The Pratt Avenue crossing in Gulfport is temporarily closed for repairs. The mayor, CSX, and the state transportation department want that crossing and 11 others in the city closed for good.
CSX has proposed shutting down the crossings to cut down on car-train collisions. In return, CSX will invest about $2-million to install safety devices at the remaining crossings in Gulfport. Most council members call the proposal a scheme and a threat.
Council President Richard Rose said "Your emphasis in a "one time offer" is as I suspect, nothing less than an extortion attempt by MDOT and CSX rooted as collusion partners to get what CSX wants--closings."
The council members say most people want the crossings to remain open. Ward 7 Councilman Billy Hewes said, "it's a convenience for the people of the city and also sometimes a necessity for our public safety people."
Ward 6 Councilman Chuck Teston said, "you want access, you want capability to run your business and I agree with you. I think for once, we should listen to our citizens."
So, the council voted 6-to-1 to override the mayor's veto. Right after the council's override vote, the mayor stood up and said since he has the authority over public safety in the city of Gulfport, he will issue an executive order to close the crossings.
The mayor then walked out of the meeting. That move outraged several council members.
Teston said, "That he would exercise his executive power to do whatever he cares to do, regardless of what the city council says, I believe that's wrong. I believe that the mayor should stay here and defend his position."
Hewes said, "I regret that the mayor has left. He has a tendency to leave every meeting once he has his say and doesn't want to hear what everybody has to say concerning the people's business and I really don't appreciate it."
If the mayor does issue the order, the council may call a special meeting and decide whether to take the issue to court.
Rose said, "thereby, deciding whether or not to file a cease and desist order, or a temporary restraining order if you will, against the mayor and administration to prevent him executing that executive privilege."
The mayor told WLOX News that he will go forward with his plans to close the crossings and is ready to settle the dispute in court.
Also during the meeting, the council voted not to go into executive session to discuss a letter from city attorney Harry Hewes. The letter focused on potential liability if the city does not take steps to close the crossings. Rose said the city currently faces one lawsuit involving car-train accidents.