Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Natchez Becomes a Casino Town

I'm still in Austria, but I try to keep up by reading the Natchez Democrat online. This morning I discover that Natchez is about to become a casino town. In addition to the current casino Isle of Capri, we are going to get a new one at the foot of Roth Hill and another below the old Ramada Inn. Sure doesn't make for a Merry Christmas, does it. At least the casino under Roth Hill was the lesser of two evils.

Enjoy Natchez while you can - it will soon be changing more than you can imagine.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Good News & Bad News

I'm in Austria having a wonderful time! However, I still try to keep in touch with Natchez through the online version of the Natchez Democrat. A couple of things really caught my attention.

First the Good News (especially since it's so rare): Apparently the city and county will be contracting with U S NetworX to develop web sites. This has been a major issue wih me for quite a while. Natchez and Adams County simply cannot compete economically without an uptodate website. I have thought that was a major failing of the Economic Develop Agency, since online marketing is key to success in today's markets.

As I have mentioned before, the County is so superior to the City in the way it conducts business, and the new County Administrator Cathy Walker is exceptionally good. The Board of Supervisors decided that a new website was a priority and directed Cathy to research contractors and make recommendations. (If only the City would do such a thing!) Cathy did a thorough job of research, and I heard her presentation a few weeks ago. The Board voted to contract with US NetworX. Fortunately, the City is going to take advantage of the County's research and hire the same company.

This is the most significant economic development action taken by the City during this administration - and they probably do not even realize it.

And now for the Bad News: The Board of Aldermen gave the Mayor the right to select a Planner - BUT they specified the Planner should be certified. The Planner the Mayor chose is not certified. His choice is to be voted on at the meeting on Tuesday. I wonder if the Aldermen will stick to their guns and not approve this choice. It would be fine to keep this person on a contractual basis until a certified Planner could be found. However, it would be a major mistake to permanently hire him.

We all know how how crucial the position of Planner is to the character of Natchez. The Planner is involved in many controversial issues and must have credibility. Just think of the issues involved with the development of Roth Hill - or putting together the much needed comprehensive rezoning package.

Another piece of bad news is that the management contract for the Convention Center seems destined to happen.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


I'll be leaving Tuesday morning to go to Austria for most of the month to visit my daughter and her family. I will be attending the casino presentations Monday, but that's it. I might have time to give my thoughts about that, but probably not. This will be my last post until I return. In the meantime, you can use the Comments to communicate with each other.

As you may know, this blog is moderated. That means all comments have to be approved before they're published. We only censure for profanity, malicious gossip, and spam. All opinions - even the dumb ones - are allowed. Since I will be not be checking my email regularly while I'm gone, LadyBug will be moderating the comments. If it takes a while for your comment to publish, be patient - she's new.

By the way, we have a email now especially for this blog: FriendsoftheBluff at gmail dot com. (I wrote it like that so those nasty spam robots can't read it, but hopefully you can figure it out.)

Please don't let them ruin our riverfront while I'm gone
and have a Happy Holiday!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

CRISIS!!! Your Presence Required Monday

Oh my goodness, but it is getting downright scary! Start by reading the story in today's Democrat. Two casino companies will be making public presentations on Monday, one at 4 pm and the other at 5:30 pm. (The article didn't say where, but I presume the City Council Chambers, across from City Hall in the second block of South Pearl Street.) There are several areas of major concern.

MOST IMPORTANT. If you want to save your city, you'd better get your bootie to those presentations.

SIZE: The article says:

"The Natchez Riverfront proposal would consist of 14 structures, including a river walk, floating casino, pavilion, hotel, amphitheatre and retail stores. According to the proposal, base construction costs for the facilities, covering an area of 1,013,151 square feet, would be $88,338,780."

Do you know how big this is? This thing is going to take up the whole blanking bluff! If you go to this page of the Natchez website, you will find the City's Riverfront Development document. In there, you will find that all of the Roth Hill area is only 5.3 acres or about 231,00 square feet. That's only one fourth of the million feet. Where is the rest of this project going? Are they maybe going to take the Pecan Factory? That's only about another 170,000 square feet. Is the hotel developer in cahoots with them? Are they including the Cock of the Walk? Still not enough land.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think they're about to give away your entire riverfront.


