Batesville aldermen cut the mayor’s salary and appointed Gerald Legge police chief during what is likely the final meeting of the current city administration.
Late in the Tuesday, June 21 meeting Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders made a motion to set the new mayor’s salary at $19,500 annually and to "look at it again at budget time."
The move appeared to catch Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger by surprise. Following a second by Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton, Dugger said, "I agree with the thought of an adjustment; I think we need to go outside and check."
"I’d just rather wait until we get more information," Dugger continued.
After little further discussion Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley said, "I call for a question," requiring Mayor Bobby Baker to submit the motion to the board of aldermen for a vote.
Pounders, Yelton, Manley and Alderman-at-Large Hudson Still voted for the salary adjustment; Dugger voted against it.
Mayor-elect Jerry Autrey attended the meeting as did Aldermen-at-Large-elect Teddy Morrow.
Yelton then made the motion to name Legge police chief, "because that is hanging out there and it’s something that needs to be decided now," he said.
"I’m going to make a recommendation that we hire him for the fulfillment of our term, that he be hired chief for the remainder of our time."
"Why would you do that?" Autrey asked.
"He’s (Legge) acting chief now, what would be the difference?" Dugger asked following Pounders’ second to Yelton’s motion.
"I’m undoubtedly not aware of some things that are going on," Dugger continued.
"Regardless of who won (the recent municipal election) or who lost, that’s gone. I think we need to do what’s right for the city and not let politics get in the way," Dugger added.
"That is the reason for the action, to take it out of politics," Yelton responded.
"Appointments you make now are effective for the remainder of your term; the new mayor and board (then) make appointments," City Attorney Colmon Mitchell said.
The vote on Yelton’s motion to appoint Legge police chief tallied the same as for the adjustment in the mayor’s pay. Dugger cast the lone "nay" vote.
The actions on the mayor’s salary and the hiring of a permanent police chief followed a unanimous vote during executive session earlier in the meeting to name Laura Herron as City Clerk. Herron replaces Judy Savage, who retires on June 30.
The new pay rate decreases the mayor’s pay by 65 percent from the current amount of $56,381 paid annually to Mayor Bobby Baker, who has also acted as the city’s public works director since former public works director Wayne Darby resigned in 1994.
Baker, who did not seek re-election after more than 30 years in office, was paid $32,000 annually as mayor in 1994 when $1,000 a month was added to his salary to compensate for the additional public works duties. The remainder has come in longevity and cost of living increases, Savage said.
News of the salary reduction brought phone calls from Autrey supporters to the newspaper on Wednesday. Autrey received 1,122 votes in the general municipal election June 3, which represented 60 percent of the votes cast.
The votes to reduce the mayor’s salary and name a police chief were not completely unexpected.
"I got wind of some stuff yesterday," Alderman-at-Large-elect Morrow said.
"People have spoken; whether it was your man or not, we just need to get on with what’s best for Batesville," Morrow said of the decision to lower the mayor-elect’s salary before he takes office.
Regarding the chief’s selection, "I’m not saying they did the wrong thing, but they should have let us get involved in it because we are the ones who will be there," Morrow said.
Alderwoman Pounders said that the $19,500 figure was based on a survey of other cities.
"This guy is starting out at more than a fair salary for a new guy in there" she said.
Pounders said that the new mayor will "most likely not" be asked to perform the duties of public works director and said that a public works director might be appointed from among current city employees.
Dugger said that there had been a "consensus on the city clerk."
"I thought the other stuff was going to come later. Boy, was I wrong," he added.
"I’m disappointed; I had really wished that we had had a work session and discussed those two items – the chief and the mayor’s salary," Dugger continued.
The actions at the June 21 meeting of the board of mayor and aldermen had city attorney Mitchell researching opinions of the state attorney general regarding the number of days during which a mayor has to veto actions of aldermen.
Mayor Bobby Baker said that he had not considered a veto. "If you veto (an action) and they override it, you’ve just created further division," he said.
Although the mayor does not vote in the mayor/alderman form of government, four votes are required to override a mayoral veto.
Mayor Bobby Baker has resigned effective June 30 in order to begin his state retirement in July. City officials will be sworn in during a ceremony on Friday, July 1. Vice Mayor Hudson Still will preside as Mayor Pro Tempore during the ceremony. "I will be there as a guest," Baker said. However, the new city officials cannot take official action before their first meeting on Tuesday, July 5, attorney Mitchell said.
A list with names of all full-time city employees and their positions is submitted to the board of mayor and aldermen each year for approval or disapproval, Baker said. Aldermen will have the option to approve the entire list or to disapprove it, and the mayor will have the same option with his veto power. However, the mayor will not have a "line-item" veto option, Baker added.
Autrey said that he was "disappointed by the lack of cooperation shown by the outgoing mayor and board of aldermen."
"They should have left the selection of the new police chief to the new mayor and incoming board," Autrey stated Thursday morning.
Attempts to contact aldermen Yelton and Manley for this story were unsuccessful.