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Council Member Kevin Kelly takes the oath of office with his wife Nicole Kelly Thursday, July 1, 2021.

New councilman touts common goal of diverse group of city officials

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One of Laurel’s new City Council members took a moment to thank his fellow public officials for showing that people of different persuasions and political parties can work together for a common goal.

“Looking at things that are going on in cities across the nation … I’m proud that we can all find a way to work together,” Councilman Kevin Kelly said, noting that the seven-member council is made up of Republicans and Democrats, blacks and whites, men and women. 

Kelly, a white Republican from Ward 2, was sworn into office in June along with fellow newcomers Andrea Ellis (Ward 5) and Shirley Keys-Jordan (Ward 7), both of whom are black Democrats. They joined incumbents Jason Capers (Ward 1, Independent, white), Tony Thaxton (Ward 3, Republican, white), George Carmichael (Ward 4, Democrat, black) and Grace Amos (Ward 6, Democrat, black). Third-term Mayor Johnny Magee is also a black Democrat.

“Individually, we may not agree on everything, but as a whole, we try to do what’s best for the city, and I think that’s because we actually believe in what we’re doing,” Kelly said. “We all want good things to happen for our city. It’s not just one race or one party. It’s comforting to know that we have people who will work together to make things better for everybody.”

One of the things the council did to make things better for all residents was to authorize the refinancing of $4 million in bonds, which is expected to save the city more than $100,000. Troy Johnsnton of Butler-Snow law firm in Ridgeland explained the intricacies of the process and the reasons for the timing to refinance the two $2 million bonds from 2012 and 2013.

But Council President Tony Thaxton summarized his explanation by saying, “We’re doing it to save money.”

The city got an interest rate of 1.29 percent, thanks to its A-pus bond rating, and the total savings will be between $108,000 to $112,000, City Clerk Mary Ann Hess said.

The council also heard from Joseph Cole of Mississippi Power Company, whose Leadership Jones County team’s project is to “revive the lights in Mason Park.” One of the needs to help facilitate that goal is the construction of a storage facility in or near the park. Cole’s team is proposing that one be added to the amphitheater.

“We’re just asking for your support … no need for funds,” Cole said.

That presentation came during the Citizens’ Forum, which is not a give-and-take between the council and the residents, so no official approval was given. 

“That sounds like a worthwhile project,” Thaxton said. “Thank you!”

Rev. Matt Olson made a similar presentation to the council at the first meeting of the month and said his team will present a project plan.

SouthGroup will continue to provide insurance for the city property and equipment at an annual rate of $335,513. That’s an increase, company president Brad Kent said, that’s reflective of current market trends.

“It’s driven by what’s happening nationally with losses,” Kent told the council.

Thaxton said he appreciated the local company and noted it was the only one to submit a bid. The council approved unanimously.

In other business, the city entered into an agreement with Slaughter & Associates to redistrict the city, as required by law after each Census to maintain “proper representation for its seven city wards and council positions,” according to the agreement. The cost will be $8,000 to $12,000 and is in the budget for fiscal year 2022.

Council members also authorized a payment of $9,080 to the Jones County Chancery Clerk Bart Gavin. His office was paid at a rate of $10 per parcel sold, as part of an interlocal agreement, for work done researching land records and notifying owners and lien-holders of 908 parcels of land that were sold for county and school taxes in 2019 after the sales came to maturity in 2021.

The council also unanimously accepted a donation valued at $30,000 from new public works company H2O, which is paving an area of the Public Works Department on Moose Drive. 

The council also OK’d travel and training for Deputy City Clerk Kristal Jones to attend the annual Mississippi Municipal Clerks and Collectors Association Winter Conference in Flowood next month at an estimated cost of $750.

Council members unanimously agreed to let the Parks and Recreation Department clean two properties that have been deemed by the Inspection Department as a menace to the public health and safety and bill the property owners for the work. Those properties are 604 West 24th St. (Madeline Mitchell) and 1419 North 3rd Ave. (Douglas Beech Estate). 

Overgrown properties like the latter are “a magnet for crime … and all kinds of activities,” said Councilman George Carmichael, who has organized a cleanup effort in Ward 4.

“We have problems with chickens,” he said, noting that “special exceptions” have allowed for some residents to set up coops at their home in the past. “They smell, they attract rodents and they’re causing problems in my area.”

Council members approved 10 lot-cleaning assessments ranging from $120 to $435. Those properties are included in an expanded version of this story at leader-call.com.

The council set a public hearing for Dec. 21 for the owners of the following properties that have been deemed by the Inspection Department as a menace to the public health and safety:

• 2103 Center Ave., Romas McLain;

• 1709 South 11th Ave., Cardinal Management Group LLC;

• 1221 Lucas St., Willie Seals Jr. et al;

• 910 South 8th Ave., Andrew Pruitt;

• 608 East 10th St., Clara Moss;

• 841 Masonite Dr., HL&C Jones;

• 1912 North 3rd Ave., Boaz Tax Sale Properties LLC;

• 111 Bay St., Same Corriere Est./John Corriere;

• 718 East 12tj St., Eloise Rankin/Cindy Miller;

• Overgrown lot west of 523 East 14th St., Omeria Scott;

• 707 East Elmo St., Omeria Scott;

• 614 Miss. Ave., Glen and Efelyn Bolden;

• 722 East Elmo St., Michael Roberts et al/Steven Roberts;

• Overgrown lot west of 1019 East Elmo St., Keys Memorial Church of God in Christ;

• 706 East 9th St., Billy Turner;

• 704 Herbert Ave., West Family Leasing Co.;

• 607 Miss. Ave., Audrey and Catherine Walker;

• Overgrown lot southeast of 103 Walters Ave., U&L Properties LLC;

• 613 East 14th St., Sam Simmons Estate/Joyce Simmons

At the first meeting this month, public hearings were set for Dec. 7 for the owners of the following properties:

• 824 South 6th Ave., Kale Farms LLC;

• 857 North 7th Ave., Charles Smith;

• Overgrown lot east of 411 East 4th St., Michael Lester;

• 2416 North 1st Ave., Marie Asmar Estate;

• 1603 North Joe Wheeler Ave., Strong Faith Outreach Ministry

Eleven lot-cleaning assessments ranging from $97.50 to $235 were approved.

The council also OK’d the cleaning of 119 North Maple St. (Long Land Investments Inc.) and granted a two-week extension to Eric Asmar for the cleaning of property owned by his father at 107 South Walters Ave.

Also in that meeting, the council unanimously agreed to grant one-year special exceptions for businesses to operate in areas that are not zoned for them:

• A tire-repair shop and car dealership at 3371 Ellisville Blvd. owned by Marie Esteban;

• A hair salon and spa at 1104 West 1st St. owned by M.D. Outdoor LLC;

• A towing service at 510 Cross St. operated by Lemuel Harrison.

Council members Amos and Ellis were not present for that meeting.

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