Yesterday there were two anonymous comments on this blog that tell us. What someone did was look up the Natchez Riverfront Development Group in the Secretary of State's business search. This Limited Liability Group (which probably means the taxpayers are liable if they screw up) was formed on November 14, which was just 2 days before the bids were due. At the same time, they formed the Natchez Gaming Development Group. There are two managers: Tony Gaylor and Willie J Mott. Interesting fellows.

According to that comment, Tony Gaylor, formerly of Natchez, was an attorney brought in to handle the Convention Center bond refinancing. That was where they presented the city with a giant mock check for $400,000 representing the money the city saved, the group invited the Mayor & Aldermen out to an elaborate dinner at Dunleith, and then, oops, discovered the savings wasn't quite that much. So sorry!

Also according to that comment, Willie J Mott was fired from the Jackson Development Authority, which was in charge of the Farish Street Historic Development Project. I was able to verify that he was the JDA Executive Director. It's widely accepted that the Farish Street Project has been a disaster, and he was in charge of it. Not a good sign. I could not verify if or when he was fired, but he doesn't seem to be at JDA anymore.

What about the other group? Here's what the Democrat said:

"The Lane Company proposal, includes a floating casino, landing, esplanade and botanical gardens at a cost of $48,106,169. The casino and park grand opening would be in January 2007."
Yikes, that's a month away. I guess they'll just pull up a casino, throw out some flowers and call it a garden, and have a grand opening. However, I don't think they're going to be awarded the project, and here's why.

Remember when Aldermen Gray and Mathis stormed out of a secret meeting? The story was that David Gardner presented a casino proposal in that meeting. (By the way, he is the contact on the Riverfront Development Plan on the City's website, which is why he was presenting it,) The proposal was about to be accepted by a vote of 3-2, because Alderman West was absent. I think that was the Lane Company proposal. The City then sent it out for bid. That bid was dated October 24 and said:

"REQUESTS FOR PROPOSAL. Notice is hereby given that the City of Natchez, Mississippi is Requesting Proposals for the Lease or Purchase and Development of the Roth Hill Road Site until 5 pm on November 16 2006."
Obviously, with only 3 weeks, there were not going to be any bids except by those in the know. You can't put together a decent proposal in that amount of time. So the black aldermen brought in their own proposal by their buddies. If everyone is there, they have the votes, and they'll win. The only issue yet to be resolved is whether the 3 white Aldermen will go along, so we can have another unanimous vote to screw the citizens.

SELLING THE RIVERFRONT? Please note that the RFP says "Lease or Purchase". So these so called leaders are probably going to sell our riverfront.

PS. There's supposed to be a Top of the Morning in the Democrat tomorrow about the possibilities offered by the Trust for Public Land. Read it and weep. We'll lose this wonderful opportunity when the casino takes over the bluffs.

UPDATE. There is a correction in the paper that is not available online.

"Information cited in a Saturday story about two proposed casino developments was copied as written in the proposals released by the city. Upon further review, some numbers - including the total square footage of the Natchez Riverfront Development Groups's proposal - do not add up. The proposal lists 1,013,151 square feet as the total for the for the project, with 81,000 square feet being offshore facilities. However, adding up the numbers on the four phases equals 932,151 square feet. In the Lane Company proposal, a timeline lists January 2007 as the casino's grand opening: however, it appears that date is a typographical error, since a timeline included in the proposal lists several construction phases after that date. The Democrat will continue researching the proposals and provide accurate information about the proposals."

Casinos that can't get their numbers right - how reassuring!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What the Mayor & Aldermen Are Up To

Last night was a fairly interesting meeting, as these things go. (See article in Democrat.)It was delayed for 30 minutes while they fought over something in the back room - about which, of course, we have no knowledge. However, it started with a bang.

The first item was an appeal hearing for a zoning dispute. Seemingly out of thin air, former planner Andrew Smith appeared to represent one of the parties. You could hear the gasps in the room. Bruce Kuehnle (of Fat Mama's fame) represented the other side. It was an interesting hearing, with each side calling the other a liar or some such. I thought both sides gave persuasive presentations, and I would have had trouble deciding who was right. However, when in doubt, I would go with the Zoning Commission, who had thoroughly investigated the matter. (PS. We have some very qualified volunteer members on the City's Preservation, Planning, and Zoning Commissions.) The Board supported its Commission and voted against Andrew, with his two buddies Mathis and Gray abstaining.

