Bay St. Louis Building Official Ron Jones, the second highest-paid person at City Hall, lost his job this week in what Mayor Les Fillingame characterized as a cost-cutting measure.
Fillingame said Jones, who was paid $65,000-per-year, will not be replaced immediately. His job will be filled in the interim by Charles Oliver, a building inspector who earns $45,000 per year.
As building official, Jones had been second in salary only to the mayor, who makes more than $80,000 annually. Other city hall administrators and department heads are paid considerably less than Jones.
However, Jones holds a master’s degree and numerous professional certifications, which Oliver does not. “He’s working on getting his certifications. We’re going to help him,” Fillingame said of Oliver.
Jones’ last day on the job was to be Friday. As building official, he ran a department that issues building permits and handles code inspections on commercial and residential building projects. The department has been important in the city’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
City Hall sources said Fillingame approached the City Council in executive session during its regular meeting Tuesday, and informed members that Jones was being let go. The council has no actual authority over city personnel, but does sign off on issues involving department heads.
“It was strictly a payroll and staffing reduction,” Fillingame said Thursday of Jones’ departure. Also on Thursday, Jones declined through a building department spokesperson to comment. Before coming to Bay St. Louis, he had worked in code inspection for the City of Gulfport.
Jones was hired several years ago to replace former Building Official Bill Carrigee.
Fillingame said the city had received a grant that was used to expand the building department while the city rebuilt from Katrina.
That grant has now expired, and the city needed to reduce costs by cutting two positions in the code department, he said.
The other position is being eliminated with the retirement of Ken Monti, a building inspector.
“I had one person retire, and then eliminated the highest-paid position,” Fillingame said.
The building department has come under fire on several fronts periodically. Specifically, a committee formed in the past by Fillingame to invigorate business development had been especially critical of Jones’ department, saying inspectors went out of their way to make projects difficult for developers.
However, earlier this month, the City Council learned a code inspector had improperly granted a building permit to a Washington Street resident, allowing him to place a storage building that far exceeded the size legally allowed under zoning regulations.
Jones was forced to appear before the council and explain the situation. In that case, he apparently had not known about the permit issuance when it occurred. He told council members the permit had been issued in error.
On Thursday, Fillingame declined to say whether Jones’ departure was connected to the Washington Street incident.
“I’m not going to comment on that,” he said.
BY: J.R. Welsh
The Sea Coast Echo