The Vidalia Board of Aldermen elected Robert Gardner as mayor pro tempore Tuesday night over Jon Betts, while rejecting two of Mayor Buz Craft’s recommendations for department heads.

The action came during the first regular meeting of the new board of aldermen.

During the recent elections, Buz Craft was reelected mayor, while Gardner, Tommy Probst and Betts were reelected as aldermen. Newly elected aldermen Brent Smith and Rosa Demby are beginning their first terms.

Gardner became the mayor pro tempore after aldermen rejected Betts for the post on a 3-2 vote. Betts was nominated by Smith. Betts seconded his nomination.

But Gardner, Probst and Demby voted against Betts. Probst then nominated Gardner, who was elected with Betts and Smith voting against.

The mayor’s recommendations for various appointments also were considered at the meeting.

Jay LaSyone was named clerk, Johnny Evans as fire chief and the Concordia Sentinel as the official journal on unanimous votes.

Aldermen approved George Murray as town attorney and Brad Burget as town prosecutor on 3-2 votes in each case, with identical voting splits -- Probst and Gardner voting against and Betts, Smith and Demby voting in support.

Lee Staggs was rejected as head of the street department and Ricky Roth as head of the utility department on 3-2 votes. Probst, Gardner and Demby voted against the two, while Betts and Smith voted in support.

On a police matter involving a replacement hire, aldermen voted 3-2 to hire Mahogany England as a dispatcher. Gardner and Probst cast the two nay votes.

Spencer McAllister was rejected as a replacement hire as a patrol officer with Gardner, Probst and Demby voting no.

Gardner said his constituents told him the police department had too many employees and a high turnover rate.

Police Chief Joey Merrill, in a statement issued Wednesday morning, said he wants the three aldermen who voted against McAllister to explain their decision.

“In the beginning of April,” Merrill said, “Vidalia Police Department lost a School Resource Officer due to Covid-19. The replacement officer’s payroll is already in the approved budget. The replacement officer is already Post Certified,

therefore there would be no extra costs acquired by the Police Department to hire this individual.

“With this hire not being approved, it is costing the Vidalia schools a replacement School Resource Officer. There is no reasonable explanation for the votes against hiring an already budgeted for School Resource Office for one of our Vidalia Schools to keep our children safe.”

In other action during the meeting, Probst asked the town accountant and Craft for an update on a 2018 audit that stated the former mayor, former police chief, an employee of the city and a former alderman owed the town money. He asked what efforts had been made to resolve these matters.

Probst’s question came after Town Accountant Debra Moak provided her monthly financial report on the town’s budget. Craft told Probst that the matter was not on the agenda, but Probst said it was part of the budget discussion.

Probst and Craft briefly verbally sparred over the matter.

Probst said it was the mayor’s job to collect money owed the town, but Craft said he could not discuss the matter because it concerned possible litigation.

In other action, Craft said discussions into reinstalling lights on the Mississippi River bridges were underway. He said LED lights would be used, the Mississippi Department of Transportation would install the lights and the City of Natchez would maintain the lights.

Vidalia would supply the electricity at an estimated cost of $1,200 monthly.

He said the matter was brought up at the meeting for information purposes only, requiring no action by aldermen at this time.

In business, aldermen:

Voted to accept the Louisiana Environmental Quality audit of the town wastewater treatment plant.

Adopted a resolution awarding bids for electrical upgrades to Alpine Power Systems Inc. for a battery system, Wesco Distribution for a 115KV voltage transformer and ABB/EEC for 15KV vacuum circuit breakers.

Approved a cooperative endeavor agreement between the town and the Village of Sicily Island for transfer of ownership of an obsolete fire-fighting equipment to Sicily Island.

Supported a resolution for ratification and confirmation of conveyance between the town and Catalyst Old River Hydroelectric Limited Partnership.

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