There were a number of people in the audience, several of whom were there for our discussion of the casino. However, it was certainly not overwhelming. Of course, the Board did not ask for testimony. We chose to ask to be put on the Agenda, because it is likely the last meeting before they make a decision. They are scheduled to interview both developers next week and make a selection shortly thereafter.

Gwen Ball testified first, and she covered two main issues. She discussed the poll in the Democrat which asked how we wanted the riverfront developed. The majority wanted it as a park or as it is - and only a small percentage wanted a casino. She made copies and passed it out. Of course, it is not a scientific poll, but it probably does roughly reflect public opinion.

She also talked about the national legislation giving the National Park Service jurisdiction over the riverfront property. This means that NPS can be of assistance to the City as it looks at options for development. Gwen had talked to Kathleen Jenkins (the local superintendent) who verified that she would be more than happy to make the services of NPS available to the City. Does anyone wish to bet whether the City takes advantage of this invaluable resource?

She was applauded when she finished. I went next, and I've copied my testimony below for your information. Of course, I never exactly follow what I've written, but you'll get the general idea. I got applause too - but mostly laughter!

I have been researching riverfront development across the country, and there are some very exciting examples out there that we could learn from. However, my concern is that Natchez is not following the best practices demonstrated by other successful ventures.
  • Other successful developments started with the formation of a citizens advisory group, many of which progressed into permanent nonprofit organizations (usually called something like Friends of the Riverfront or Riverfront Development Corporation) whose mission is the revitalization of the riverfront. Has Natchez done that?
  • Other cities commissioned feasibility studies, usually funded through grants, to determine the best use of an extremely valuable property. Has Natchez done that?
  • Almost without exception, an environmental impact study was also commissioned. Has Natchez done that?
  • Successful developments usually include a variety of venues, all available for public use. Has Natchez done that?
  • Thriving riverfronts use professionals to develop and implement marketing plans to attract the best offers. Has Natchez done that?
  • Riverfront development is almost always part of a comprehensive downtown development plan? Has Natchez done that?

It appears to me Natchez has done none of these things. How can this development possibly be successful when none of the proven steps have been taken? Why in the world are you proceeding in this way?

Maybe you just want results right now and don’t want to wait for any of this nonsense that isn’t important anyway. That is so short sighted. It reminds me of the kid who drops out of high school because he wants money right now and can’t wait around for further education that isn’t important anyway. You know what the future of that kid is – and that’s the future you are giving Natchez by insisting upon a casino – and by refusing to take the necessary steps for the successful development of our valuable riverfront.

I am leaving you some information about other cities with successful riverfront developments, even though I imagine you will just ignore it. I keep coming before this Board with research, facts, and statistics and expecting that you will listen - but you never do. I keep doing the same thing over and over again, and I keep expecting a different result. According to Benjamin Franklin, that’s the definition of insanity. I guess maybe I am insane – and plenty of people have told me I’m nuts for what I’m trying to do. But I love this town, and I have to keep fighting for it, no matter what. So you can call me Crazy Casey, but I’m not going anywhere.

This is the information I gave them:

I was looking at the website for Asheville, North Carolina, because I know it has a thriving arts economy. While I was there, I noticed it also has a flourishing riverfront development. It gave a list of other successful riverfront communities, which you should check out.
Beaumont, Texas Burnsville, Minnesota Chattanooga,Tennessee Chesterfield, Virginia Columbus, Ohio Harrisburg, Oregon Hartford, Connecticut Little Rock, Arkansas Memphis, Tennessee Peoria, Illinois Peoria Attractions Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Richmond, Virginia Salem, Oregon Savannah, Georgia Spokane, Washington St. Paul, Minnesota Vidalia, Louisiana Winchester, Connecticut
(NOTE: Vidalia is on the list.)

Asheville is a very impressive city, from which you could learn much. I’ve enclosed a copy of their
Goals & Vision brochure. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one for Natchez. Also check out their City Develpment Plan - VERY impressive!

