Last Minute Biloxi Agenda Add Sparks Controversy, Denials

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Accusations of back stabbing, conniving and dodging state law flew at a special meeting of the Biloxi City Council on Tuesday.

The meeting was called to deal with only one zoning issue. But when rezoning 81 acres for waterfront development also ended up on the agenda, it set off an angry debate and a lot of finger pointing.

"That is an absolute lie," Biloxi Councilman Mike Fitzpatrick said of a newspaper report.

He vehemently denied putting a request on the agenda to rezone 81 acres of East Biloxi land as waterfront. He said he doesn't have the authority. Only the mayor and the council president do.

"I'm sure that George [Lawrence] thinks I did it," Fitzpatrick said. "Mr. [Tom] Wall probably thinks I did it, but I didn't."

Other council members wondered how such a huge rezoning request was listed for a vote just two working days after it was approved by the planning commission.

Ward 1's George Lawrence said, "When you take something from Thursday night or Thursday evening and take it for Tuesday, you eliminate a lot of people's opportunity. The citizens to do what they're supposed to do. That's who we're up here to represent, the citizens."

"This is a result of trying to circumvent the law," said Ward 5's Tom Wall. "It is the wrong thing to do. It's the result of some conniving and back stabbing going on in the council."

State law says the council must wait 10 working days before voting. But that law doesn't apply to special meetings like the one Tuesday morning.

Mayor A.J. Holloway said he called the special meeting, but on another zoning matter. Holloway said despite Fitzpatrick's denials, it was the councilman who pushed to add the waterfront zoning issue to the agenda.

"Even with his denial, he called Jerry Creel [Community Development Director] and asked if he could put on water front change. Mr. Creel told him he didn't have the authority to put that on.  Apparently, he called Council President Stallworth. Council President Stallworth called me and asked if we could put that on. So that went on at their request, not mine," Holloway said.

Ultimately, the council decided the zoning vote would have to wait a week and only did a first reading. The land in question is south of Howard Avenue from Kuhn Street to Dukate. It involves dozens of landowners, so the issue promises to be complicated and controversial.

"I'm not against rezoning the area, but I want to do it on individual property basis. Not a mass 81 acres," said Wall. "A lot of the people are under the impression that we're going to get a casino down there if we rezone it to WF. That's not true. It's never going to be casinos."

Council member Ed Gemmill said he will abstain from the rezoning vote because he has relatives who own land in that area.