Melton Budget 'Smoke and Mirrors' | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Melton Budget 'Smoke and Mirrors'

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The City Council cut short a budget session last week after the Melton administration failed to present detailed budget revisions.

Department of Administration Director Rick Hill and Chief Administration Officer Robert Walker presented a three-page memo of suggested cuts to departments to address the city's $4.3 million budget shortfall.

Council members said that formal budget reviews are very detailed, sometimes running hundreds of pages, with proposed line-item cuts and explanations of how those cuts would affect city services.

Hill began the doomed meeting by reporting that the mayor's administration had reduced its earlier projected shortfall of $4.3 million to $3.9 million "after many meetings and deliberations," and he said they had cut $243,953 from the Department of Administration.

After a few minutes, however, Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon complained that the administration's plan was short on details.

"We see the cuts you're suggesting, but we'd like to see more information about what specific positions are being closed down and what specific cuts are being made," Barrett-Simon said.

The three-page document Hill and Walker presented contained only brief descriptions of cuts to entire departments. The memo outlined cuts to Public Works, for instance, in two sentences: "The Public Works Department budget reduction is $411,217. The budget reduction will be accomplished by holding of vacant positions."

"This meeting is an exercise in futility," Council President Ben Allen said. "This is going to sound good in the news ... but I'm embarrassed I voted for a tax increase last year. ... We've got police pay increases we've got to address, we've got jail issues. This whole process here is wrong. I don't feel like I need any more of this kind of (piecemeal) information until we get what we really need to make tough decisions here. This is all just smoke and mirrors."

Walker said the presentation was not about details.

"We wanted to make a general presentation to the council in a budget committee and then come back before the full council with an actual revised budget, where we will show the line-items for the adjustments being made," Walker said.

The administration's three-page memo described $200,640 in cuts to Human and Cultural Services and revealed that the department would reduce pay-outs to outside organizations by $114,857. Human and Cultural Services Department Director Michael Raff explained to the council that the department was cutting pay-outs to the Greater Jackson Arts Alliance by 25 percent.

Allen expressed alarm at that proposal.

"I'm not comfortable cutting and gutting The Greater Jackson Arts Alliance that we, the council, voted to fund. I'd like to hear from them before we do this. I know the administration said it just cut $240,000 (from itself), but we just added a quarter of a million dollars on three different positions yesterday," Allen said, referring to last Tuesday's announcement by Walker that the city was financing three assistant chief administration officers, Goldia Revies, Charles Melvin and Valerie Nevels, all with salaries between $70,000 and $80,000.

Walker explained at the budget review that there are actually four assistant CAOs now. The fourth is Melton's sister-in-law Carolyn Redd.

Former Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., whose administration preceded Melton's, had only one assistant CAO.

"It appears that we have four assistant chief administration officers, all making enough salary to total $392,952. The thing is, I don't think Melvin has a desk over there in the CAO's office with his name plaque on it," Councilman Marshand Crisler remarked, referring to Charles Melvin.

City Council rejected Melvin as parks and recreation director, but on Tuesday, Walker told the council that Melvin was now an assistant CAO whose duties included running parks and recreation.

"In fact, I don't think a lot of those assistant CAOs do," Crisler continued, "and that's burning me up. Melton is assaulting city government laws and skirting council authority."

In a similar move undermining council authority, Melton recently decided to retain rejected interim fire chief Todd Chandler, re-assigning him as assistant fire chief with only a minor drop in his salary. Chandler, who is white, now makes almost $20,000 more than fellow Assistant Fire Chief Vernon Hughes, who is black—an issue that Hughes says is likely to come up in the near future. At a recent meeting of department heads, Chandler represented the fire department, and Melton called him "fire chief."

Allen said he had some ideas on how to force the mayor into nominating department heads but would not speculate for the press.

"It would be irresponsible for any council member to leak any of our ideas," Allen said. "We've got to approach this in a methodical, mature fashion. This is nothing that needs to be argued in the press."

The council has sought legal counsel on Melton's apparent attempt to circumvent state law requiring City Council approval of department heads by making special appointments. In the past, the council has requested opinions of the attorney general's office to address infringement upon council power by the mayor's office. Kenneth Stokes recently sought an AG opinion on whether or not a 3-3 vote on Melvin's nomination is, in fact, a rejection, but the council has not made public any other requests.

Barrett-Simon called the administration "top-heavy, and getting more top-heavy every day."

Hill had planned to speak on other potential cuts to the city budget, such as a proposed $144,545 cut to JATRAN and a reduction in the number of city bus routes, but the council voted to suspend the meeting until the administration could produce a line-item budget for review.

He had not expected the council to render a vote Wednesday, Hill said. "I'm just trying to get some feeling from the council on where we're (going) with this ... then we'll bring back the final budget. I certainly wouldn't ask the council to vote on what I presented today. This is just a general overview of the department," he said.

"This is the same junk we've been getting for months," Crisler said, saying council members were "sick of general overviews."

The Melton administration is already three months overdue on presenting budget revisions to the council.

"They're hiding the numbers from us," Crisler said, "and I can't help but wonder what the reason is."

As the JFP went to press Tuesday evening, City Council voted to withhold the salaries of Assistant Fire Chief Todd Chandler and Assistant Chief Administration Officer Charles Melvin for one week.

Previous Comments

ID
67719
Comment

Hill had planned to speak on other potential cuts to the city budget, such as a proposed $144,545 cut to JATRAN and a reduction in the number of city bus routes, but the council voted to suspend the meeting until the administration could produce a line-item budget for review. He had not expected the council to render a vote Wednesday, Hill said. “I’m just trying to get some feeling from the council on where we’re (going) with this ... then we’ll bring back the final budget. I certainly wouldn’t ask the council to vote on what I presented today. This is just a general overview of the department,” he said. I know Hill was there long before Melton; but, he sure is up to speed with his ability to play Melton games. Cutting JATRAN is one way to show potential developers that Jackson is headed in the right direction. Err?

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-05-25T13:33:10-06:00

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