City Manager addresses allegations during council meeting

Picayune City Manager Jim Luke took the podium near the end of last night’s council meeting to respond to recent allegations pertaining to the taping of phone conversations.

Luke stated that he had been asked by councilman Wayne Gouguet at the prior meeting of the council that if at any time during his time in position of City Manager had he recorded private conversations between himself and any member of the council? Luke went on to read aloud an account of the allegations and statements pertaining to councilman Wayne Gouguet and councilperson Tammy Valente in regards to those allegations.

During his address, Luke stated, “Here’s the facts. I recorded no one. I recorded none of these great folks up here (referring to the council) that I’ve served over the last seven and one half years, not one time. I recorded no one, I didn’t tape anybody, I don’t have a tape.”

Luke said there was “a person in the room that requested tapes through the Freedom of Information Act” and Luke stated “there are no tapes because I’ve not taped anyone”.

Luke said there was an agenda item that was to be put on the agenda for the previous council meeting that he and his staff felt would cause a division in the city. Luke stated that he did want to tape Valente and does not apologize for it. Luke added that he did not trust her on a business level and he did not trust her on a personal level.

He added, “All my dealings with her, my perception is I can’t trust that individual.”

The background for Luke’s addresses comes from a recording that councilperson Valente released that was in the form of a voice mail on her cell phone that was left while Luke was trying to call Valente. During that attempt to call her, the audio recording indicates that he is in conversation with City Clerk Amber Hinton and he tells Hinton “I just want to keep it for a matter of record that you and I had this conversation.” Hinton responded, “What are we asking her?” and Luke replies, “We ain’t asking nothing, we telling.”

After Hinton leaves the area and returns, Luke stated, “I’m not recording her for anything that’s not to her benefit, I’m recording to protect me and you. I want to share with her what I think this is going to do.”

Later in the recorded voicemail, Hinton and Luke contacted councilman Gouguet and his conversation with them is on the recording until the recording times out at approximately three minutes.

In closing his address to the council, Luke stated he loved this city and he loved the individuals on the council.

Also during the meeting, Brooks Wallace of Dungan Engineering, representing the City Engineer’s Department, gave the council on update on three projects.

Wallace stated that the city received one bid for the work needed to repair Street A and B in the industrial park. The bid was received from Huey P. Stockstill in the amount of $251,971.55. Dungan said the bid was slightly higher than his estimate, but well within the budget for the project. The council approved the request to award the work based on the bid.

Brooks Wallace provides copies of bids to council

Wallace said the city received bids for the Airport Taxiway Project and he recommended the council take the bids under advisement until the grant for funding from the FAA can be submitted. The lowest of the two bids received for the project was $842,000.00. Wallace said both bids were over his estimates, but he felt they were reasonable. He said the way the FAA grants money for this work is structured so that you submit your application based on bids and they make the grant award after your receive your bids. This grant program will be funded by 90 percent federal, 5 percent state, and the city will responsible for the other 5 percent of the funding.

The city also received bids for the Highway 11 Utility Relocation of water, sewer, and gas and took them under advisement per Wallace’s recommendation. Wallace said the city received four bids and the lowest bid was in the amount of $1.91 million, but that bid was irregular due to the contractor not submitting all the needed paperwork with their bid.

Wallace said the city is looking at an expenditure of about $690,000.00 with the cost share in place with MDOT. Wallace and City Clerk Amber Hinton stated that the money has been in the budget for the past few years in anticipation of this work being funded by MDOT with their share. Wallace said if the city had 800 fewer people, MDOT would pay the entire cost of the project. The population threshold is 10,000 and the city is at around 10,800 in population.

Wallace stated that between now (current meeting) and the next meeting, the city needs to get a commitment in writing or a meeting from MDOT that this project is going to be funded before the city commits money and begins work on the relocation of the utilities.

City Manager Luke added, “We want it in writing.”

Wallace stated that one of his concerns is MDOT not commencing their work in a timeframe after the city invest approximately $2 million to have the utilities relocated and the project not being completed for years.

Councilman Gouguet ask City Manager Luke about his recent meeting with Commissioner Tom King and Luke stated that he was told that MDOT was onboard and waiting on the city.

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