From the Memphis Riverfront website:

"Cities around the world are reclaiming their riverfronts for active use. After long years of neglect, riverfronts are once again becoming centers of intense activity for locals and visitors alike. Parks, marinas, excursion boats, bike and skate rentals, recreation paths, shopping, cultural centers, nature preserves, aquariums, housing and sports complexes are all part of today's landmark riverfront developments." (Note that casinos are not listed.) "See what other cities are doing on their waterfronts by clicking on these links. Then think about the possibilities for the Memphis riverfront.
Richmond, VA http://www.richmondriverfront.com/
Pittsburgh, PA
Hartford, CT
Cincinnati, OH
http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/ stories/1999/10/04/editorial4.html
Louisville, KY
Chattanooga, TN
Sydney, Australia

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Economic Impact of Arts

I've looked at several studies of the economic impact of the arts & culture industries, and the results are quite amazing. For a review, check out Arts and Economic Prosperity from Americans for the Arts.

Santa Fe NM has the largest proportion of artists, performers, and writers as a share of total employment of any city in the country. Also, the contribution of the arts to the economy in Sante Fe exceeds that of any other city. Thus, Sante Fe is a huge success story that we could emulate. Here is one amazing statistic from their study that describes perfectly the economic benefit of the arts. The volume of dollars brought into Sante Fe by the arts is roughly equal to that contributed to the whole state of New Mexico by the Intel Corporation, the largest private sector employer. (Of course, Intel gets lots of tax breaks, like most manufacturers.) Wouldn't this be wonderful?

Arts are not just for the elite. A national study found that over half the American public attends an arts event every year. Arts are also good for business. A Delaware study found that 88% of businesses report that arts are an inportant criteria of quality of life, a third of businesses cite the arts when recruiting new employees, and half of business contribute to the arts. Delaware arts organizations return about $15 back to the community for every $1 contributed. (Compare with casinos that costs taxpayers $3 for $1 paid in taxes.)

In the mid 1990's, Wilmington Delaware had an exhaustive search for new ways to revitalize its downtown. Guess what it came up with? Based on the Savannah GA experience, they opened the Delaware College of Art and Design in 1997, and it's a terrific success. Wilmington liked the benefits of the arts so much that shortly thereafter it opened the Riverfront Art Center. (Look at this and drool!)

While looking through all these studies, I noticed a continuing emphasis on the fact that art brings in money from outside the community. This is important because local spending does not create new jobs or income. Local spending only redistributes existing dollars, whereas funds coming from elsewhere create new jobs and new sources of income. For example, in the Sante Fe study, 78% of the total revenue from the arts in Sante Fe is from outside the county. For the state of Delaware, it was over half - and that was reported before the full benefit of the college and riverfront development had occurred.

Now contrast this with casinos who draw mostly from the local area. This just takes money we are currently spending in our community and sends it to some gazillionaires in Vegas. Smart? Oh well, no one ever accused our city leaders of being brilliant.

An art economy is so perfect for Natchez - if only we had city leaders with a little imagination. We somehow have to figure out how to keep them from destroying the riverfront before we can kick them out of office.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Many Natchezians Have Vision

Many Natchezians have a vision for a better Natchez. Unfortunately, none of them are Mayor or Alderman.

I was reminded of this as I went on the tour of artists' studios today. This tour was organized by a visionary brought to us courtesy of Katrina. It was the brainchild of Jerry Dixon, who has moved here after losing everything in Bay St Louis. He had an art gallery there and had organized these tours regularly. He put the Natchez tour together very quickly, but it was a huge success. Who knew Natchez had so many incredible artists?

Art can be a big economic boost for a community, and it has no down side. Jerry saw this in Bay St Louis, and he also knew the value of a tour. It not only helped local artists, but it also brought large crowds into the community. This tour will grow and bring money into Natchez. Thank you, Jerry!

Another visionary person with a knowledge and appreciation of the economic benefits of art is Hedy Boelte. She is the person who brought together like minded people to discuss establishing a school of art in Natchez. If you have any doubts about the economic value of such a venture, just see what it has done for Savannah. The school has a $280 million annual economic impact!

