Wednesday, November 2, 2005
At the Jackson City Council's Oct. 31 work session, council members voted to hire Jimmy Heidel as a consultant and limited liability corporation—rather than as an employee—to direct the city's economic development effort. Heidel is very qualified for the position, having been the state's economic development chief, as well as executive director of the Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce.
Heidel's requested payment of $150,000 a year has raised some eyebrows, especially in a time when the city administration is cutting other jobs such as less-than-$30,000-a-year crime prevention specialists.
"The justification is in the production," Heidel told The Clarion-Ledger recently. "Given the chance, I will be able to produce."
Council members questioned Mayor Frank Melton and City Attorney Sarah O'Reilly-Evans about the legality of hiring Heidel as a consultant rather than a regular employee.
"I have questions whether we can legally do the hiring because the order didn't say Jimmy Heidel, it said Jimmy Heidel Consultants LLC. And I'm just not sure we can hire a consulting firm to direct a department," said Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett Simon, questioning whether a private company should be given authority to hire and fire city employees.
After only a few minutes of discussion, however, Councilman Ben Allen called the question and brought the issue to a vote. The motion passed by three to two, with one abstention. Council members Charles Tillman, Frank Bluntson and Allen voted in support, while Leslie McLemore and Barrett Simon voted against. Kenneth Stokes was absent, and Council President Marshand Crisler abstained.
After the vote, Simon continued to protest. "You could have had a unanimous vote on this if you'd addressed our concerns," Simon told the mayor.
"It's nothing against you, sir," McLemore said to Heidel. "I just think handling it this way is illegal."
Melton promised to bring the issue before the Council again, with changes that he hoped would satisfy opponents. "We will bring it to your comfort level," he said to Simon.
The next day, during the Nov. 1 council meeting, council members were presented with a new contract removing Heidel's ability to hire and fire city employees. Crisler said he approved the new contract.
Heidel said he intends to pull development into the city through private investment.
"We don't have any marketing materials whatsoever on our Web site. Corporate America goes to the Internet with a wish list on what they're looking for, and they eliminate cities that don't provide information," Heidel said, adding that he wanted to make business investment easier by "cutting through red tape."
"Some projects that I'm talking to people about have been hanging around for two years, and they've never gotten through the bureaucracy of the city. This should take 30 days, not two years," Heidel said.