The move yesterday by the Town of Jonesboro’s controversial mayor Leslie Thompson and three members of the board of aldermen to abolish the town’s police department was unexpected.
The public and at least some of the board had not seen the mayor’s proposed budget amendments prior to the council meeting where they were adopted, as they were distributed to the board after the meeting began.
In fact, a public hearing had just been held minutes earlier to review a proposed fiscal year 2012-2013 budget that had been introduced back on 5/17/12, and that had been published in the official journal.
District B’s Renee Stringer noted at the beginning of the meeting that she had not received her meeting packet at all, a problem that she has complained about numerous times. District A’s Sam Lamkin complained of the same problem at the 6/12/12 meeting.
The issue of significantly amending a budget with no public input is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit Essmeier v Jonesboro now on appeal at the circuit court level. Second Judicial (Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson parishes) District Division B Judge Jimmy Teat ruled last August that in a similar situation, the mayor and board violated the state’s Local Government Budget Act.
See here the documents:
Some of the significant expenditure differences between the introduced budget and the amended budget were:
Police: $435 thousand to $95 thousand.
Animal Control: Zero to $52 thousand.
Adminstrative & General: $528 thousand to $684 thousand.
Recreation: $43 thousand to $95 thousand.
The Administrative & General budget category (410) was as of the fiscal year 2006-2007 about $414 thousand
The salary office line-item (410.250) has nearly tripled over that same time, from $87 thousand as of 6/30/07, to $236 thousand in the just-adopted 2012-13 budget.
Also, the downtown beautification line-item (410.440) was increased in the amended/adopted budget to $50 thousand from $30 thousand in the proposed budget.
On the subject of the police department, Thompson said the department would be “reduced” rather than “eliminated,” and that the Jackson Parish Sheriff’s Office (JPSO) would fill in.
Said Thompson, “I don’t want for you to believe or to think that because there’s a reduction of police personnel, that somehow that’s going to jeopardize – cause for there to be law enforcement credibility to be at stake.”
Long-time Police Chief Wesley Horton wasn’t buying it. Horton said the move was in retaliation for his refusals to hire and fire as the mayor wanted, and his repeated attempts to interfere in police operations.
Said Horton, “He (the mayor) has no authority over me, and he cannot stand it.”
District B’s Renee Stringer asked Horton how he would manage as the lone person responsible for enforcing the town’s code of ordinances. Replied Horton, “I’ll do the best I can.”
At one point during the discussion, District A’s Sam Lamkin suggested a Rodney King “can’t we all get along” meeting between the mayor and the chief.
Asked Lamkin, “Is there any way, mayor, you and Chief Horton, can get together and work this out to where we can still have a police department?”
When time came to vote on the ordinance #709, it took quite a bit of coaching from town attorney Doug Stokes to style the motion before he was satisfied that it was done legally.
Several other of the town’s budgets were amended and adopted, none of which had been published in the town’s official journal, nor had been reviewed in public hearings.