The pay raise for Clarksdale’s Mayor, Board of Commissioners and all city employees will stand.
On a 3-2 vote along racial lines, the Board of Mayor and Commissioners decided not to amend a massive pay raise they voted for in executive session on June 14, less than one week after they were re-elected on June 8.
The motion to amend the pay raise vote was made by Ward 2 Commissioner Ken Murphey and seconded by Ward 1 Commissioner Bo Plunk. Ward 3 Commissioner Willie Turner and Ward 4 Commissioner Ed Seals voted against the amendment prompting Mayor Chuck Espy to cast the deciding vote.
A petition of more than 600 names was presented by former Mayor John Mayo prior to the vote. Mayo said the raises for city leaders and employees will total $416,400 annually and is an undue tax burden on a community already seeing a population decline, falling property values and declining retail businesses that provide sales taxes to the city.
The meeting was racially charged with allegations of defeated economic development projects, past raises by White mayors not being contested and polling numbers alleging Whites were out to defeat Mayor Chuck Espy.
The Mayor and Board of Commissioners then voted to give themselves annual raises of $36,000 and $20,000 respectively.
The annual compensation for Mayor will go from $86,421 to $122,421.92. The annual compensation for a Commissioner will go from $26,650 to $46,650. Both Mayor and Commissioners also have expense accounts.
The June 14 vote prompted outcry from a community that feels the money could be better spent on law enforcement, street repairs and infrastructure and worried about the long term tax burden after this board is gone.
Monday’s meeting saw more than 89 people pack the board room at city hall with Mayo speaking against the raises and presenting a petition with 600 names and Kerry Alexander and Mary Frances Dear-Moton speaking for it.
Espy repeatedly gaveled down comments from the public even announcing that anyone identified as making remarks would be removed by police.
Alexander said the community concern was based on race, pointing to the recent election where Espy was re-elected by the vote from Black wards. He added this smear campaign also accuses Espy of not living in Clarksdale and not sending his children to Clarksdale schools.
Alexander also said Chamber Executive Jon Levingston’s salary of $165,000, Clarksdale Public Utilities Executive’s salary of $160,000 and former County Administrator Hugh Jack Stubb’s salary of $150,000 were all higher than the raise for Espy, but they were White. Alexander also pointed out when Daniel Vassel, who is Black, became County Administrator, he was paid $90,000.
Alexander added former White mayors Bill Luckett and Richard Webster also raised their salaries – not as much as Espy – but there was no out-cry from the White community.
Dear-Moton pointed to her mother marching for civil rights and said it was time for Clarksdale to work together. She also said her ex-husband was a Commissioner and worked long hours at the job. Dear-Moton said the salary should be the same as county supervisors across the state that are paid approximately $40,000 a year.
Mayo said this was not about race, but about money.
Mayo said raises given to the Mayor and Commissioner, raises given to department head and more than 100 city employees would total $416,400, giving a breakdown of those numbers.
“Can any one of you tell us where that money is coming from? What is your plan?” asked Mayo. “Or, are you planning to use pandemic money and kick the issue to the next board when you leave and enjoy a cushy retirement on the backs of Clarksdale taxpayers?”
Mayo said his petition drive sought to collect 500 names and gathered 600 with at least 200 of those from the black community. He urged city officials to do the right thing for the future of Clarksdale.
After public comment, Plunk railed at Mayo, threatened to resign, said he was not running again and being 100-percent disabled he would not get the raise. Plunk cursed and was gaveled down by Espy.
Murphey and Turner did not comment. Seals said the board was legal in all they have done.
Espy spoke for the next 10-minutes about how he has been thwarted by the White community on bringing a grocery store, hotel, water park and housing development to Clarksdale. He pointed to Emails in the possession of Chamber Executive Levingston and Engineer Terry Smith as backing some of those claims.
He alleged malfeasance by previous mayors.
Espy said he had saved the city millions by renegotiating city insurance, reducing police overtime and numbers and working with Levingston had brought over 300 jobs to the community.
Espy pointed to anxiety by the White community that the city and county are now led by African Americans. He said 98-percent of those who voted for him were Black.
Murphey became emotional when he made the motion to amend the budget.
Having already voted for the pay raises in June, the process required the board to first vote to amend the pay increase and then move to the next step which would have been to set the new pay amount. With the amendment failing there was no vote on new pay raises.
The pay raises will begin this month.
In other business:
• Mary Caradine, with the Carnegie Public Library came before the board with a quote of $300,000 for repairs to the library roof. Espy asked Caradine to get another quote.
• Andrea Johnson wanted to use the City Auditorium for free for Senior Citizens Day on Aug. 21 and said last year’s event at the City Auditorium was a big success. Plunk pointed out the city can’t legally waive fees for any public building and Espy asked commissions to pay the fee out of their own pocket.
• Plunk said he wanted to put up speed bumps in his ward and requested guidance from the city attorney on how this is to be done to be both legal and safe.
• The city voted to pay the following bills: Anne Clark $350; Rivers Humber $200; Sanford Johnson $200; Chuck Espy mileage $495.60; Cornerstone $ 2,250.
• City Clerk Cathy Clark acknowledged surety bonds required for the Mayor, Commissioners, City Clerk and Police Chief.
• The board voted to name the following commissioners as Mayor Pro Tempore or Vice Mayor for the next four years: 2021-22, Commissioner Seals; 2022-23 Commissioner Plunk; 2023-24 Commissioner Murphey; 2024-25 Commissioner Turner.
• The city voted to approve a resolution appointing Espy as their Mississippi Municipal League voting delegates and named Commissioner Seals as the alternate. They head to the Gulf Coast for this meeting next week.
• The city accepted the retirement of policeman Jesse Barnes and allowed him to purchase his service weapon for $1.
• The city hired Curtis Lynom as a patrol officer with the police department.
• The city terminated Nicholas Turner, Sherita Morgan, Jeffrey Killion, Joe Reynolds as part-time policemen.
• Commissioner approved a leave of absence for a firefighter.
• Commissioner were informed the city is seeking to sell the old firetruck to EEP, Inc. The city was told by their attorney there is a process that must be followed for selling surplus city property.