Aldermen receive request to remove state flag; approve annual budget

By Daniel Brunty
The Choctaw Plaindealer

The Ackerman Board of Aldermen met with residents calling for the removal of the Mississippi state flag from the town’s public buildings.

The board also reviewed and approved the town’s annual budget and tax levy during its September 8 meeting held at the Town Hall Boardroom.

Ward 3 Alderman George Rooks was not present at the meeting.

The Town of Ackerman’s 2015-2016 budget includes estimated revenues from all sources and total available cash of $3,078,294 and estimated expenses of $1,821,978.

The Town of Ackerman’s millage rate is a total of 50 mils of which 43 mils are for the General Fund and 7 mils are for the Interest and Sinking Fund. The Town receives $7,500 for each mil. They are expecting to receive $375,000 in tax revenue. The millage rate is the same as last year.

The meeting began with the approval of the agenda, minutes, and accounts by the board. The meeting then went into its old business portion, with the proposal to set a public hearing for property at 88 South Commerce Street in Ackerman owned by BJ and Angie Fleming.

Mayor Dick Cain informed the board members that the property is still not clean after previously issuing a courtesy letter to the owner. Cain asked for a motion to set a hearing regarding the property. Ward 4 Alderman Billy Ganann made a motion to set the hearing, which was seconded by Ward 1 Alderman John Shumaker. The board passed the motion unanimously.

The meeting then moved into its new business portion. The first item of discussion regarded the purchase of town property on Davis Street in Ackerman by Ms. Ashley Ashford. Ashford is seeking to buy property on the street, which is owned by the Town of Ackerman.

Town Clerk Debbie Boley told the aldermen that she had spoken to Ashford regarding the matter and informed her that an advertisement for the property would have to be published in the local newspaper first, and that the aldermen would have to agree to sell it. After a few minutes of discussion, the aldermen agreed to table the issue until the next board meeting.

The next item of discussion was regarding the removal of the state flag from in front of Town Hall. The boardroom was filled with 20 to 30 concerned residents who were in support of removing the flag. Speaking for the residents was Mr. Don McCoy, representing NAACP Branch 5631.

With the growing number of cities in Mississippi that are removing the state’s flag from public property because it carries the battle emblem of the Confederate flag, the state leaders have not addressed the issue since the legislators are out of session.

More than half a dozen other Mississippi cities have removed the flag since the Charleston killings, including the state capitol of Jackson. In July, Starkville aldermen voted 4-3 to lower the flag from city-owned properties.

McCoy informed the aldermen that the NAACP Branch, as well as other residents of Ackerman, request the removal of the flag containing the confederate emblem be removed from all town buildings.

“The Confederate emblem is not representative of some concerned citizens of Ackerman,” McCoy said. “The Confederate emblem does not represent most citizens because it represents racism, segregation, discrimination, and slavery.”

McCoy continued by stating that counties around Choctaw have reconsidered the use of the Confederate emblem on their flags, as well as the economic advantages removing the flag could have.

After addressing the aldermen, Cain addressed McCoy and the residents in attendance by stating the board would take the matter under advisement. “I understand there is an opinion coming down from the Attorney General’s office for the Louisville and we will wait on that,” Cain said. Cain also stated with a new legislature to start in January, he felt that this issue would come up at that time.

“Until then, that is the state flag and has been for years and years,” Cain continued. “I feel like that we need to fly it until we get that opinion from the Attorney General or either the state changes the flag. That is a flag for all of the state of Mississippi, whether you like it or whether you do not like it.”
Cain also stated that as far as he knew the town was not required to fly the flag in city owned public places, and that it is required to fly on school property.

Other residents were given the opportunity to ask questions as well. One resident asked the aldermen what was their individual opinion regarding the issue. Ward 2 Aldermen Tommy Curtis stated he had mixed opinions on the issue himself.

Shumaker stated his opinion as well. “I stand in the middle of both sides because I am an alderman and a member of the NAACP,” Shumaker said. “So I understand your plight, and I also understand what the mayor is saying,” Shumaker said. “I will say this, the NAACP will definitely understand that you will have a voice as long as I am sitting here on the board. You will get a fair shake. That I will guarantee that here to you tonight. This will not be swept under the rug or be forgotten about.”

McCoy and others continued to ask Cain and the aldermen what could bring a change to the flag. After a few minutes of discussion, Cain gave his opinion on the matter.

“In my opinion, if the state doesn’t change the flag, then that flag will fly,” Cain stated. “Because that is the flag of the state of Mississippi. That is my opinion, not the board’s opinion.”

Another resident asked for Ganann’s opinion of the matter. “My opinion is I don’t like to be forced into making an opinion when I am not ready,” Ganann said. “I’m really concerned about any of the citizens, and whatever concerns they have is a concern of mine. I understand what Mr. McCoy said. I have been reading in the paper about it. I understand how it offends some people. I understand some of the people that do not want to take it down. Regardless of that, times are changing as evident by all the other states.”

Ganann continued. “They are going to change the flag at sometime, fairly soon,” Ganann said. “Then it will not be a controversy like it is now. I think I would like to talk to the other aldermen, and look at the pros and cons, and see what is happening statewide. We want to still talk about it, see what we then think, and then I can give you an opinion on it.”

After the comments, the meeting continued new business. The next item of discussion was regarding the purchase of radio read water meters for the town. Cain informed the board after discussions with Public Works Director Mike Brasher, they would like to issue a bid for 850 radio read water meters and all equipment needed for them.

Brasher informed the aldermen that these meters could assist the town in increasing its water revenue. He told them that the city of Winona increased its water revenue by 16 percent by switching to radio read meters.

After a brief discussion, Ganann made a motion to advertise for bids for the purchase of 850 radio read water meters. Shumaker seconded the motion, which was passed unanimously by the board.

In other news, the board:
Approved Municipal Compliance Questionnaire
Approved library contribution of $1200
Approved travel of Cain, Ganann, and Boley to Small Town Conference in Starkville on Oct. 14-15
Approved travel of Mike Brasher to MS Rural Water Fall Conference in Batesville on Oct. 13-14
The Ackerman Board of Aldermen will hold its next meeting on October 6 at the Town Hall Boardroom.