The Mississippi Ethics Commission issued a preliminary ruling on an ethics complaint filed by Newton County Appeal Publisher Brent Maze regarding the Newton Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s decision to raise the city capital improvement fee in executive session.
According to its ruling released Friday, it was recommended that the commission find that the board’s action of raising the capital improvement fee from $3.05 to $8.05 during a private session violated the Open Meetings Act.
“[W]hile the board did not violate the Open Meetings Act when its members discussed personnel matters in executive session at its June 16, 2020 meeting, it did violate the Act when it voted in executive session to increase the capital improvement fee,” the ruling stated.
Because this action is being ruled that it was illegal, the board should rescind its action during the July 16, 2020, executive session and refund citizens the $5 increase plus any late charges that were incurred during the months of August and September.
If the mayor and aldermen still feel like the capital improvement fee is needed, then that vote should occur in open session following the vote to rescind the previous action.
We realize that this will have a huge negative impact on the city’s budget, but we feel that the citizens of Newton should not have to pay for the board’s illegal action. Once the action is done legally and in the open, then the citizens would be obligated to pay the fee increase.
If the mayor and aldermen do not wish the bottom line of the city to be impacted, then the board should consider donating their paychecks back to the city to cover the cost of their illegal action.
We understand that raising the capital improvement fee might be the best move for the City of Newton so that city services are not cut. However, there is a proper way to do it — in open session.
We encourage the mayor and aldermen to do the right thing: rescind the vote that occurred illegally and make this right for the citizens you represent.