Pass Christian Mayor McDonald to Resign
by Keith Burton - GulfCoastNews.com Filed 5/31/06 GCN
Pass Christian Mayor Billy McDonald has decided to resign effective July 1st over health concerns. McDonald has been under fire from some citizens and aldermen over missing meetings and the lack recovery in the city from Katrina. McDonald said he suffers from dangerously high blood pressure.
"Under the circumstances, I thought it was the best thing I could do for my family and city," McDonald told GCN in a telephone interview Wednesday morning.
McDonald sent a letter to the Board of Alderman Tuesday announcing his resignation. He did not attend the meeting. Alderman Chipper McDermott will act as interim mayor until a special election can be held. Once the resignation is final, the city will have to hold the election within 45 days. This will leave the city without a true mayor for most of the summer and during a time when budget issues will have to be decided for next year.
The 70 year old mayor had told GCN in an earlier interview that he was doing his job despite his critics. His resignation is clearly the result of the pressures brought on him by critics as much as the storm. McDonald has over 30 years of local government experience and had served the city well, having taken the city from near bankruptcy to prosperity before Katrina. He has served as mayor since 1995. Before then, he served 12 years as a supervisor on the Harrison County Board of Supervisors.
Nine months after Katrina, if there is any city that may cease to be a city at all, it is Pass Christian. Like Waveland and Bay St. Louis, Hurricane Katrina left Pass Christian desolate, but perhaps more so than anywhere else. The Pass lost 100 percent of its public buildings, including City Hall, the police station and library. It also lost 100 percent of its businesses and nearly 80 percent of all the homes in the city. All of this a devastating blow to the city's tax base and income. (GCN photo of Pass Christian's City Hall above left).
McDonald says the lost of the city's tax base will result in losing four to five million dollars in income out of its $7 million budget next year, which means the city will not be able to pay its bills and staff.
Only about 2,000 of its 7,200 residents residents remain in the city and if Pass Christian is to survive, it needs to use the most of its leadership and talent, even if handicapped with illness.
The controversy in Pass Christian is more than a small town political squabble. In a time when a Coastwide cohesive political will is needed to recover from Katrina, the controversy in Pass Christian could be viewed as locals turning on themselves in a time of need. This is not a very positive message to those outside the Coast who are trying to help.
The city's workers are also upset over what has transpired. "We are in turmoil over here," said one worker to GCN.
McDonald said that the situation wasn't going to resolve itself without making the hard choice. So, faced with a serious health issue and continuing criticism, and in the truest form of leadership and sacrifice, McDonald resigned. "I didn't want to give the city a black eye and just look to the future. I have plenty of productive years left."
Text of McDonald's letter
"Please know that after careful deliberation and consultation with my family and physicians, I have decided to retire as Mayor of the City of Pass Christian, effective July 1, 2006.
"This decision is predicated upon the continuing health issues which have affected my ability to attend the business of the city over the last several months.
"The process of obtaining my retirement with PERS (Public Employees Retirement System) will take until the end of the month. During the interim, day-to-day operations of the city shall continue as before with the Mayor Pro Tempore performing the functions of mayor. Also, I will assist the administration with the transition during this time.
"Thank you for your continued support and consideration."