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Aldermen backtrack on term limits

Facing backlash, the Corinth Board of Mayor and Aldermen reversed course Friday on the idea of term limits for appointed boards and commissions.

In a special meeting, the board unanimously voted to rescind a motion passed Tuesday evening in a 4-2 vote that imposed term limits. It was proposed by the new Ward 1 alderman, Chris Wilson, who sought to bring some fresh faces to 11 boards and commissions that include city appointees by limiting most boards to two consecutive terms. At the close of Friday's meeting, he said he hopes the discussion can still continue.

Earlier in the week, Wilson told the Daily Corinthian he believes term limits would be a good way to "get some fresh ideas and give different people a chance to serve the community." He said he has been approached by a number of individuals who are willing to serve. He is interested in publicizing openings on the boards and soliciting résumés.

Not everyone was sold on the idea of term limits when it passed Tuesday evening.

"I want to make sure we have the control to keep the boards as diversified as they need to be and to put the most qualified people on there," said Ward 2 Alderman Ben Albarracin, who voted "no" with Ward 5 Alderman Michael McFall.

"I don't see anything wrong with the way our board appointments go," said McFall.

After Tuesday's split vote, Mayor Tommy Irwin said he would have preferred to see the board in full agreement before making a change to the process.

This is how the change would have worked: The majority of the board appointments are for five years, and those would have been limited to two terms. The tourism board has four-year appointments, and those would also be limited to two terms. The preservation commission has three-year terms, and those would have been limited to three terms.

"Once they roll off a board, they are immediately eligible to be on any other board we've got," said Wilson. "After being off one term, they are then eligible to be back on the same board again."

The new rule would have applied retroactively, so some longer-serving board members would have been in line to be replaced upon completion of their current terms.

The new rule would not have affected joint appointees made with the county or those solely made by the Alcorn County Board of Supervisors.

A crowd attended Friday's meeting to voice opposition to term limits for appointees. John D. Mercier cited Clifford Worsham and his several decades of service on the Corinth Public Utilities Commission as an example of why there should not be limits.

"He started sounding the drum for surface water in the mid 70's," said Mercier. "Had he been term limited out, I do not believe that we would have had a consistent direction towards surface water, and we would have ended up like our sister city, Tupelo, in a crisis situation."

Worsham's vision for surface water "has put us in an amazing situation for economic development and to serve Burnsville and our citizens without an undue financial burden," said Mercier.

Jimmy Fisher talked about serving on the city school board during a time of transition with many construction projects.

"We relied heavily on experience during that period of time," he said.

Corinth Housing Authority Executive Director Dianne Timbes said there is too much at stake not to have some experience on the board.

"I put a lot of time and training into my board " It takes about two to three years to even understand what we do, it's so massive and with all the changes," she said.

The aldermen make appointments to boards and commissions for the hospital, airport, park, library, tourism office, Corinth School District, Corinth Public Utilities Commission, planning commission and board of adjustments, Corinth Housing Authority, Corinth Historic Preservation Commission, and the Siege and Battle of Corinth Commission.

Ward 3 Aldermen Chip Wood, who voted in favor of making the change on Tuesday, said he had talked to citizens prior to the vote and does not have a strong feeling either way on the issue. He said he does like that it would bring new names to the table.

On Friday, Wood said he wished the item had made it onto the printed agenda as an item of business before the board acted on it, because the board probably would have received more feedback and made a better decision.

"We made a mistake and we're going to move on," he said.