NAVASSA — After four failed attempts to form a quorum, Navassa council members finally joined Monday and strategized their next moves to avoid the town government’s impending collapse. As part of the regularly scheduled meeting, leaders did not take any official votes, but they did make informal decisions about which items to keep and remove from the June 16 agenda.
Mayor Eulis Alexander Willis and council member Ida Dixon have missed the past four meetings due to personal reasons, they say. However, the mayor has also vocalized concerns with the agenda that was put forth on multiple occasions.
It’s unclear why councilman Ernest Mooring has been absent.
At this point, the town has no administrator or any way to pay staff or bills. A piece of print-out paper reads “Town Hall is Temporarily Closed” on the glass doors. The Local Government Commission has alerted the bank to not honor any checks drawn on the town’s accounts, and the state treasurer has urged the town to put aside its differences and meet so it can conduct necessary business and move forward.
Monday’s meeting was heated at times. The crowd’s emotions moved from sarcastic laughter to angry outbursts, and there was plenty of bickering among council members.
Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Lee Merrick called the meeting a “pyrrhic victory.”
“You have won a battle; however, you have lost all your men, all your supplies, but you walk around boasting that you have a victory,” Merrick said. “With that pyrrhic victory, some will boast about certain things. But when you look around, you find out that you no longer have a planner, you no longer have an administrator, you no longer have a budding police department.”
Starting out the meeting, councilman William Ballard said he spoke Monday with an LGC representative, who once again advised the town to immediately appoint a finance officer. It could hold an emergency meeting ahead of June 16 to do so.
“Do y’all want to save this town?” Ballard asked the crowd.
“Yes,” the audience in the community center replied.
If funds are disbursed from the town without the signature of a duly appointed finance officer, that person is guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor and could face a fine and possible civil action, plus they would need to forfeit office.
Ballard nominated town clerk Michelyn Alston as finance officer, to which she shook her head vehemently against the position. She said they should have a discussion about appointing her first.
“I do not feel comfortable working with the board at the current situation that you guys have me in,” said Alston, one of six town employees at risk of losing her paycheck come July. Five of those people are members of the recently rebuilt police department.
Ballard also claimed the LGC advised the town to take immediate action and adopt the previous year’s budget. Councilman James Hardy said the budget would not work because it included one-time grant money, fewer employees and does not incorporate salary raises implemented this year.
But Ballard stood by his stance that he did not want to take actions that did not get the town back up and running and asked they hold off hiring a town administrator or a planner, to which the mayor and Dixon agreed. The former town administrator and the Council of Governments recommended a candidate for the planner position, but the town cannot hire him without council approval. Hardy said several items of planning business are held up, some dating back to December.
“With all the growth going on, I don’t see why not having a planner would be beneficial to us, as well as the people,” Hardy said.
“Well, James, if the town is not running, you can’t hire nobody,” Ballard said.
“But I don’t see why we can’t do all things in the same meeting,” Hardy responded. “Why do we have to put off a meeting — and that has always been one of my complaints. Why put off tomorrow what you can do today?”
“Amen,” the crowd cheered.
Council members also denied Hardy’s suggestion to post a job for a town administrator, even though one of the directives from the LGC was to hire one and pen a transition plan while they search for Claudia Bray’s replacement. The majority of members also approved adding a discussion to the June 16 agenda about mosquito machinery, but then rejected placing an $11,000 budget amendment to pay for the new sprayer. Hardy said he received a certification for mosquito abatement but has not been able to start work because the machine is broken.
However, the majority did vote to research switching the government style and discussing equal voting representation in the town.
Janice Robbins said she lives in the area once known as “Phoenix,” before it was annexed into Navassa prior to 2011’s reformed annexation laws. She said because they only have one representative in the Phoenix area, their representative can never win. District 1 has three representatives.
“Sometimes we feel like stepchildren,” Robbins said. “And it has gotten a lot better, but not to the caliber of what we’re looking for. And like tonight, as you can see, things didn’t go well.”
Robbins said she is hoping, somewhere along the line, someone will give some insight on what must be done.
Resident Dorsey Jones Jr. echoed similar sentiments about the town’s current dysfunction.
“I hope that we are able to get things together, but we are facing some challenges,” Jones said, “and I hope that the council will be able to make the necessary changes and use their resources to help us save the town.”