the City Council, it should come to little surprise that this was the point where tensions started to boil over. When discussing a discrepancy that had taken place between the last Council Workshop and this meeting, an escalation transpired between Councilman Bradford and Mayor Gardner that, to say the least, didn’t showcase either of their best sides.
“No no no no,” said Bradford.
“No no no no? I’m sorry,” said Gardner.
“You’re right, you are that,” said Bradford.
Mayor Gardner slammed his gavel, and from there words were barely transcribable as they shouted over one another. At this point law enforcement moved forward from the sides of the room, getting ready to break away the two if things escalated too far.
After a plea from Councilman Edwards for them to get back on track, the discussion resumed.
Councilman Bloxom stated for the record that she feels the Employee Manual should go before a City Attorney before it gets approved by the Council.
“I don’t believe that this employee manual ought to be put before the council to vote on until it’s authorized by a labor attorney to assure us that the manual is in compliance with all state and federal labor laws, otherwise we’re just opening ourselves up to lawsuits,” said Bloxom.
Bradford stated for the record that the City should hire an HR director to handle the matter.
“I want to put this on record. If you want to solve everything, hire an HR person. We’ve been delaying an HR person for how long?” asked Bradford.
“I haven’t seen a job title, I haven’t seen it put in the paper, that we’re looking for an HR person. An HR person can control all of this.”
“As long as we don’t have the money in the city budget, we can’t hire one,” stated Gardner.
This statement re-sparked a discrepancy about the budget, but once the subject got back to the matter of the employee manual, a substitute motion was presented by Councilman Walker to table the item and discuss it further at the next workshop. After a second from Councilman Bradford, the motion passed with three for and two against, the two against being Councilman Bloxom and Councilman Beard.
While the item of the employee manual had been voted on, it wasn’t quite yet the end of the discussion. During public comment it was asked of Councilman Bloxom why she voted no to tabling the employee manual if she felt it should go before a labor attorney.
Councilman Bloxom responded, “I’m ready to get this passed and to an attorney so we can implement it. And this is what’s being used to hold up any movement for the city council because there are members of the council who will not vote to move forward until we get this handbook addressed. So let’s get it addressed so we can move on to other projects and maybe get some yay votes to move forward.”
“Wouldn’t it be sensible that you would have the handbook the way you want it before you submit it to somebody else for approval?” asked a member of the public.
“We can’t get that far sir,” said Bloxom.
“That’s what you’re having a workshop for,” said the public commenter.
“No, we’ve already had that workshop, and every correction that was addressed was made, and then it was presented to us last week, but it was ready prior to that. It was ready to be read and signed off on prior to last Thursday.”
Councilman Walker didn’t agree with Councilman Bloxom’s recollection of events, and instead stated, “That’s not true, because our corrections that we discussed are not in here. It’s kinda like they were picked over, and they put in the ones that they wanted in here, or the Mayor wanted in here, and it was given to us for the workshop.”
The monthly City Council Meeting takes place on the first Monday of every month starting at 5:30 p.m. While typically opened to the public, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens are asked to view the meeting live through the city’s Youtube Channel, City of Minden – Feels Like Home.