The multitalented Esther Carpenter has moved back to Natchez to her family home, the Elms. She was a highly acclaimed chef and restauranteur in New Orleans and then Los Angeles for years and then started a hugely successful decorative arts company. Using all those talents, she will create a beautiful site at the Elms and plans to use it, not only for her home and studio, but also as a bed and breakfast plus an event venue. She has a vision, and she'll fulfill it.

Another Katrina benefit for Natchez is the arrival of nationally recognized artist Rolland Golden. He has purchased a Natchez house that he is converting into a home and studio. Just having an artist of his renown and ability living here will attract many to this city. He is currently working on a series of paintings based on the aftermath of Katrina for a one man show at the New Orleans Museum of Art next year.

All day long I heard people discuss their vision for art in Natchez. It was so uplifting. Art has rescued and revived many a town, and I so hope Natchez will be next. Make no mistake about it - art is big time economic development.

But art is only part of the vision Natchezians have for our city. If only our city government would work with our citizens towards developing an exciting, developing, sustaining community. (See Democrat editorial.) But no, only they know best. Citizen input is never solicited and never listened too. If we're not careful, our current "leaders" will drive the visionaries away.

Casinos: Economic development for the vision impaired.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It's Up to You!

We know that the Mayor and Board of Aldermen have two proposals they are considering for the riverfront development. Both companies are from Atlanta. One is the Lane Company, and the other is the Matrix 3D Company dba Natchez Riverfront Development Group. We also know they will be interviewing them on Monday, December 4 at 4 pm. We also know the two proposals are quite different in concept. That's about all we know. We don't know if either or both include a casino.

UPDATE: According to an article in the Democrat, both proposals include casinos.

So far the City has not seen fit to ask its citizens what our opinion is, and I feel certain that they won't. However, I'm going to tell them anyway, and I hope you will too. The Mayor and Board of Aldermen meet again on Tuesday, November 28 at 6 pm. If you want to speak, you must call or visit the Mayor's office and ask to be put on the Agenda. Or you could write to the Mayor and/or your Alderman. Or you could just attend the meeting and show your support. If you don't do any of these things, then you have no one to blame but yourself when a casino comes to town.

Check the story about Economic Costs of Casinos.

Does this belong in Natchez?

Economic Costs of Casinos

The Mayor and Board of Aldermen say their motivation is economic development for Natchez. Casino operators tend to locate where there are "local yocals" who fall for their glorious tales of positive economic benefits. However, all of the legitimate research that has been done by unbiased economists and other academics show exactly the opposite.

The research shows that legalized gambling eventually causes

  • increased taxes

  • loss of jobs

  • economic disruption of other businesses

  • increased crime

  • large social welfare costs for society in general and government agencies

    • For every $1 that gambling brings in taxes, it costs the tax payer at least $3. Gambling makes poor people poorer, causing a drain on social welfare agencies.

      With the exception of gambling related businesses like pawnshops, new businesses do not want to locate near casinos, and existing businesses tend to close. Casinos draw from only a 35-50 mile radius, and they kill off any entertainment, restaurant, and hotel businesses in the area and deplete the income available for retail businesses. Any businesses that do survive will experience increased absenteeism and decreased productivity. Interestingly, the best workers - the Type A personalities - are the most likely to become pathological gamblers.

      In order to understand why gambling has these effects, you need to understand that about 80% of gambling revenues come from only the 10% of the population that gambles heavily. In other words, casinos feed off the addicts - they're like legalized drug dealers.

      The baseline rate of gambling addiction is about .75%. Addiction usually doubles within a 50 mile radius of a casino and increases the closer you get. Poverty increases the chances of addition. Nevado has an addiction rate of 3.5%, but probably due to poverty levels, Mississippi has a rate of 4.9%. So thanks to casinos, we are the poorest and the most addicted state in the country.

      Gambling addiction is a serious and destructive disorder that is very hard to treat. Desparate to recover from losses, the addict follows a predictable path. They start by exhausting personal resources, maxing out credit cards, selling insurance policies, selling possessions, borrowing from family and friends. Then they turn to crimes, like fraud, embezzlement, theft, robbery, and violent crimes. Bankruptcy rates are 100% higher in counties with casinos than without. Finally, they may resort to suicide. Nevada has the highest suicide rate in the country.

