Josh Agee is not the mayor yet, but he’s been pretty busy getting up to speed to succeed Mike Gaskill since the second week of November.
Gaskill announced his resignation at the June 22 meeting of the Paragould City Council. It becomes affective Dec. 31. Agee won the special election Nov. 3 to choose Gaskill’s successor.
“I took a week off to shut down the election campaign,” Agee said at a surprise farewell reception for Gaskill held last week at the Paragould Community Center. “On November 9, I showed up at City Hall, and I’ve been with Mike every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.”
Not that Agee is a complete stranger to city government, of course. He has served on the city council since 2013, chairing the Police Committee and serving on the Finance, Parks and Recreation, Handicap and Grievance, and Fire Committees.
But even so, he acknowledged there is a lot more to city government than what he had seen before the election.
“There is a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff,” he said. “And when you come into a new job, you don’t think about the day-to-day stuff.”
Along those lines, Agee said, he has met with department heads as well as other personnel in each department, to get a better feel for the operations of each given department.
“For one thing, I have learned that if you try to take every phone call and answer every email,” he said, “you won’t ever get anything done.”
With a good feel for how the given departments operate, therefore, a mayor can delegate matters to those with the best ability to address them.
But Agee also has goals, campaign promises to fulfill, and a 100-day plan to implement.
“One of my goals,” he said, “has been to have an additional code enforcement officer.”
The idea, Agee said, is for the two officers to split up the city into two sectors: north and west, and south and east, and identify problem properties in each sector.
“And then after six months,” he said, “I’ll have them switch, so each [sector] gets a fresh set of eyes.”
The second code enforcement officer is funded in the 2021 budget, and Agee said an individual has already been identified for the position. The individual will join the current code enforcement officer, J.D. Stephenson, in identifying properties in need of cleanup.
Another goal Agee identified is an update of the city’s website.
“I’d like to see us have an app [i.e cellular telephone application],” he said, “and have what’s required for licenses, and fees and so on.”
A third issue Agee said he means to tackle is that of bulk item pickup.
“We need to try to remedy that situation,” he said.
Before the COVID-19 public health emergency, the city picked up bulky items without charge. However, loss of revenue due to the emergency caused the city to charge what amounts to a “pass-through” fee to those requesting such items be picked up.
“It’s a minimum of $15 and $15 per [cubic] yard,” assistant director of public works Wayne Ellenburg had said in describing the policy, which went into effect on April 22. “So if you have less than a yard, it’s still $15. That’s what the landfill charges us, so we are passing it on.”
Agee also said he will ask department heads to submit plans of action for the next year, the next five years and the next 10 years.
“If you have a plan,” he said, “then you will know where you’re going.”
Agee said his campaign promises included improvement of the police department through the addition of five more officers, one per shift plus the additional code enforcement officer. The additions are already in the 2021 budget.
Another promise, Agee said, is to continue the cleanup of the city through the continued identification of properties in need of cleanup (as described above).
A third promise Agee said he aims to keep is the improvement of quality of life in the city. Along those lines, the Eight Mile Creek walking and hiking trail.
“We are within 60 to 90 days of bidding the trail,” he said.
Agee concluded by acknowledging predecessor Gaskill had left the city in great shape.
“We’ve got great department heads and a great support system,” he said. “I have 100 percent confidence in them.”