An election season controversy is brewing after a city employee was accused of aiding to the campaign of a mayoral candidate.
A photograph of Fire Chief Terry Harber in front of what appears to be a political sign for Mayor Diane Delaware, inside the fire station, has been gaining attention within the community and its city leaders.
Delaware said that the photo is not of a sign, but of Harber standing in front of a “projection.”
Aldermen Ron Johnson and Gregory Robertson called a special meeting Monday morning to discuss the situation. However, the meeting did not take place because Delaware and Aldermen Dr. Jack Varner and Aubry Brent Jr. were not in attendance.
“The meeting was pertaining to the fire chief,” Johnson said. “What was in that picture is not only against city ordinance, but it’s against state law. I wanted to get the mayor’s opinion first, but there was nobody there to answer any questions.”
Delaware said Johnson has not spoken to her personally in regard to this matter.
“I also made it known that I would not be able to attend that meeting,” Delaware said. “I made it clear that I wasn’t going to be in town that morning.”
The photograph was emailed to The Yazoo Herald, showing the backside of Harber in front of what appears to be a political sign for Delaware. The photograph has also been circulating on social media.
Delaware said that she also saw the “photo of a projection.”
Delaware said no city employee has created any campaign signage for her.
“My campaign signage is professional signage purchased through a professional sign company,” Delaware said.
Delaware said she has no campaign signage not prepared by paid professionals within the city.
“I don’t want homemade signage,” she said. “I would have removed it.”
Robertson said Harber is an excellent fire chief for the city, but he called the special meeting to investigate the matter thoroughly before reaching an opinion.
“I just wanted to see what was to it because I am receiving calls from my constituents who are concerned about the whole thing,” Robertson said. “The mayor says the sign is a reflection. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like to make statements until I have the full picture. As mayor pro tem and with the amount of phone calls I was receiving from my constituents, I thought a meeting was necessary as a board to get the truth of the matter. But that meeting did not happen.”
Brent said Robertson called him about holding the meeting a few days ago, and he said he gave it some heavy thought over the weekend.
“This whole thing is being driven by (political) opponents,” Brent said. “They simply want to hurt this board to get to (Delaware). I decided not to attend the meeting because I did not want to get caught up in the demotion or firing of Harber because of all of these political elements. I don’t play dirty politics.”
Brent said there is no guarantee that Harber was working on a political sign for Delaware.
“There was something said about a reflection,” Brent said. “He was standing in front of it when the photograph was taken. But Harber is a good fireman, and he works hard. I can’t demote or terminate him on the basis of hearsay, gossip or photos possibly being tampered with.”
Harber said he preferred not to comment on the matter until after the next Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting on Feb. 12. He said he has not even seen the photograph and has not been contacted by any city official about the matter.
“I am in the dark,” Harber said. “Until I know more about the accusations, I don’t know what to comment. Nobody has said anything to me.”
Harber added that he was not on the job when the incident took place, and he did not create any sign.
“I was off-duty,” Harber added. “And no sign was ever created.”
Johnson said he wants answers, and he admits the photograph raises some questions.
“The truth is the truth,” Johnson said. “But we have to do what is right. We just have to do what it is right.”
Robertson said he is not going to reach a conclusion on the matter until he has more facts.
“Looks can be deceiving,” Robertson said. “And you can do all things with technology these days. But the whole issue concerned me because it concerned my constituents. However, I don’t like to make decisions with partial information.”
When The Herald asked Robertson if a sign should have even been inside a city building, he said he believed it was breaking state law.
“It should not have been there in the first place,” Robertson said.
However, Delaware added that none of her signage is on public property.
According to the city ordinance, “no person holding any city office, place, position, or employment to which he or she has been appointed or hired, and for which he or she receives compensation, shall engage in any city political campaign of any candidate for a municipal office in any manner whatsoever or engage in pernicious activities, and any such person so engaging in such campaign or activities shall be subject to dismissal or demotion by unanimous vote of the governing body.”