By Othor Cain
It took less than 30 minutes for some Jackson City Council members to determine that they had had enough excuses as to why they haven’t been presented with information concerning the city’s budget during the May 9 City Council meeting.
Ward 2 City Councilman Melvin Priester, who also serves as council president, opened the meeting with a question that set the stage for the balance of the meeting; “I’m going to cut through the chase, Mr. Crisler, is it true that the city has spent all of its encumbered general fund balance and has spent more than $4 million of its emergency fund?” Priester asked.
Priester, who has publicly displayed his frustrations with the administration’s lack of transparency via his Facebook page didn’t stop with that question. “It’s my understanding that the mayor has known for at least several weeks at this point that we have used up all of our fund balance. We have zero fund balance left, and we have a reserve deficit of approximately $4,187,367,” said Priester. “If the mayor wants to continue to ostrich, that’s on him. We need to know how much money we have in our reserve. We need to be able to have good information that the council has been requesting for months at this point.”
Mayor Tony Yarber did not attend the special-called city council meeting – a meeting that he requested – because of a previously scheduled meeting with the Rankin-Hinds County Flood Control Group.
Instead, Yarber allowed Marshand Crisler to sit in for him and gave him specific instructions not to discuss budget issues with the council. “Mr. President as I was indicating offline, before we called this meeting to order, I had an extensive conversation with the mayor about the agenda today…the mayor indicated that if the issue came up about the fund balance, the budget as a whole or the audit that he be given an opportunity to be present and that he would recess the meeting until that could happen,” Crisler said. “Right now there is no one from the administration here that can talk about this portion of the agenda.”
Crisler indicated that he was only prepared to discuss portions of a public works contract that detailed the half million dollar consent decree project management contract the council recently awarded and the sludge contract.
“I am of the opinion that we cannot discuss any contracts, without knowing how much money we have to spend,” Ward 6 Councilman Tyrone Hendrix said. “We have to know where we are with this budget in order to move forward.”
Hendrix and Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon both publicly said they empathized with the position Crisler found himself in at Monday’s meeting. “I feel bad for you guys, that you are placed in this position. You are employees of this city and not just employees of the mayor,” Barrett-Simon said. “It is just terrible that you are placed in a position to not give us facts even though you know what the situation is. I would refuse to work for somebody that put me in that position.”
While Yarber did not attend the council meeting, he wasted no time responding to portions of it on social media.
Less than an hour after the council meeting concluded, Yarber posted the following message on his Facebook page at approximately 11:14 a.m.
“A week ago, I requested a meeting to discuss upcoming projects that greatly affect infrastructure improvements around the City. Late last week I received a request of information concerning the budget from President Priester and was noticed that the meeting would include budget discussions. These are discussions we have no problem dealing with, considering we’ve been forecasting budget concerns for the last two years. However, it is apparent that campaign season is upon us. Those Council colleagues who I faced in the special election were displeased with my unwillingness to change the scope of a meeting I called as they are quoted on Othor Cains’ post speaking insults that point to clear campaigning. I asked the President of the Council to schedule a separate budget meeting to discuss the matter thoroughly. That hasn’t happened. The Council wants budget info and has access through an under utilized budget analyst who could provide info DAILY.
But, we will continue to focus on the 30 plus road projects that we are currently working on. But, the politics and obstruction from folks that want to be Mayor will not be tolerated by me. And it shouldn’t be tolerated by you! I’m trying to pave streets!!!”