For the second time in two weeks the Indianola Concerned Citizen’s group has been denied free use of city-owned buildings to conduct their monthly meetings.
The vote was 2 to 2, with Mayor Steve Rosenthal casting the deciding no vote, after Rosenthal asked Aldermen Marvin Elder to recuse himself because of his membership and involvement with the organization.
Group president Barbara McDaniel-Suggs said the group wanted to come before the board again because when they appeared at the Feb. 26 meeting they were not prepared to make a presentation because they were unaware that they were on the agenda.
The group wanted an opportunity to address some of the questions raised by the aldermen regarding the nature of the organization.
She presented documents to the city lawmakers that supported her claim the group is a community citizens’ organization that was organized to address issues of community concern.
“Everything that we have done, we have stated that we are a community group, even though The Enterprise-Tocsin misquoted us and took it out of context that we were a political organization.”
McDaniel-Suggs alleged that they have addressed some political concerns, but that does not make them a political organization.
“It made us a community group concerned about political issues,” she said.
However Rosenthal played a recording from the February meeting that confirmed that McDaniel-Suggs prefaced her remarks by saying the group was a political organization. In the recording, McDaniel-Suggs was heard saying, “we are political. We are also concerned about educational issues,” before Rosenthal ended the audio.
Throughout the proceedings, McDaniel-Suggs consistently maintained that the organization was not political.
At one point, Rosenthal addressed the aldermen, “I believe we said that if they were political then they do not qualify under civic.”
Turning his attention to the group, Rosenthal continued, “we also discussed the fact that y’all were political during the last election and if you look at your own website, not every candidate was allowed on there.”
McDaniel-Suggs replied, “how do you know they were not allowed?”
Rosenthal told her it was because he was not allowed on there.
“Did you ask?” inquired McDaniel-Suggs.
Rosenthal said that he had and said he could show proof that he made the request, but McDaniel-Suggs contested his assertion.
After a brief exchange McDaniel-Suggs stated emphatically, “no, there is not a request from you. I can assure you of that.”
Rosenthal then asked what other candidates were on the site and she said any candidate that asked to be on their site was allowed.
To further validate her request, McDaniel-Suggs also presented a copy of the city’s policy, dated May 12, 2014, regarding rentals of the Bethune Center and the Boy Scout Hut.
According to what she read, the policy provides for a fee-free rental of the buildings to civic, charitable or educational groups between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday excluding holidays, if it is not being used by anyone else.
The policy also provides for rental Fridays through Sundays for a fee.
She voiced a statement allegedly made by Rosenthal during the city officials’ swearing-in ceremony in January whereby he called for putting aside differences and working together for the betterment of the city.
Noting issues with crime, school safety, litter and other things, McDaniel-Suggs stated, “the city of Indianola needs all of the help that we can get. We need to clean the city and bring back pride in our neighborhoods.”
And again, she made a formal request for the organization to use one of the city’s buildings rent-free.
Rosenthal promptly asked for City Attorney Gary Austin’s opinion on the matter.
“My view is she’s not registered in the state of Mississippi as a non-profit entity,” Austin said.
McDaniel-Suggs then asked if not being registered would prevent the free use of the facility and Austin replied, “if you claim to be a non-profit organization, and you’re not registered with the secretary of state, then you’re not actually an organization.”
Alderman Ruben Woods spoke up to say that there was no mention of an organization needing to be a non-profit in the policy.
Alderman Elder attempted to raise a point but was told by Rosenthal that he needed to recuse himself, because he was a member of the organization. Elder said that Rosenthal was a member of the organization as well, and that he was present when it was established.
“I am not a member of the Concerned Citizens. I was not allowed,” Rosenthal said. “I requested to be, on their Facebook page, but I was denied, I’m not a member, I would hope to be one.”
McDaniel-Suggs attempted to make a statement about how hurt and embarrassed she is by the division she sees in the city, but Rosenthal interrupted her with a gavel bang.
He then called for a motion and Woods made the motion to allow them to use the building for free, and Alderman Sam Brock seconded and after a brief discussion and a clarification, the vote was taken.
Woods and Brock voted yes, aldermen Darrell Simpson and Gary Fratesi voted no and Rosenthal broke the tie with a no vote.