      Will our City officials fall for the bull being fed them by the drug dealing casinos? Or will they pay attention to the overwhelming research showing the devastating effect of casinos? I'm afraid of the answer.

      Coming to your riverfront?

      Sunday, November 19, 2006

      Waiving Building Fees

      One of the more brilliant moves (read sarcasm) of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen last Tuesday was to amend the City Ordinance to allow waiving of building permit fees in certain circumstances. What are those circumstances?

      One circumstance is for "a bona fide nonprofit organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity". I like the way the City is using this very popular organization to justify its grab for power. It even uses their name in the ordinance itself. They said Habitat had requested that their building fees be waived. This is not true. What Habitat asked for was that the fee be waived for water hookup. They didn't even address this issue at all, because it didn't serve their purposes.

      The other circumstance is for "an economic development facility that will foster the development and improvement of the community in which it is located and the civic, social, educational, cultural, economic, or industrial welfare thereof including provision for new employment, increase in the tax base, or otherwise provide a significant economic benefit to the city of Natchez". Whoo! That covers a lot!

      But the key to the whole amendment lies in these words: "the Board may grant an exemption, waiver, or discount". Note the use of "may". The requirements are so nebulous that anyone could qualify - but only those that suck up to the Board enough will actually get it. This is a prescription for corruption if I've ever seen one. This Board has no shame!

      See the article in the Democrat, the excellent column by Ben Hillyer, and the editorial. The exact wording of the amendment was in the Legals in the November 17 issue of the Democrat - sorry I couldn't find it online.

      Riverfront Development

      Did you know that Natchez has a document on its website about Riverfront Development? You can find it here. It's not very impressive, but at least it's there. By the way, at the end you will see it gives David Gardner as the contact person. I think this explains why he brought the proposal to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

      How would you like to see this sitting at the foot of Roth Hill?

      This is one of the casinos in Tunica MS, which is the third largest gambling site in the county after Vegas and Atlantic City. Check here to see the other casinos in Tunica - and prepare yourself for the coming of big time tacky and sleaze to Natchez. (I guess good taste is not a requirement for public office.)

      If you read the article in the Democrat, you know that three companies bid on the development of the Roth Hill property: Northbridge Capital from Edwardsville IL, Lane Company of Atlanta, and the Natchez Riverfront Development Group - not that this tells you anything. Lane Company develops condos and apartments - no history of casinos. Nowadays, most casinos are operated by one of the big companies out of Vegas. My guess is that these three either have an agreement with one of those companies or plan to partner with them. My concern is that these companies do not like to go where there is only one or two casinos. Why would they come here? Do they think we're going to grow into a casino community?

      If this goes through, Natchez will be, for all intents and purposes, destroyed.

      Friday, November 17, 2006

      Interesting Information About Management Company

      Check out this article in the Times Picayune in July.

      New Orleans Hospitality Companies, the company the Mayor and Board of Aldermen want to manage our Convention Center, seems to have some legal problems. Here are some excerpts, but read the whole article.

      "Paddlewheels, which operates Mississippi River excursions on its Cajun Queen and Creole Queen vessels, is part of Hospitality Enterprises Inc., one of the city's largest locally owned tourism companies. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in May after the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed a $2.8 million tax judgment in favor of the city of New Orleans in late April. "

      "Another Hospitality Enterprises property, the New Orleans Tours bus company, also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization this spring after losing money for a number of years."
      "Bankruptcy court is becoming the venue for resolving another long-running dispute: a family feud between the owners of Hospitality Enterprises. . . As questions mount about the extent of debts at New Orleans Paddlewheels Inc., the company's largest shareholder has called for U.S. Bankruptcy Court to either appoint a trustee to manage the firm's affairs or appoint a liquidator to dispose of its assets. "

      "In October 2001, Reuther's nephew, lawyer Jim Smith Jr., locked Reuther out of his South Peters Street offices and ousted him, revealing that his titles of chairman and chief executive officer were a fiction because they didn't exist in the company's bylaws. Smith has run the company ever since as its president. . . Reuther's wrongful termination suit has languished in court for the past five years without resolution. "
      I don't know about you, but I wouldn't hire this guy! Plus I'll have more disturbing info later.

