‘Sick out’ enters third day with no end in sight

Published 6:05 pm Friday, October 4, 2019

Though the doors to Selma City Hall were unlocked Thursday and remained so Friday, many departments were still without employees as city workers entered the third day of what Selma Mayor Darrio Melton called a “sick out,” which was staged to demand higher wages, more employees and new equipment.

According to Melton, a number of city departments were still without employees Friday, including the Tax and License Department, the Public Works Department, the Landfill Department, the Recreation Department and the Building Inspector’s office.

The “sick out” comes only days after the Selma City Council voted to hold off on approving a budget for the new fiscal year, which started Tuesday, in order to resolve a handful of lingering questions related to Melton’s proposed budget.

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“The continuation of the budget [process] allows the city council to comply with the law and negotiate the budget with the mayor,” said Selma City Council President Corey Bowie. “The council has the employees and citizens in mind while [it is] working on the continuation of this budget.”

Bowie noted that the council has continually advocated for the 68 employees laid-off last year to return to work and the fact that Melton’s budget relies on at least two new revenue streams, one of which is a proposed gas tax hike, that have not been approved by the council and “from all indications” is opposed by residents.

Bowie also noted that Melton’s budget simply doesn’t add up.

“The Selma City Council is required by law to pass a balanced budget,” Bowie said. “Our projected revenue is approximately $17.5 million under our current tax structure. Currently, sales tax makes up $10 million and business licenses make up $3 million and property tax makes up $2 million and the remaining taxes comes from miscellaneous taxes. The mayor’s budget is $20 million…”

However, Melton asserts that there is more than enough money to fund an across-the-board pay raise for city workers.

“There was over $2 million real dollars saved in last year’s budget because of necessary decisions that were made by the executive level of government,” Melton said in an email. “Up to 50 percent of these funds can be used to increase all city employees’ wages and salaries.”

According to Melton, a 10 percent raise for all employees would cost less than $470,000 and a 25 percent increase, the highest that Melton calculated, would cost less than $1.8 million, both of which would be covered by the $2 million in savings that the mayor contends the city has on hand.

However, multiple council members are seeing the situation quite differently.

“This is a sad day in our city. For the mayor to orchestrate a ‘sick out’ with the department heads,” said Selma City Councilman Sam Randolph. “This is disheartening to our senior citizens who came to city hall to get an exemption for their garbage and couldn’t get in the building because the mayor locked the doors to city hall.”

Randolph’s assertion that local residents were unable to renew garbage exemptions is accurate – a handful of people showed up to city hall Wednesday to renew garbage exemptions, pay taxes and meet with the Building Inspector.

Ovetta Seay showed up at city hall Wednesday to renew her garbage exemption but was unable to enter the building – so far, she hasn’t returned to try again.

“It’s got me wondering if I’ve got to pay for my garbage, because I live on a fixed income,” Seay said. “To some people $20 is nothing, but to me it means something. I have to keep going down there because, even before the lockdown, they never answered the phone. It’s a headache not knowing.”

Likewise, Churchill Fluker ventured down to city hall Wednesday for the same reason and was told by a security guard working the front desk that he would be able to return Monday to resolve the issue.

Selma City Councilwoman Susan Youngblood, citing the claim made in an email by Public Works Department Director Steven Hendrieth that the “sick out” was staged in part because employees “need the break,” likewise blames Melton for the current impasse.

“The mayor cites fatigue of the workers caused by [the council] not passing his regressive and excessive gas tax as the reason,” Youngblood said. “I proffer that these employees are understaffed and overworked because the mayor laid-off the entire workforce as strictly punitive measures because we did not pass a gas tax and sales tax and create his own asphalt company.”

Youngblood stated that she can’t remember a time when she has been more disappointed.

“I really thought so much better of the mayor – of his character, of his love for Selma and, I suppose, of his abilities,” Youngblood said. “Most of all, I believed him to be a person of maturity, spirituality and integrity. He has certainly proven me wrong on every count.”

Similarly, Selma City Councilwoman Jannie Thomas believes the “sick out” is “a ploy staged by the mayor as a retaliatory measure for not passing his proposed budget” and took particular exception with the fact that the Tax and License office was closed, which she said is costing the city money at a time when the city receives most of its revenue.

“The council voted to continue with the previous year’s budget with the understanding that we would take our time to review and make the necessary changes for the current year’s budget by the end of the calendar year,” Thomas said. “This way we can ensure that we will best serve the needs of all the citizens of Selma.”

For his part, Melton continues to insist that the council is to blame for the current standoff – in a letter circulated Thursday, the mayor cites “poor leadership” as the reason why city employees walked off the job and insists that he is willing to work with the council to resolve the issue.

“I am willing to work together in order to transform decent plans into great plans,” Melton said in the letter. “We can hear each other out and find common ground so that the citizens of Selma come out victorious. Let’s be leaders and work together toward solutions for Selma instead of political bickering.”

Bowie, meanwhile, asserts that a path forward has to encompass all of the city’s needs, not some at the expense of others.

“It shouldn’t be an ‘either-or’ issue, just an ‘and’ – where we get all of our workers back that were laid off; that we promote a raise, if we can; and it’s important that we give all of the departments the tools to work with to make this city efficient,” Bowie said. “Everything should be inclusive to help this city.”