Yarber Wants Another Emergency Declaration | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Yarber Wants Another Emergency Declaration

Mayor Tony Yarber at his bi-weekly media availability March 4, 2015.

Mayor Tony Yarber at his bi-weekly media availability March 4, 2015.

After asking the Jackson City Council to hold off on approving his civil-emergency declaration earlier, Yarber said Tuesday evening that he wants a second emergency proclamation.

“We’re looking at issues that arise overnight and put our public health at risk. Sinkholes are a problem. It’s a problem when ditches behind people’s yards are deteriorating and their fences are disappearing in creeks. We’ve got to address it and the time is now,” Yarber said in a news release.

The mayor initially issued an emergency proclamation in late March, but needed the council's approval to extend it for more than seven days.

Today, at Yarber's behest, the council tabled that request until a special meeting can be held. City Council members had been on edge since the Yarber's initial declaration, citing a lack of detailed information from the mayor's office about the plan.

They have also chided Yarber for not giving the council a heads-up before calling a press conference.

"I wouldn’t have done a declaration just because I didn’t have anything else to do and to piss off the council. I've got other stuff to do and there are things y'all can get mad about with me in the future," Yarber told the council at budget briefing on March 30.

Yarber has said emergency loans from the Mississippi State Department of Health would allow the City to start work immediately. The declaration could also give the City access to so-called quick-release funds through from the U.S. Department of Transportation for failed or failing bridges, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Today, the city council continued to press the Yarber administration on the source of funding for the projects.

"There's no such thing as free money," said Ward 2 Councilman Melvin Priester Jr. at today's meeting. "I don't see where any of the money proposed is not a loan."

Kishia Powell, the City's public works director, said the MSDH loan might be eligible for principal forgiveness from the state, but that grants and federal funding is becoming increasingly limited.

Powell and Yarber both addressed the idea that the declaration is designed to get around normal procurement rules and hand out city contracts to preferred companies. Powell said even though the declaration allows the city to skirt some rules for soliciting bids, she will require her staff to get multiple bids before making purchases.

"There is no effort to circumvent," the council, Yarber added. "I can't go to Walmart. … I just want to be able to go to Walmart and tell people I'm working on (fixing) potholes."

Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon said she wanted to give Yarber more time to outline his plans and clarify the role of the city council on overseeing any emergency spending, which would help allay some concerns of the public.

"I can't answer (them) with this one small sheet of paper," Barrett-Simon said of constituent questions.

Earlier in the council meeting, the city council authorized a legal settlement to Babes strip club, which late mayor Frank Melton moved to shut down without proper authority. As a result, the City will pay more than $100,000 to Babes for lost profits and attorney's fees.

Priester referenced the settlement in talking about the emergency declaration.

"The lesson of the Frank Melton administration is don't do stuff just to be doing them," Priester said. "Not saying that’s going on, but we have to be exceedingly careful."

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