Jonesboro swears in councilman

By Ed Brock

With the wail of bagpipes Bobby Wiggins took his place on the Jonesboro City Council Wednesday.

Wiggins won the special election Tuesday to replace retired City Councilman Clifford “Rip” Sewell and was therefore sworn in on Wednesday. The other two new council members, Luther Maddox and Clarence Mann, along with incumbent Rick Yonce, will be sworn into office in January.

The ceremony was brief. Clayton County Probate Court Chief Judge Pam Ferguson administered Wiggins' oath in the courtroom at the city's police department on Main Street. Then the new councilman signed some papers and together with some supporters stepped out into the parking lot for some bagpipe music.

After January, Maddox, Mann and Wiggins, along with Yonce, will represent the majority on the council, a majority that rode to office on a platform based on opposing Mayor Joy Day. However, Day said she was hopeful that the council will come together in the spirit of cooperation.

“I'm very accepting of this, they were elected by the people,” Day said. “I think we agree to disagree. But I don't see why we can't work cooperatively together.”

Day did not attend the swearing-in ceremony and was at work at Suder Elementary School shortly after the ceremony was finished.

City Manager Jon Walker, who was also a target of the newly elected officials, did pop in for a moment of the ceremony. Signs calling for his ouster were prominent during the campaign. Walker is the city's first city manager and some of the candidates have said they don't believe the city needs a city manager. Since he has enough support on the council now, nothing could happen until the first meeting in January.

Day said Wednesday that Walker works under a yearly, renewing contract and that contract would have to be honored. Exactly when the pact expires was not clear Wednesday. Efforts to reach Walker were unsuccessful.

As piper Roddy Thomas played for the crowd that joined Wiggins in celebration included Maddox and several members of the Jonesboro Pride group that formed after the city council voted to disband the city's volunteer fire department last year. That was the tipping point that led to the groundswell of discontent that culminated in Tuesday's election of opposition candidates across the board.

The issue was raised again the weekend before the election with the distribution of a flyer aimed at criticizing the old fire department.

The flyer claims there were three serious structure fires in the city in 2004, under the watch of the volunteer department, that volunteers received pay at times and called into question the department's contribution of money and equipment to outside parties.

“It was certainly just a slam toward the fire department that was unnecessary,” said former Jonesboro Fire Chief Jimmy Wiggins on election night. “It's rubbing salt in old wounds. The poorest part of it is that they didn't have the guts to put their name on it.”

Jimmy Wiggins is Bobby Wiggins' brother and Bobby Wiggins was also a volunteer for the fire department.

Day said she received one of the flyers but she doesn't know who sent them out. She said several other flyers attacking her, outgoing City Councilwoman Yvette McDonald and others have also circulated in recent months.

“I just put it all in a stack,” Day said. “I didn't really have much of a reaction at all to it.”

Wiggins said he is taking a wait and see approach toward deciding what he wants the council to do now. He'll get his first taste of government on Friday and Saturday when the council meets for work sessions on the city's budget.

Wiggins was also non-specific on what he will look for in those work sessions.

“We'll see what we can do to save money,” Wiggins said.