With a four-month delay in regular meetings due to the coronavirus pandemic, Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann on Monday night issued a belated, yet topical State of the City address.
The annual speech typically reviews local progress and happenings, but this year, the city official used the address to both praise city emergency personnel, especially Magnolia Police Chief Todd Dew and his department, as well as shed some light on the extensive work put in by the Magnolia Water and Wastewater Departments over the past 18 months.
Wearing a mask and meeting indoors for the first regular City Council meeting since March, the mayor began his address by talking economics and the coronavirus pandemic, saying that 2019 finances were “good,” but that the Magnolia Municipal Airport is “down,” since few people are flying now. He also praised Magnolia Economic Development for bringing Texas CLT jobs to Magnolia and said the Magnolia Street Department is in “good shape” financially and only owes a debt on an overlay project from a few years ago.
He noted that COVID-19 cases have recently spiked in Columbia County.
“COVID-19 is alive and well,” he said. “Please stay out of groups. We’ve had a number of gatherings and a number of parties."
PRAISE FOR MAGNOLIA POLICE DEPARTMENT
With recent civil unrest breaking out across the country over law enforcement issues, the mayor heaped praise upon Magnolia Police Chief Todd Dew and his department. Vann said that when he came into office in 2009, there were issues within the department, but those have been resolved, in large part due to Dew and his officers.
The chief's resumeʹ includes 30 of years’ experience as well as training from the FBI, Arkansas State Police, Arkansas Criminal Justice Institute, and the Arkansas Law Enforcement Academy in Camden.
“I think if you stack up Todd’s credentials, Magnolia is lucky to have a police chief with that kind of training, because there’s not many of him around the state,” said Vann.
The mayor noted that Dew is always open for discussion from the public and that his department holds multiple outreach events each year, including Shop With A Cop every Christmas, and Treat From a Cop on Halloween.
“People need to know the men and women of the Magnolia Police Department that protect them,” the mayor said.
To show transparency in the department, Vann noted that every MPD officer wears a body cam and every patrol unit has a camera active during emergency situations. The mayor said that anyone claiming to have had a problem with an officer should feel free to contact Dew to review the footage.
To highlight some of the situations law enforcement and other city employees run into, the mayor stated that some of the foul language he’s seen and heard from local citizens is “atrocious.”
"No one deserves that,” he said. "We’re all human beings, and we should all be treated as such.”
Furthering his statements about local law enforcement, Vann issued police statistics from 2019. He said that, including SAU students, Magnolia Police officers patrol an area of around 15,000 people.
The statistics were as follows:
Total tickets and warnings – 2,660
Warnings tickets only – 2,017
Hard-copy tickets issues – 626
Demographic breakdown for the 626 issued tickets:
Asian American – 8
Unknown American – 42
Caucasian – 1,270
African American – 1,340
Most of the tickets, according to Vann, were issued from 7 to 10 p.m. The biggest reasons for tickets issued are either tail light outages or loud music.
“Slow it down and keep it down,” he said.
In 2019, the Magnolia Police Department made 340 arrests.
“Here’s the heartbreaking thing, the records will show that it’s roughly the same 400 people getting arrested over and over again,” said Vann.
The mayor noted that MPD sometimes deals with second- and third-generation family members during arrests.
“To those 340 people that went to jail, I would say that you need to change your life and change the people that you’re hanging around, or it’s going to happen again.”
As he closed his law enforcement remarks, the mayor implored any and every local church group or nonprofit organization to invite a Magnolia police officer to an event to better get to know and understand them. He also asked that citizens of Magnolia try to see the good in people and to try to live in harmony with one another.
“We’ve got to love and get along with each other,” he said. “This is our home, and what has gone on around this country must not come to our city. I won’t let that come to our city – our police chief, our fire chief, everyone, will not let that come to our city.”
MAGNOLIA WATER ISSUES
Magnolia Water underwent a major project in the past year by pumping thousands of dollars into the restoration of the Sterling Lacy Water Purification Plant to get city residents off of Sparta Sand water wells and back onto water from Lake Columbia. The wells have been running around-the-clock and supplying Magnolia residents with water for the past two years.
“The Sparta Sand water was depleting,” said Vann, referring to the aquifer on which many cities in the region depend for good drinking water.
The project was lengthy and expensive. The city was aided by a $200,000 grant from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission to help restore the water facility. The 30-plus-year-old treatment plant was built specifically to supply Magnolia residents with water from Lake Columbia, an abundant resource, and thus eliminating the need to overwork the Sparta Sand wells.
“We had some scary moments in ‘19,” said Vann. “I was afraid there were times that I was going to have to call for boil order, but God is good, and we made it through.”
The Magnolia Water office was also praised for its efforts after the implementation of a new billing policy. The new policy that began in November 2018 included moving the shut-off deadline from around 70 days to five days after your payment is due.
“Somewhere in 2018, we noticed that we were $200,000-plus in the red,” said Vann. “We had a lot of money in the street that we weren’t collecting. People weren’t paying, so we made a change.”
On Monday, the Magnolia Water office shut off 49 past-due customers, according to the mayor. That number wan an “all-time low.”
To go along with the new billing policy, the city began the installation of new “readless” digital water meters for all Magnolia Water customers. The technology now lets the local water office monitor meter activity. As of Monday, 99.5 percent of Magnolia Water customers were now on the new meter technology, according to the mayor.
The move was instituted by the Magnolia City Council largely to help stop water theft. The new meters can track, down the gallon, water usage from a remote location. Any tampering with the water meters will result in a $300 fine, according to Vann. He asked that no one remove or tamper with the water lids.
“We can’t give water away, because we go out of business,” said Vann, “and if we go out of business, the whole town is out of water.”
In his closing remarks, the mayor again thanked all city employees for their work and asked both his friends and enemies alike to pray for him to make good decisions for the city.
“Whether you love me or not, I’m going to keep working hard,” he said. “God bless Magnolia, and God please bless America.”
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