COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) — Despite a flood of calls from angry residents, Columbus Mayor Robert Smith says he doesn’t plan to veto the pay raise City Council members approved for themselves. Smith told WCBI Thursday morning that residents have suggested he veto the $4,000 a year — from $17,500 to $21,500 — raise approved on a 3-2 vote Tuesday night. He said the raise was a decision the council will have to live with. He said a veto would only make it more difficult for the sometimes divided council to work together on other pressing issues.
“I’ve got to work with these men and we’ve got a lot of important issues ahead of us,” Smith said. “If we start out divided, we’ll never get anywhere.”
When approached by some council members about the raise, Smith had suggested council members keep it to $20,000 a year. But some members wanted to take it to $22,000. One of the angriest groups may be city workers who’ve only had one raise in four years. Smith said it would be up to the council to try to find money in the city’s new budget this fall to fund a raise for workers. If Smith were to veto the raise, it would take four votes on the council to override his veto and it would have to come in a special meeting before the new council takes office July 1. Ward 4 Councilman Fred Stewart did not attend Tuesday’s meeting — it would have been his last — and would be the deciding vote on an override. It’s unclear how Stewart, who lost his seat to businessman Marty Turner, would vote.
Turner can’t vote because he doesn’t take office until July 1 and state law prevents him from approving a pay raise for himself, although technically the new raise applies to all five returning council members. The distinction is the raise was approved in their current term and applies to the new term. The issue almost didn’t come up because council members are fighting internally over who should be vice mayor. Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem covets the post currently held by Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin. Turner also wants the post, even though he is brand new. Neither Karriem, Turner or Gavin have the necessary votes and Smith is trying to broker a compromise.
Karriem has support from Ward 2’s Joseph Mickens but not Ward 1’s Gene Taylor because Taylor is upset that some Karriem supporters tried to get an opponent for Taylor in the May city elections. Turner’s only support is from himself. Some think that for public perception reasons and to satisfy the city’s white voters and taxpayers, the council, which has four black members and two white members, needs a white vice-mayor which would push the seat back to Gavin. But others say that shouldn’t matter and want Karriem, who has said he one day would like to run for mayor when Smith steps aside. The differences over that issue almost stopped enough support for the raise and kept it off the agenda but Karriem, Mickens and Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor agreed to the deal just before the meeting and asked that it be added to the agenda.