City Manager Alvin Parks said he laid off eight police officers on Friday and will meet with the city’s firefighter union Tuesday to discuss laying off 17 firefighters.
“It’s always unfortunate to make cuts in public safety and it’s something you don’t like to see,” Parks said during a telephone interview on Saturday.
Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks has scheduled an “emergency press conference” set for 1 p.m. Sunday regarding what she contends is Parks’ failure to obtain input from her and the City Council before making job cuts.
The cuts leave the crime-ridden city with just 44 police officers. If cuts in the fire department are made at the level Parks is considering, there will be just 33 firefighters left for duty. Parks said he has also made six administrative staff layoffs and frozen one other supervisory position without filling it.
Parks said he had no choice but to make layoffs and will consider further job eliminations to reduce a budget deficit estimated at more that $5 million.
“To continue at the current spending rate would be to invite a major (financial) disaster,” he said.
Hicks, who defeated Parks in the April city mayoral election, issued a media alert on Saturday calling for the news conference, during which she said she will respond “to the many changes, including employee, police and fire layoffs that are being made by City Manager Alvin Parks within the last week.” Her advisory said those actions by Parks were taken without City Council approval.
“Parks is deliberately operating outside of the City Council by circumventing the city government’s policy of presenting a revised budget, soliciting input from the mayor and presenting layoffs and firings before the City Council for approval,” Jackson-Hicks’ news advisory stated. The statement described Parks’ recent actions as city manager as “roguish” and warned they “may put the city deeper in financial debt and even further degradation.”
Parks, who was mayor for eight years during which the city was hit by the same financial recession that began for the entire country in 2008, said he is “bewildered why I would be accused of violating the City Council rules.” He regularly receives support from at least three council members, enough for a majority. His hiring as a $100,000-per-year city manager after his two terms as mayor has been widely criticized by residents at recent City Council meetings, and in letters to the News-Democrat.
But Parks said while he was not aware of some of the specific financial shortcomings contained in a recent “cash management audit,” ordered by former city manager Deletra Hudson who he replaced, he has long been aware that the city’s revenues are depleted.
“You may ask how this (financial situation) happened while I was mayor,” Parks said, adding, “I have been working with the City Council for years to improve the city’s economic outlook but we have been faced with decreasing revenues.” He noted that since 2007 the annual revenue to the city from the Casino Queen has dropped by $5 million annually.
The cash management audit reported that 10 months of police towing records and proceeds are missing and that routine monthly records in the finance and treasurer’s office cannot be located. The audit has prompted St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly’s office to work in conjunction with federal auditors in an investigation to determine if money is actually missing from city coffers or whether the missing financial records are simply bad record-keeping.
Parks said he supported the cash management audit and said he will use it to help guide improvement in city finances.