      Very troubling. Don't these dudes ever do any homework?

      Thursday, November 16, 2006

      What the Mayor & Board of Aldermen Are Up To Now!

      I've been sick for several days and was unable to attend the meetings of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen. Fortunately, Gwen attended and sent the following report. (Also see this article and this one in the Democrat) - Casey Ann

      The board and mayor (as the Finance Committee) met at the mayor’s office with representatives of U.S. Networx to discuss the possibility of a City website. The proposed website would promote “open government” as Irvin Bullet, the rep. for Networx, stated. The website could include individual Ward News, police contact, ordinance information, and board minutes by key word and date. “People want to know what’s going on”, commented Mr. Bullet. Newcomers to the city could access information regarding car tags, preservation and planning guidelines. The boa seemed very supportive of the idea and Ms. Mathis was emphatic about including a mission statement. Currently, there are several Natchez websites and the city has a small webpage included among those websites. Mr. Bullet also commented that Natchez…”hasn’t been sold as a City…” as far as quality of life with parks and recreation. The website funding will come from a $100,000 Planning Grant the city received a year ago. The initial costs are the largest while sustainability is minimal. Mr. Bullet said his firm would teach the City how to maintain the website.

      Sounds good to me! I've been pestering the City and the County for ages to join the 21st century and get a presence on the Internet. The County recently voted to do it. - Casey Ann
      We convened to City Council Chambers across the street where all boa and officials for the new Convention Center Hotel gathered for an executive meeting. In addition to the boa were Walter Brown, Walter Tipton, Tourism Chairman, Tom Bauer, hotel developer, Warren Reuther, New Orleans Hospitality Consultant, Paul Buckley, hotel manager.

      At the open meeting, after the usual preliminaries, the floor was given to Walter Brown to introduce the Bauer delegation. Walter explained that the marketing group from N.O. will possibly negotiate a convention marketing plan and management agreement for both the hotel and the convention center with the city of Natchez. Mr. Bauer was introduced and in his address immediately referred to the hotel as a catalyst for the riverfront development. The hotel property sale will close in Dec.; construction will start in Jan. with an opening by end of 2007. He said Buckley and Reuther will manage the hotel and he cited their particular experience and accomplishments. Mr. Buckley is retired from Hilton Hotels and Mr. Ruther oversees the Super Dome, the Convention Center, the Municipal Auditorium, and the Alaria Center.

      Although I think professional management of the Convention Center is an worthy idea, the proposed management companies' connections with casinos definitely worries me. Thanks to Alderman Gray for brining up the fact they were voting on something with little prior notice. God forbid they should let the public know ahead of time. - Casey Ann

      Walter Brown then brought before the board the request for Ordinance change to allow a waiver of building/ construction fees for non-profits (Habitat for Humanity), and on this occasion, the desire to waive fees because Bauer’s project will be an economic benefit to the community. Mr. Brown referred to language in the MS Code, Section 21-17-1 and referenced Sect. 90 – 27 “to amend waiver of building fees”. Mr. Brown said the waiver of building fees was a part of the original agreement between the City and Mr. Bauer. Alderwoman Mathis made the motion to “make public our intent to proceed with management of Hotel/Convention Center and all other tourism related activities”. Ricky Gray offered his objection to not having had access to this information prior to the meeting but nonetheless voted to approve the changes. The motion was passed unanimously .

      The bids for golf carts were opened and the low bid accepted. Brett Brinegar reported that a $20,000 grant with matching funds was awarded for reprinting of the African American Heritage Tourism brochures. Ms. Brinegar also said the Forks of the Road meeting went well and there would be a second meeting for public comment and a third, wrap-up meeting. Mr. Tipton reported that his department wished to re-bid the security contract for the Visitor Center. They’ve not been completely happy with the current arrangement. Security costs are, in part funded by MDOT, NPS, and some of that money may apply to the cameras they use at the facility. Mr. Tipton said tourism was up a bit since Katrina but not nearly as high as pre-Katrina. 22,000 people have visited the Visitor’s Center and they’ve had $2000 sales in movies. Balloon Race t-shirt sales were up 18%. Garbage Bids were received and opened. The low bid was received from Waste Management (current provider) for $8.15 per household, twice weekly. The awarding of bid was deferred until a later date. Previous charges were $6.75/per household, twice weekly.

