WAVELAND, MS (WLOX) - Waveland Mayor David Garcia says if he'd known the mess that awaited him at city hall, he might not have wanted to be mayor.
In an exclusive interview with WLOX's Al Showers, Garcia spoke for the first time about the fiasco that unfolded last week with the firing of the police chief. He also spoke about his proposal that would have put the county in charge of policing the city.
The mayor said every decision and proposal he has made is simply to help dig Waveland out of a million dollar hole. Untangling the mess in Waveland's budget will take a lot more than moving computers and employees around.
"And I know people disagree with some of the decisions, but it's hard decisions being made," Mayor Garcia told WLOX News.
The mayor said one of the hardest was the shake up of the police department. It's a move Garcia said could have brought the city's budget back in line.
"The only difference people would have seen in the city of Waveland is that, one, you wouldn't have had a police chief. The sheriff would have served the dual role as police chief. The second major thing you would have seen as a change is that a Waveland police car would have drove up into your drive-way, and a man would have gotten out in a sheriff's uniform," Garcia said. "The police department was never ever going to close down. They were never taking the Waveland cars off the streets."
That idea upset many Waveland residents, as did the way long time police chief Jimmy Varnell was abruptly fired, with sheriff's deputies helping deliver the news. But Garcia defended how Varnell was let go.
"I personally did not think it would have been right to ask one of the police officers that worked under his command to come in and walk with the city clerk to give him his termination letter. I, personally, requested that this be done by the Sheriff's Department. He was not escorted to the door. He was not treated as a criminal. As mayor, when you're a CEO of a company, or CEO of a city, you've got times when you've got to make decisions that are not favorable decisions."
Garcia's tough decision played out with him in the hospital for emergency heart surgery. Since being released, he's been doing what many call damage control.
"You've got those that are out there chewing me up and spitting me out like bubble gum, and I'm going to have that I can handle that," Garcia said. "WLOX made the point to put an editorial that I'm not being transparent. Well, I 'll tell you what, if you've done had three layoffs and as many media interviews that I've done with you, I don't see. That was an unfair stab at by being non-transparent. This government, under my administration, has been transparent."
Garcia's making no secret of the changes that still need to happen to get Waveland's finances in order. After just nine months in office, he's cut the city payroll from 110 full time employees to just 64. And that means everyone left is learning to multi-task.
"We still say we have a financial problem. It's still not cured. We're working on the financial problem. It didn't get here over night and I'm not going to solve it from December til August. It wasn't created in one year and I'm not going to fix it in one year."
Part of that multi-tasking for city employees includes the court clerk also acting as the receptionist for the police department, and two employees in the building department will take over utility fee collections for the city.