Biloxi Council Recognizes Past Leaders

Tuesday the Biloxi City Council saluted some of the "pioneers" responsible for launching a new form of city government.

It was 20 years ago this month Biloxi replaced the Mayor-Board of Commissioners system with the current Mayor-Council form of government.

Some familiar faces re-surfaced at City Hall for some special recognition and remembering.

"Whereas the City of Biloxi inaugurated its first slate of elected leaders under the Mayor-Council form of government in July of 1981," said Mayor A.J. Holloway as he read a formal proclamation recognizing past city leaders.

The former mayor and members of that 1981 city council stepped forward to receive special recognition. They helped usher in major changes in city government: changes a former mayor credits for making Biloxi government more open and inclusive.

Gerald Blessey was mayor of Biloxi twenty years ago.

"I think the citizens have a great deal more participation. Michael Esters was the first African-American to serve in city government. So, I think all in all it's been a great benefit for the community," said Blessey.

Members of that first council 20 years ago agree that it did invite more citizen participation in city government.

"You heard a lot. Because it was a new thing to them. And to us too. And we took and we gave. And it was fun," said former council member, Mary Carpenter.

Roy Mattina Sr. says changing from three commissioners to seven council members was a change worth making.

"Different people, different opinions and different decisions to make. And I think more people is better than less. So, I enjoyed it."

Bill McManus reminisced near some old photos outside the council chambers. He served two terms as city council president 20 years ago.

"It was a sign of times. The commissioner form had gotten where it was antiquated and it did not meet the needs of the people. And so the majority of Biloxians voted for the change," said McManus.

Former mayor Blessey says the change in government meant more than new faces on the council.

"It was a big start. More efficient government. We reduced the size of the workforce by about 25 percent. We consolidated 32 departments into five. So we had a real challenge and it was a great opportunity."