JONESTOWN — They are the people who bring you a clean drink of water and they are critical to any community.
Veteran wastewater operator Jim Luckett recently announced his retirement and Delta Utilities out of Tutwiler and Greenwood is currently handling those responsibilities in Jonestown. Longtime water superintendent Larry Wiley also announced his retirement last week and James Davis has taken his place on a contractual basis fixing and repairing pipelines. The council suspended water and sewer department head Lewarn “Killer” Flowers with pay for insubordination during the Monday, Feb. 3 monthly meeting.
An upcoming hearing will determine Flowers’ future working for the city. Davis is also handling Flowers’ duties.
“He’s going to be hired, effective immediately,” said Mayor Kenny Lester on Monday Feb. 10. “He’s under contract, effective now.”
Lester announced Luckett’s retirement during the Feb. 3 meeting and recommended hiring Delta Utilities. However, the council wanted to look at all other options, voted to hire Delta Utilities through the month of February and will revisit the matter during the March meeting.
A special meeting was scheduled for Feb. 10, but Lester was the only city official present. He reported several council members had the flu. He met with Delta Utilities owner Edward King.
“They work primarily in getting samples to make sure we are in regulation with MDEQ (Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality),” Lester said.
Lester proposed hiring Davis as an assistant to Wiley during the Feb. 3 meeting. Wiley announced his retirement later that week.
“The knowledge Mr. Larry has, you can’t find in a book,” said Lester. “He’s got years and years of on-hand knowledge a book isn’t going to teach us.”
Lester’s original plan was to groom a replacement now, so Davis could learn from Wiley.
“Please understand me, I’m not about trying to get rid of Mr. Larry at all, but I think he needs help now, so he can start training someone,” said Lester.
Those plans changed after Wiley announced his retirement.
Lester said he will recommend hiring Davis on a full-time basis to replace both Wiley and Flowers in March.
“I’m on a quick learning basis. We have no one to replace for this situation to happen,” said Lester this week. “The other guy, right now, he’s out on suspension, possibly termination.”
Flowers’ suspension came after Alderman Unta Wiley asked him about turning the water pump on three times during the Feb. 3 meeting.
“I left my keys at home,” Flowers replied.
Lester said he believed Flowers’ response was sarcastic.
When Lester recommended hiring Davis on Feb. 3, Alderwoman Josephine Brown-Cosby expressed concern. She felt if there were any funds for personnel, police officers should be hired.
“You can’t hire anybody,” said Brown-Cosby in response to Lester’s recommendation. “You have those two police officers out there that are supposed to come back before anybody else.”
Chief Rico Smith is the lone officer in the city department. Lester laid off officers Stephen James, who is currently the resource officer for the Coahoma County School District, and Byron Vaughan several months after taking office in 2017.
At the time, Lester said not having enough money was part of the reason, but he also did not want any officers working under Smith’s supervision. Lester has suspended Smith on multiple occasions since taking office.
In some of those cases, the city council voted to bring him back to work. Lester has also reduced Smith’s schedule to as low as 20 hours per week during his tenure as mayor.
Brown-Cosby said the city is not supposed to hire anybody else if there is a pending hire of an officer.
“I still say if we hire this guy and we don’t hire police officers, we could be in trouble,” Brown-Cosby said.
City attorney Derek Hopson provided insight into the situation.
“Unless you’ve got it in the minutes, you didn’t go through the process of identifying a mechanism for reducing all your people and saying this is your mechanism for rehire,” Hopson said.
“It’s in the minutes,” Brown-Cosby said in response.
Hopson said anything in the minutes is the town law.
“I don’t know what’s in the minutes,” he said.
Hopson said the legal process is on the Mississippi Municipal League website.
“From a political standpoint, I hear your question,” he said. “You fire people in a town small or you lay them off. Now you’re going to hire somebody else.”
Hopson said political questions are the council’s decision.
Jonestown resident Billy Martin, who was at the Feb. 3 council meeting, also attended a Coahoma County Board of Supervisors asking the Sheriff’s Office to provide “more routine patrol for individuals to give them more visual presence.”
“I think it’s necessary because of our economic state,” Martin said. “The town is unable to afford more police protection.”
Martin said he has spoken with Coahoma County Sheriff Charles Jones about the matter. He added Supervisors told him they would look into the matter and he plans to attend their next meeting.
“I’ve mentioned it to Sheriff Jones about having a satellite unit out here,” Martin said. “He said he would work with the city to do that.”