JONESTOWN—As Vivian Burnett was sworn in as the new mayor of Jonestown during Tuesday night’s city council meeting, controversy took place about the former mayor’s severance pay.
Former mayor Kenny Lester, who was forced to resign after pleading guilty in Coahoma County Circuit Court on four counts of embezzlement in July, spoke at the meeting about the issue.
Lester said the council unanimously voted to give him $3,200 in severance pay, but later reversed its decision. Unta Wiley was the lone alderman who did not vote to reverse the decision.
“After we signed the contract, they came back and said they’re not going to honor the contract of pay — all but Alderman Wiley,” said Lester, adding he was supposed to receive the pay following the day of his resignation.
Alderman Gregory Neely Sr., who served as acting mayor following Lester’s resignation and before Burnett took office, said the town was not legally permitted to pay Lester the $3,200.
Neely Sr. cited Article 4, Section 96 of the Mississippi Constitution that reads, “Extra compensation and unauthorized payments prohibited.”
Neely Sr. said part of the agreement was Lester had to return all assets, but kept a gun and three different weed eaters.
“Then, there’s the opinion from the attorney general’s office saying you can’t give extra compensation unless it’s a contract,” Neely Sr. said.
Neely Sr. also said while Lester signed the agreement to receive $3,200, no one who works for the city of Jonestown signed it.
“He’s the only somebody who signed it,” Neely Sr. said.
Lester said he never had the town’s weed eaters. Even though he pleaded guilty for taking a firearm, he said he was set up.
“If there was a walk-through and we checked up on the walk-through, then why wasn’t it brought up then?” Lester said.
The council also voted to hire police officers Stephen James and Eddie Earl during the meeting. James was one of the two police officers laid off shortly after Lester’s tenure as mayor began.