by Calvin Ishee, Associate Publisher

A Special Meeting was called by Pass Christian Mayor Jimmy Rafferty for Thursday, March 17, 2022 to deal with the upcoming departure of Community Development Director/Code Enforcement Officer Tom Duffy.

Duffy had recently submitted his resignation with an effective date of March 26, 2022.  This would’ve left the City without anyone to conduct building inspections or any code enforcement throughout the City.

As presented initially to the public at their March 15, 2022 meeting, the Board of Alderman voted down Mayor Rafferty’s request to lower Duffy’s work week from 40 to 30 hours, give him a 10% pay raise and allow him to keep his City benefits.

The vote was 2-3 against the proposal with Ward 1 Alderwoman Betty Sparkman and Alderman at Large Kenny Torgeson voting for the measure and Ward 2 Alderwoman Regina Charlot, Ward 3 Alderman Kirk Kimball and Ward 4 Alderman Victor Pickich voting against it.

According to Duffy, he didn’t initiate this action,  “Mayor Rafferty did.”

The Special Meeting Agenda called simply stated, “Consider authorizing Tom Duffy to continue to be employed in the Community Development Department beginning on March 26, 2022, for 30 hours per week at an annual rate of $40,788 with all employee benefits and with further understanding that he will also supervise Bill Spivey, City Planner.  The City will discontinue advertisement for the open position at this time.”

All members of the Board were present except for Ward 2 Alderwoman Regina Charlot.

Right off the bat Ward 3 Alderman Kirk Kimball came out against this measure by stating, “I’m in opposition to this and I’ll tell you why.  We’re not negotiating from a position of strength, I think there’s a lack of leadership on our part. Furthermore I’d like to say we have options, many options and I don’t think we were being proactive.”

Kimball added, “I feel like we’re being held over a barrel and I don’t like that,” outlining a number of potentially viable options in lieu of the proposal offered by Mayor Rafferty.

These options included hiring consultants or subcontractors on a temporary basis and Kimball mentioned previous Code Officer Gene Peralta; Gillott Constructions out of Gulfport, a local company who’s name was not provided. The Gazebo Gazette has since learned that it is West Coast Handyman, Carl Roscoe P.E. out of Gulfport and Baton Rouge,  Bill Carrigee from Carrigee Consulting has also expressed an interest according to Kimball.

The Ward 3 Alderman expressed one has reached out to Kermit Anthony from Wastewater Plant Service Company WPSCO out of Pass Christian as well as several other options, one of which was a volunteer.  He later noted that the rest of the Board as well as the Mayor previously knew about these options in advance of this meeting.

Alderman Kimball continued the dialogue by stating that he didn’t have a problem with Duffy and stated that Tom had done a “fine job” for the City.  But he also noted that this department needed to be built back up from the bottom to the top and that Duffy had already expressed an  interest in leaving the City and commented, “Anytime I’ve had an employee that wants to leave, you’re never going to get 100 from that employee.”

Finally Kimball conveyed, “We’re like a lost vessel at sea and we need to find our way back into port.  We need to find our strength, find our courage, have some leadership and think about what we’re getting ready to do.”

Pass Christian Alderman-at-Large Kenny Torgeson interjected by clearly stating, “this is not a permanent fix.  Pass Christian is in big trouble right now” due to the massive amount of construction going on in the City.  He added that he had talked to Tom Phares; Chair of the PC Planning Commission, stated that “we are desperate right now and that he couldn’t do it alone, we can’t stop progress!”

Ward 1 Alderwoman Betty Sparkman thanked Alderman Kimball for his efforts but stated that she wished he would’ve done so in consultation with the Executive Branch.  Alderman Kimball immediately retorted, “The Executive Branch cannot seem to make a damn decision on anything.  I apologize for saying that but it”s true.”

Mayor Rafferty used his gavel to declare that Alderman Kimball was “out of order.”  The first term mayor said, “I will continue to take the high road.”

After the meeting, Alderman Kimball explained that the reason for his outburst was due to his mounting frustration over the course of numerous one on one meetings with Mayor Rafferty’s and stated “the Mayor rarely, if ever makes a decision.”

The motion was approved 3 for, 1 against and one absent, Ward 3 Alderman Kimball was the only dissenting vote.

When asked why he changed his vote from no to yes, Alderman Pickich commented, “I have projects that need to be addressed asap for the benefit of the people before hurricane season.  That I need a code administrator for my citizens have suffered long enough.”

The implication is that in order to get direly needed work done in his ward, he had to agree on the motion to keep Duffy on a temporary basis. Alderman Pickich has already provided a comprehensive list of work projects to the Mayor for Ward 4; however, not much has been done in Ward 4 since this administration took office in July 2021.

Once the Board eventually voted to approve Mayor Rafferty’s proposal, “the dominoes began to fall.”  Long time Deputy City Clerk Dawn Sanders and City Planner Bill Spivey submitted their resignations.

Spivey’s resignation dated March 18, 2022 stated, “I resign effective immediately.  Do you honestly believe that I would believe anything the Mayor says after Dawn Sanders quit over what he was doing to me?  I have no use for liars and their games.”  The city planner concluded by saying, “Do not contact me for any reason. I have no interest in continuing any sort of relationship with the City of Pass Christian.”

In a letter released by the City on Tuesday, March 22, 2022, Dawn Sanders stated in part, “I have attempted to write this resignation letter several times but couldn’t find the words or the whys which led to my early departure. I respectfully ask the Board to ratify accepting my resignation effective Thursday, March 17, 2022. My work family helped me laugh through the hard times and always made me feel valued. Restructuring can be extremely positive and I would like to thank everyone for the opportunity to serve the City of Pass Christian and it’s residents.”

These resignations are in addition to resignations by Maria Mena, City Purchasing Officer, served for around 7 years; Marian Governor, City Clerk, served approximately 16 years; Marty Tiller, Harbor Master; and Tom Duffy, Community Development Director, since rehired on a temporary basis.

The only remaining employees still working in City Hall, other than the Water Department are City Attorney Malcolm Jones and Jenny Lowery, Code Enforcement Office Office Administrator.

Other resignations include Donald Moore and Adam Pace from the Pass Christian Civil Service Commission.

Although the Mayor and Board of Alderman were given an opportunity to comment about the mass exodus of city employees, not one response was provided to The Gazebo Gazette.

Further updates will be provided as they arise.