The Petal Board of Aldermen has voted against a proposed ordinance that would hold members of the board financially responsible for missing a certain number of meetings.
Ward 1 Alderman Gerald Steele put the item on the board’s agenda at the July 5 meeting, but four of the seven aldermen voted against the measure. Steele, Ward 3 Alderman Blake Nobles and Ward 5 Alderman Drew Brickson voted for the ordinance, while Alderman-at-Large Mike Lott, Ward 2 Alderman Steve Stringer, Ward 4 Alderman Craig Strickland and Ward 6 Alderman Craig Bullock voted to deny it.
“Quite frankly, if you look at the (Mississippi) constitution, there’s no recall on elected officials,” Steele said. “So that means I could win an election and never sit in this chair, or never come to these meetings and that is completely okay.
“When you compare that to other states’ charters and constitutions – and even some other municipalities in the state – that makes me very uneasy.
“That’s one of the primary reasons that I presented this to the board for consideration, and I think that it would really show that we want accountability for ourselves. I don’t plan on being in this chair a very long time, and I want to make sure that whoever takes this chair sits in it.”
Lott, who was elected in the summer of 2020 to replace the retiring William King, said he voted against the ordinance, in part, because attendance hasn’t been a problem since he has been on the board.
“We’ve got a responsibility here, sitting in these chairs, responsibility to the people that elected us,” he said. “The people who elected us can call up here any day of the week that this office is open and ask about my attendance if they’re concerned about it.
“Also, my job isn’t sitting here 24 nights a year … it is that, but outside of these walls I have a responsibility as well to do this job every day of the week, every day of the year, weekend or not, meeting day or not. So attendance, to me, is one of the minor things … it’s not an issue, and I think if I have an attendance problem, I’m going to hear about it pretty quickly.”
Steele’s proposed ordinance would require aldermen to attend every regular meeting of the board; if an alderman fails to attend a meeting, that absence would be recorded by the city clerk. An absence would be excused if the alderman contacted the city clerk prior to 4 p.m. on the day of the scheduled meeting to let the clerk know of the upcoming absence.
Aldermen would be limited to five excused absences per calendar year, and absences in excess of seven per calendar year would be deemed unexcused unless the alderman’s absence was because of attendance at another meeting to benefit the city.
An unexcused absence also would occur if an alderman failed to notify the city clerk of the absence prior to 4 p.m. on the day of the scheduled meeting, or if the alderman had already accumulated five excused or unexcused absences in the current calendar year.
If an alderman were to accumulate more than seven excused and unexcused absences during a calendar year, that alderman would be fined 1/24 of their pay for each meeting that is missed, unless that alderman were to be granted forbearance unanimously by the remaining board members.
Petal aldermen are paid approximately $12,000 annually.
“This board has had great attendance – we are in our seats, we are here, and that’s the standard we want when we’re not in this seat,” Steele said. “We want somebody that’s still going to show up and hear our complaints and rights and everything.
“That’s very important, and that’s our job, is to represent people.”
Steele had tried to get the measure put on a previous board agenda, but board members voted 4-3 voted to deny that measure, with Stringer, Bullock, Strickland and Lott providing the nay votes.