Council Spars with Mayor on Budget | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Council Spars with Mayor on Budget


Jackson City Council President Frank Bluntson is challenging Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson over the city's budget.

Jackson City Council members and Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. are caught in a power struggle over passing the city's budget for fiscal year 2012.

In preparation for passing the city's budget Sept. 15, council members say they want more involvement in the process. Council President Frank Bluntson said Monday that he would take legal action against Johnson, if necessary, to obtain the names and salaries of all city employees after failed previous attempts to get the information from the mayor.

In July, Johnson revealed his $266.7 million budget for fiscal year 2012 that would increase funding for public safety and infrastructure repairs. His budget would also provide a 2 percent raise to all city employees.
The council's budget committee has conducted hearings over the last two weeks in which they have received reports on expenditures from all city departments and asked questions of department heads. On request, the mayor provided a list of all salaries and job titles to council members, but did not attach employee names. He also provided a list of all city employees.
Council members announced at yesterday's work session that they are calling a special meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday for a final review of the budget and to offer proposed amendments. The meeting is open to the public, but deviates from the planned budget process. The council will have a public hearing on the budget Sept. 1 and vote on the budget Sept. 15.
When the mayor questioned the council about the need for a special meeting, Bluntson brought up the issue of salaries and whom the city employs. He had asked the mayor for the list at a budget recap meeting
Aug. 17, in which council members offered minor budget amendments. He asked for the information again, repeatedly, at Monday's meeting.
"It looks like you have something to hide," Bluntson told the mayor.
Johnson said that determining employees' salaries is an administrative function and a not a legislative one, and, therefore, did not see a need to reveal the names and salaries.  
"We are not trying to hide anything, but I don't understand why, after providing all the information that we have provided, and all the questions we have answered, that these names of these employees are so important that you have basically hijacked the process," Johnson told Bluntson.
Johnson accused Bluntson of playing games. "I hope you don't get so caught up in petty politics that you put the whole financial well-being of our city in jeopardy. That appears to be the road we are headed down."
Although Bluntson did not bring up the issue of the salaries last year, he said that former mayor Frank Melton gave council members names and salaries of employees when he was in office.
"They are getting public money, and it's a matter of public record," Bluntson said.

"I'll go to the attorney general or go to court or do whatever it takes (to get the documents)."
Ward 1 Councilman Quentin Whitwell, vice chairman of the budget committee, said he planned to offer amendments to the budget Wednesday but would not give specifics. He did say that he did not support all city employees receiving 2 percent raises.

He also said that council members felt like they did not have input in crafting the city's budget and wants to change that for next year.
"(The mayor) and his staff have guided this process 100 percent without allowing us to provide input about how we feel about the budget," Whitwell said.

City spokesman Chris Mims said that the mayor has provided with council for input.

"We have asked the council to provide any questions or possible amendments in writing to the administration so we can go back and see how to balance the budget if any changes are required," Mims said.

Ward 2 Councilman Chokwe Lumumba said he wants to see employees in the public works department receive more than 2 percent raises because of the high demands of their job. He also wants the city clerk's office to add a policy analyst to offer recommendations on the administration's proposed budget and policies.

"I think the mayor's proposal of a 2 percent pay raise is good," he said.

"But that still leaves a large gap between some of our employees and the people of the bottom of the ladder who are the public works people and are very important because they clean our city up."

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