Tuesday’s city council meeting opened with council members voting to approve past minutes, future agendas, and a request to buy back a small number of cemetery plots from a resident who no longer needs them.
Notably, the council also approved dates for the Picayune Street Festival for April 7th and 8th.
After acting on zoning requests, the council heard from Christy Goss asking for permission to apply become a Keep America Beautiful affiliate, which would open up opportunities for grants and also provide assistance in promoting city clean-up efforts. The council approved the request.
Jonathan Hickman of Dungan Engineering gave an update on a city project underway at the airport. The city is beginning the bidding and construction phase of a larger taxi-way that will be able to handle larger plans. The city has already been pre-approved for a grant that will fund the majority of the estimated $600,000.00 project.
The somewhat tame meeting became quickly heated toward the end of the meeting when two previous proposals were reintroduced to the council: one measure for a fence around the 8th street cemetery and another proposal to make new electrical, lighting, and plumbing improvements to J.P. Johnson and Leola Jordan parks. The fence issue was the first to be voted on and the council voted no by a 4-2 vote. Mayor Ed Pinero, council members Wayne Gouguet, Janice Miller-Stevens, and Tammy Valente voted no, while council members Lyn Bogan Bumpers and Larry Breland voted yes.
Council members Wayne Gouguet and Lyn Bogan Bumpers
After receiving the decision, Councilman Larry Breland was very disgruntled, citing that the motion was unfair given that the city made upgrades to the Palestine cemetery. He protested, “Why is this council opposed to this being done when the money is there, and in 2013 we did this for a segregated cemetery outside the city limits?”
“Segregated cemetery?” Councilman Wayne Gouget interjected, “we don’t have any segregated cemeteries.”
Councilman Breland (pictured left)insisted that at the time of the improvements, it was a “segregated cemetery outside the city limits,” and failure to place fencing on 8th street demonstrates a clear double-standard.
Mayor Ed Pinero, who was present via phone, gave a firm response to the rhetoric used by Councilman Breland.
“There is no segregated cemetery, and that’s an insult to everybody sitting here!” Pinero protested. “We’re working very hard to put together a plan for what’s best for everybody in the city,” he said. “I’m insulted by your opinion. Absolutely insulted!”
Councilwoman Tammy Valente, who was also present via phone asked some questions about the previous Palestine improvements. City Clerk Amber Hinton clarified that the money was not spent on improvements to an old cemetery but an expansion to create new space.
Councilman Wayne Gouget reiterated the point stating, “The 8th Street Cemetery and Old Palestine Cemetery are close to capacity, and those two are going to be shut down. That’s why we expanded to across the street to the New Palestine Cemetery where everybody is going to be buried.”
After failing to pass both measures, the council agreed to continue the discussion on both topics in executive session immediately following the adjournment of the meeting.