by Calvin Ishee

At Tuesday’s Board of Alderman (BOA) meeting, the board was forced to make an extremely quick decision on which Pass Christian CSX railroad crossing to close in support of the Beatline Road Parkway Project. Cindy Lamb, Manager of Client Relations, Pickering Firm, told the board that based on conversations with her Washington D.C. contacts, that in order to get the project approved, it would be beneficial to get CSX support. In order to gain CSX’s vital support, both Long Beach and Pass Christian would need to give up a road with a railroad crossing.

Lamb further stated that a decision would need to be made at Tuesdays PC BOA meeting in order to meet Wednesday’s deadline of 9:30 a.m.

“If you really want to put icing on the cake, get CSX to approve it,” said Lamb.  “I worked through the CSX maze and found the right people to talk to. They love the project but in order to gain their support for a new railroad crossing on Beatline Road, Pass Christian and Long Beach must each give up one railroad crossing.” She added “We’ve given them everything we have, it’s a commitment.”

Although Mayor Leo “Chipper” McDermott and members of the board expressed their dismay at the short time frame given to make such a major decision, all five board members jumped in with both feet to make this momentous decision. Based on a site visit by the Mayor, Police Chief Daren Freeman as well as Fire Chief Dwight Gordon of all 17 railroad crossings, they recommended the board consider closing one of the following railroad crossings: Market Street, Clarence Ave, St. Paul Ave, Courtenay Ave, Magnolia Ave, Seal Ave and Hiern Ave.

Following this arrangement, Pass Christian Mayor McDermott sought multiple rounds of input from each board member which led to a lengthy, passionate and robust discussion. Several board members went full circle with their opinions on this matter and appeared a challenge  to keep track of the ever changing landscape with respect to who was for what.

In the end, the board voted 4-1 to offer up the Clarence Ave railroad crossing for possible closure. The only dissenting vote came from Ward 3 Alderman Anthony Hall who was vehement that the Market Street railroad crossing should be closed. To hear comments offered up by your representative, visit the Pass Christian City web page.

The Board also tackled the issue of whether or not to fund hazard pay for law enforcement officers working during the “2020 COVID 19 Crisis”. Ward 2 Alderwoman Regina Charlot wasted no time in declaring her opposition to the proposal. Charlot stated, “I’m not in favor of this motion.  I don’t think we’re in a hot spot in Pass Christian. I think people are off work and maybe they should be brought back in. I don’t think this is feasible for our budget. Let’s get our workers back to work. At this time I don’t see it. I’m not for it at this time.”

With the exception of Alderman Hall, the rest of the Board wholeheartedly supported Alderwoman Charlot’s position. At Large Kenny Torgeson stated, “I agree with Regina completely, if they get sick we’ll help them. Not a supporter at all”.  Ward 1 Alderman Buddy Clarke commented, “The State advised against this. I don’t see how you can do this for just one group of people. I’m not for this”.  Ward 4 Alderman Victor Pickich added, “I agree with Regina. If this is going to put us in a financial burden, then we shouldn’t do it. I don’t see a reason to open the check book right now”.

The board voted 4-1 against paying law enforcement officers hazard pay with Alderman Hall again being the only dissenting vote.   

Additionally, the city obtained input from the Mississippi State Auditors Office whereby they recommended that the city not provide hazard pay to city employees. Other cities throughout the coast and state are not offering hazard pay.

In other issues, the board unanimously voted to support the COVID 19 Executive Order signed by Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves via local emergency Proclamation; approved $15,000 for COVID 19 related emergency supplies and proclaimed May 2020 as Motorcycle Awareness month in Pass Christian.

In Public Comments, the mayor made an urgent plea for folks, especially Pass Christian residents to support local businesses. He said, “If you need to buy something, buy it here in town. Small businesses haven’t received federal assistance so it’s imperative that we spend money in our town.  He followed up by saying that “we need to open our tennis courts and our parks” and that he believes that the Governor may start relaxing restrictions as early as next week.

Alderman Hall thanked all City employees “for doing what you do to keep the City running”.

Alderwoman Charlot encouraged all residents to get out and help keep our City clean, “if you see some trash, pick it up”.  In fact, she’s leading by example by organizing a neighborhood work group to help keep her ward clean.