By Bonnie Culverhouse
With a great lack of fanfare, the Minden City Council voted unanimously in favor of the city’s 2021-2022 operating budget at Monday’s meeting. It was the sixth time the budget has come before the council. The other five times, it always failed 3 votes to 2.
Compromise between the mayor and councilpersons representing Districts A, B and C aided the process, according to District A Councilman Wayne Edwards.
Three areas of concern were addressed by Edwards and the mayor in meetings last week that may have led to the passing of the budget.
One was keeping the council more informed.
“We are working on improved communication between the council and the mayor, so we are all basically on the same team,” Edwards said.
Including council members in the hiring and pay negotiations of key employees was the second issue.
“We want the council to be involved in any raise above what’s written in the employee manual,” he continued.
The pay increase of the Human Resources Manager was last on the list.
“We sat down and talked and agreed on 6 percent instead of 10 percent,” Edwards said. “I just want that to be part of the record. We are under a city charter, and it’s part of the city charter that we are council strong. That means the vote here is extremely important as to what we do. We take this responsibility extremely seriously.”
While HR Manager April Aguilar readily agreed to the raise compromise, there was one casualty.
Economic Development Director Phillip Smart turned in his resignation at the council meeting. Smart was promised and received a raise when he met certain criteria toward bringing new businesses to Minden. However, when the raise was inserted in the next year’s budget, some city council members were unhappy.
“I’ve had emails and phone calls from people saying I’m holding up the budget and it’s because of me,” Smart said in a previous interview. “Not only that, but it puts my family in a weird position. My wife hears it about it all the time.
“I heard my name and my title mentioned at the last council meeting more than 30 times,” he continued, adding he is now on anxiety medication.
Smart’s decision to leave Minden takes him to the same position for the City of Ruston.
“I’ll still be a citizen of Minden,” Smart said. “I’ll still live here. My kids go to school here, and I’ll be running for school board next year.”
He says he has no plans to sue the city.
“At the end of the day, it would be the tax payers who would be responsible if I sued the city,” he said. “I care for the city and its citizens that I’m not willing to do that. Even though the benefit would be directly for me, it indirectly hurts the citizens of Minden.”
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