BY BRIAN JONES
COLUMBUS – At its Feb. 8 meeting, the Columbus City Council tabled a request by the Fairgrounds to resume hosting events that serve alcohol, approved funding for the Field of Dreams and briefly talked about the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority breakup. The consultant hired to work with the Columbus Police Department also addressed the board, and the mayor announced that the attorney general’s office signed off on the formation of the city/county narcotics task force.
Attorney Mark Jackson, who is representing the Fairgrounds, asked the council to approve a proposal that established new guidelines for currently banned events. At its Jan. 3 meeting the council placed a 90-day moratorium on large events following a shooting at a Christmas party that left a man seriously wounded. The city argued that the party violated an ordinance requiring a permit for events hosting more than 100 people and at which alcohol is served; it also requires one security guard per 50 guests. No permit had been issued for the event, and the city claimed that insufficient security was present.
On Jan. 17 the council rolled that moratorium back slightly, allowing any events that were not affected by the ordinance. However, the ban on events falling under the permit was left in place. Jackson said at that time that he would be back in February with a proposal putting tighter controls in place.
Jackson said that the new plan went above and beyond what the ordinance required.
“We think this not only complies with the 2014 ordinance but also goes well beyond that,” Jackson said. “Beyond what is required by the ordinance, our proposal establishes open lines of communication.
(Manager Jane Jordan) has assured me that that was one of the issues, there just wasn’t much communication back and forth. She admitted that she was at fault for that. She will make sure that (Chief Oscar Lewis) is apprised of what is going on any time there is an event, so that way the police department can be prepared for any event that is going to occur and for them to have all the information as least five days beforehand.
“She is in the process of getting an insurance policy that is well in excess of what is required by the ordinance, which requires $250,000,” he said. “It will be in place before any event is held. One of the things we had discussed is individual event insurance coverage. (Jordan) will require each individual lessee who comes in to have their own insurance.
“Signs will be posted at the entrance that it is the only authorized entrance, and that weapons are not allowed,” he said. “I think the most important thing that has to be done moving forward and that will be required of anyone who rents the space is that bonded security will have to be in place before they sign a contract, and they will be required to use hand wands to make sure there are no weapons going in and out of the premises, and they will also be responsible for a head count. If the reported number of guests is exceeded, security will shut down the premises and alert CPD and keep them apprised of what’s going on.”
The facility itself is also receiving some security upgrades, he said.
“(Jordan) is getting LED lighting installed in the parking lot,” he said. “Those lights came in in the last day and she’s got a bucket truck to come out and install them. In the next few days cameras will be installed as well throughout the parking lot.”
“I just got your information this afternoon and haven’t had much of an opportunity to look over it,” said Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin, “but it does look like a vast improvement over what the situation has been in the past. I understand that over the past several years the Fairgrounds has been operating without a business license. What is the status of that?”
“They are compliant with the secretary of state’s office, but obviously we’re going to have to talk to the city about getting into compliance with any kind of business ordinance here locally,” Jackson said. “That will be done in advance of any kind of events that we apply for.”
Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box asked about the other board members of the Columbus Fair and Livestock Association.
“How many board members do y’all currently have?” he asked. “You have to have a board to be a non-profit.”
“Currently we have four,” Jackson said. “One of the members has died and currently has not been replaced.”
“Will the cameras be monitored, or will they record?” Box said.
“They will record,” Jackson said. “They are digital cameras that record to a specific location, and those recordings can be shown to law enforcement and turned over as necessary.”
Security will also be required to stay around for at least 30 minutes after an event ended to make sure people don’t loiter, he said.
Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor made a motion to table the proposal to give the council more time to review it. The motion was seconded by Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens. It passed unanimously.
The council unanimously voted to support the “Field of Dreams” ball field for children with special needs. Earlier this week the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution pledging financial support for the long-in-the-works project, and Tuesday night the council followed suit. The city pledged $50,000 per year for three years.
