A petition calling for Clarksdale to “roll back” a proposed raise is circulating in the community but what effect it will have on the Clarksdale Board of Mayor and Commissioners remains to be seen.
The Mayor and Board of Commissioners voted to give themselves annual raises of $36,000 and $20,000 respectively last week and there are those who think that is too much, too fast and the money could have been spent somewhere else to better effect.
“They could have taken that money and spent it on the police department,” said John Mayo, former Mayor of Clarksdale and petition organizer. “It’s just too much.”
The raises were part of a large agenda of more than 75 items presented by the Mayor to the Board of Commissioners at the June 14 regular city board meeting. The vote to accept the raises came after the Mayor and Commissioners were re-elected in the June 8 General Election.
The annual compensation for Mayor will go from $86,421 to $122,421.92. The annual compensation for a Commissioner will go from $26,650 to $46,650. Both Mayor and Commissioners also have expense accounts.
Mayo said the petition drive is in its early stages and he hopes city leaders get the message and rethink the raises.
“Right now I’ve only got the petition in a few restaurants and businesses,” said Mayo. “There are about three of us active with this right now.”
Mayo said the pay raise, while not the highest in the state, is not reflective of a town Clarksdale’s size for mayor and the duties and time invested by commissioners each week.
The 2010 U.S. Census listed Clarksdale's population at 17,962. The 2019 U.S. Census estimate has dropped to 14,894 for Clarksdale.
“We have four men in part-time positions just padding their retirement,” said Mayo. “Even if the pay raise goes through, I think it should become effective with the next board or after the next election.”
Mayor Chuck Espy, Ward 1 Commissioner Bo Plunk, Ward 2 Commissioner Ken Murphey, Ward 3 Commissioner Willie Turner and Ward 4 Commissioner Ed Seals were all contacted as a group via text and individually for this story. None responded.
While the petition has no legal standing to make the Board of Mayor and Commissioner rescind their raises, it is expected to show the number of people who are against it and what neighborhoods resent it the most.
Last week’s meeting also saw a number of raises for city workers passed by the Board of Mayor and Commissioners. How the petition might affect those pay increases is not known.
According to a 2019 report from the Mississippi Municipal League Clarksdale has 116 city employees.
The June 14 meeting broke from tradition with Espy calling for an executive session. The board voted to enter executive session to discuss personnel, land acquisition and salaries.
Salaries are not one of the legal reasons listed for executive session under Mississippi’s Open Meetings law.
The city has struggled to stop the exodus of police officers from the force and has seen the department drop from around 50 employees to 23 sworn officers. Attempts to fill those posts have failed and the city has implemented a three tier wage structure.
Those under three years of experience will be paid $15 per hour; 3-6 years $16.50 per hour; and those with over six years will earn $18 per hour.
Raises as discussed in executive session for the Mayor and Commissioner, city employees, department heads will begin next month.
The board held a workshop on June 10 where the raises were discussed.
The board in a prepared statement said, during the 2021 election cycle, ideas were brought forward to create a better Clarksdale. In that statement the board said raises has been previously discussed with each board member.
Items listed and presented to the public at their June 14 meeting were:
• Raises for city employees and department heads would begin July 5.
• Raises for Mayor and Commissioner would begin July 19.
• Pay raises for all department heads and pay raises for all employees.
• Increasing the pay for the Clarksdale Public Utilities Board amounts up to $1,000.
The city also had to make the following amendments to its charter and will pass an ordinance that will be effective in 30-days for the pay raise:
Section 1 – The Board of Mayor and Commissioners re-adopt the statements and finding made in the preamble of this ordinance.
Section 2 – The annual compensation for the Mayor shall be $122,421.92 to be paid on a bi-weekly basis.
Section 3 – The annual compensation for the Commissioners shall be $46,650 each, to be paid on a bi-weekly basis and subject to the Charter of the City of Clarksdale Section 2 [(C)] (ii) (a) – (c).
Section 4 – All ordinance or parts of ordinances in conflict herewith are repealed to the extent of such conflict.
Section 5 – If any of the provisions of this ordinance or the application thereof to any person circumstances are held to be invalid or unconstitutional, either as to section, paragraph, sentence or clause thereof, the remainder of this ordinance and the application thereof.
Section 6 – The City Clerk shall give notice of the adoption of this ordinance by publication in the Clarksdale Press Register of the full text hereof, or a summary thereof, one time pursuant to law.
Section 7 – This ordinance shall be in full force and effect on July 18, 2021.
Traditional department head appointments will be made at the July 12 meeting.
The city’s vetting meeting was held June 24, and the Board of Mayor and Commissioners traditionally don’t take action or vote at that meeting, as items are simply discussed. The June 24 meeting will be followed by the city Regular Second Monthly meeting on Monday, June 28 where votes are normally taken on city business.