HELENA-WEST HELENA- With the city facing the ugly prospect of a shutdown, Aldermen Marvin Jarrett, Larry Brown, Don Etherly, Monica Davis, Lakeisha Chandler, and Christopher Franklin forged a compromise and broke the budget stalemate that threatened to grind city operations to a halt and left Mayor Arnell Willis irate and furious.
Willis moved consideration of his proposed budget, which was rejected at the last council meeting, to the top of the agenda. When Alderman Jarrett offered a motion to table his proposal, which is acceptable under Robert's Rules of Order governing parliamentary procedure, Willis ruled that motion out of order and forced a roll call vote on his budget. Aldermen Jay Hollowell, Daniel Strickland, Joe St. Columbia, and Eddie Clark voted to support Willis. Jarrett, along with Aldermen Don Etherly, Monica Davis, Larry Brown, Christopher Franklin, and Lakeisha Chandler voted against that budget.
At the end of this vote, Alderman Jay Hollowell attempted to force a city shutdown by moving to adjourn the meeting to prevent consideration of any other budget. That motion failed by the same 8-2 vote.
Jarrett then made a motion to amend the agenda to allow for consideration for an alternative budget authored by him. With Willis refusing to allow a vote, Jarrett asked City Clerk Sandi Ramsey to call the roll and the motion to change the agenda passed by a 6-4 vote with Hollowell, Strickland, Clark, and St. Columbia trying to prevent consideration of the Jarrett budget and force a city shutdown. Eddie Clark was so irate about the move that he said, "You six are committing political suicide."
Jarrett then offered his budget resolution, which only appropriated funds for one month, provided a list limiting who the City Clerk is authorized to pay, and instituted a hiring freeze. The ensuing debate centered on the appropriateness of one-month budgeting. Jarrett said in a response to a cross-examination from Hollowell, "Mayor Willis says we are bankrupt and we need to get a handle on this so we are appropriating funds for one month at a time."
Strickland angrily interjected, "I don't know if I can in good conscience be a part of this." Willis retorted, "This is ridiculous. This is a disaster." Jarrett calmly replied, "This keeps the city open. If you want to veto it, then you will be shutting the city down." Willis followed with a pledge not to veto it.
When the roll was called, Jarrett, Etherly, Davis, Brown, Franklin, and Chandler voted to keep the city open. Strickland, Clark, Hollowell, and St. Columbia voted to close it.
The budget calls for the Mayor to have a salary of $48,000 instead of the over $90000 he requested. It also eliminates from the payroll recent hires that were not hired in accordance with the employee handbook. It also institutes a hiring freeze which means Willis cannot rehire those improperly hired and cannot replace any employee that he fires.