Debbie Taylor and Mike Smith from Golden Triangle Outdoors, the group which has been spearheading the project, were present to accept the council’s promise. They were accompanied by about 30 supporters.
“We had the opportunity to meet with (Taylor and Smith) last week to discuss funding,” Smith said. “After discussion, we asked our counsel here to draw up a resolution. My recommendation to the council to is to fund it this year with $50,000, and then $50,000 each for the next two years.”
Box made the motion, seconded by Turner; applause broke out in the audience.
The motion passed unanimously.
“I would like to thank you for doing this,” Taylor said. “The people who are here tonight are only a small part of the lives you’ll be touching. This has been a long time coming, and now we have something we can take and use to apply for other grants.”
“It’s been a long process,” said Mike Smith. “I think we started talking about this in 2004. The challenged and handicapped community really appreciates it.”
Mayor Smith briefly addressed the ongoing dismantling of the CLRA.
“I can be brief on this,” Smith said. “We had a committee meeting with the county to discuss where we were going with the partnership between the city and the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors but the discussion was brief. The decision was pretty much made. The county, or at least three votes, has decided that they want to move forward. At this time there is no reason for us to vote. My recommendation would be to wait until the public and private bill is passed by the state legislature before we move forward.”
“I concur with that,” Box said. “If the legislation is approved we can vote at the time to remove ourselves and appoint a committee to figure out what we intend to do from that point forward.”
“I’ll just be happy when it’s all over,” Taylor said.
[The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors has submitted an agreement to the legislature for approval that would see the county give the City of Columbus, as well as Artesia, Caledonia and Crawford, a certain amount of funding for recreation each year. The county would otherwise handle recreation outside the city; the county would retain ownership of the soccerplex, but scheduling would still be handled by the city. For more, see my related article from Monday’s supervisors meeting. – Ed.]
No action was taken.
Consultant Dr. KB Turner gave a brief report about his activities over the past month.
“I have met with quite a few individuals,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of citizens and I’ve also met with the chief and talked about recruiting and retention, as well as volunteer opportunities for citizens. A colleague came with me last week to spend some time with (investigators) and I expect a report from him in the coming days. Within the next week or so I plan on having two associates join me in a visit to Columbus to spend some time examining patrol functions and training, as well as some other issues. We’re going to look at personnel assignments, look at the training calendar, look at what the challengers are going forward in 2017.”
Turner said in the future he will meet with officers privately and learn what their concerns and suggestions are, as well as continuing his series of ward meetings with citizens. He also cautioned that recovery will not be immediate.
“I signed up for six months,” he said. “We are not going to have a decrease in crime in six months. It doesn’t work like that. We didn’t get here overnight, it’s going to take some time to dig our way out of this. I don’t see this as doom and gloom, I see it as an opportunity to evaluate where we are, to evaluate our resolve as citizens and to be strong in what we do on a daily basis and be supportive of the police department.”
No action was taken.
Smith announced that the attorney general’s office had approved the agreement with Lowndes County forming a metro narcotics task force.
“As elected officials, public safety is the most important responsibility we have to our citizens,” Smith said. “We take this trust with the highest degree of attention in the decisions we make each day. There is no higher degree of trust than to be charged with protecting the public. Several months ago, the city began working with members of the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office to restart a combined drug task force of the city and the county. We had a combined force years ago until the former police chief discontinued the team.
“After meeting with the Sheriff and members of his staff, I was able to negotiate a new detailed agreement that was approved by the sheriff, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors and the Columbus City Council last week,” Smith said. “The last step in the process is approval from the Mississippi Attorney General, and we now have received that approval with no changes needed in the agreement.
“I want to first thank the fine men and women of the Columbus Police Department and the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office for their work and dedication,” he said. “I also want to thank Sheriff Arledge and the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors for taking this bold step with us to restart this team. We have already started working with the Task Force team to get our members from the Columbus Police Department selected and in place. This is a new day in public safety for Columbus and Lowndes County and we look forward to this work together.”