Meridian Star

Local News

February 21, 2014

Mayor's transition team lists needs in city

MERIDIAN —     A report from Mayor Percy Bland's transition team suggests some changes in the way city departments operate as well as how city and county officials interact.

    Upon taking office in July, Bland immediately assembled a transition team that worked for months developing a report called "The Meridian Blueprint."

    Team members were divided into five groups: finance, education and community development; public safety, infrastructure, and city/county partnerships.

    A copy of the report provided by Bland reveals several areas of improvement and includes suggestions for holding misdemeanor inmates at the Meridian Law Enforcement Center — a subject of discussion at Tuesday's city council meeting. The facility, which opened in June 2013, has holding cells that will hold up to 20 inmates.

    According to the transition team's report, an apparent misunderstanding about insurance initially led them to believe that the cells could only be used to hold an inmate for up to 12 hours.

    "But no insurance provision has been found to substantiate that claim," the report stated.

    City officials are pushing to use the city's holding cells for misdemeanor prisoners to save the $38 a day it has to pay for each prisoner housed in the county jail.

    Earlier this week, Chief of Police James Lee said he is in the process of getting things into place for the training and hiring of up to 10 part-time jailers, but he will have to move about $200,000 from within his budget to do so because it was not in his budget.

    Bland said on Thursday that Lee originally had it in his budget, but the final budget that was approved did not include money for training and paying jailers.

    "There were some adjustments made at the very end," Bland said. "When he got his actual budget back, it was not there."

    The transition team's report also voiced concerns about the city's responsibility for the upkeep of Highland Park, once the county's pledged work on it is finished.

    Highland is a city park and is included in the county's  controversial $14 million bond issue that is currently tied up in legal proceedings at the Mississippi Supreme Court.

    The report acknowledges that the Bland administration has been in discussions with county officials about the project, but suggests that the city make sure it is part of the decision-making process.

    "We suggest that the city continues to be involved in the planning and construction of the facility so that the needs of the citizens  are best met and so that it is constructed in such a way that the city can pay the ongoing costs of operation and maintenance for the facility," the report stated.

    Bland said he is happy with the county's design and plans for Highland Park; and he has been in talks with county officials about it.

    "We think that's going to be a great addition to what we have going on in parks and recreation," Bland said.

    Bland said the report is a list of suggestions, and is not a mandate.

    "It is a starting point to look at what a lot of people said to make a lot of improvements," Bland said. "I think that again, we as a city need to continue to seek ways to become more competitive, making sure Meridian is being talked about as a place where people want to live and where businesses want to operate. We are positioning Meridian to build and enhance opportunities."

    Bland's next priority for the city is to restore public transportation. The city is in talks with the Mississippi Department of Transportation and Choctaw Transit.

    "I'm going to take a lead role in closing that out and presenting something to the city council," Bland said.

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