      The mayor and boa discussed an ongoing effort to hire a lobbyist. The Mayor was to meet with a representative from Thad Cochran’s office that afternoon at 4pm. Ms. Mathis made a motion that Mr. Sanders, City Attorney, write a letter to Mr. Cochran reminding him of the $1.6 million allocated for road repairs for Natchez. She expressed her concern that the money would still be available in light of legislation conducted within “a lame-duck Congress”. Ricky Gray and Joyce Mathis did the usual grilling of Mr. Ivey and Mr. Dawes over grass-cutting, drainage problems, retaining walls, etc. Mr. Gray wants the potential Fire Dept. employees to appear before boa before they’re hired.

      Requested Proposals for riverfront development will be received on Nov 16 and prospective developers will be interviewed first week of December. The Mayor said there were many strong proposals and outside help would likely be needed in determining what is best for Natchez.

      Outside help? You don't suppose he might consider the citizens of Natchez? Nah!
      I'm also awaiting a report from Chesney on the Trust for Public Land possibilities. It will probably be the next post on the blog.

      Sunday, November 05, 2006

      An Exciting Opportunity!

      An official from the Trust for Public Land is coming to Natchez regarding the Bluffs property! Why is this exciting?

      The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national, nonprofit, land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, community gardens, historic sites, rural lands, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. The TPL website details their depth of practical experience in preserving that which is unique and special about a place for the public, which in turn spurs economic growth and development that is in the long term interest of the entire community. Since 1972, TPL has worked with willing landowners, community groups, and national, state, and local agencies to complete 3,313 land conservation projects in 46 states, protecting more than 2.2 million acres.

      It's exciting that an organization of this stature is interested in our Bluffs, which says something about its uniqueness and value. However, TPL only works with willing communities.

      Don Morrow, Director of Projects for the Southeast Region of TPL, will be visiting Natchez to determine if the city and the citizens are open to TPL assistance in developing the Bluffs.

      To assist him in making this determination, Morrow will be touring the site and meeting with the Mayor and others in the community. There will also be an opportunity for citizens to meet with him.

      TPL Public Meeting
      Wednesday, November 8, 5:30-6:30 pm
      Armstrong Library

      I strongly encourage you to attend and learn about this thrilling opportunity. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone in Natchez came together to produce something great for the community?

      Friday, November 03, 2006

      Forks, Spoons, Plates, & Glasses

      Warning: I'm sort of stretching these metaphors. It was just my way of combining several topics into one article.

      Forks: Thursday night, I attended a meeting regarding the Forks of the Road. The City of Natchez owns the Forks of the Road site and would like to transfer it to the Natchez Historical Park, which would like to have it. However, since the Natchez Historical Park is part of the federal government, it's not that simple. First, there must be a study (surprise, surprise), which is anticipated to take about a year. The study is called the Boundary Adjustment Study - only the federal government could come up with such a convoluted name. The meeting Thursday (called a Scoping Meeting) was the first step in that study. It was an opportunity for the community to communicate its goals for the site. There were about 30 people in attendance, both black and white. There were no Aldermen present. The Mayor was there, as this is a priority of his. Because of a death in his family, he had to leave early, but City Grants Director Brett Brinegar was there. There were some very eloquent and emotional remarks. If you would like to comment, email forks@mangi.com. The next step is draft recommendations from the consultants, after which there will be opportunity for more public input. The Natchez Democrat had an editorial on Wednesday urging us not to rush the Forks project. I don't think they have anything to worry about.

      Spoons. On Wednesday, I attended the Working Session of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, where they discussed the much delayed City Budget. I would have liked to have used the metaphor of knives, indicating they were carving a creative budget. However, spoons seemed more appropriate, since they were just scooping in the money. I have been involved in developing countless budgets in my life, but none was like this one. There was not even a calculator in the room - much less a spreadsheet program.

      Basically, this appeared to be their strategy. They started with the expenditures from last year. Then they added the items they had already voted on, mainly the raises for themselves, the firefighters, and police. They subtracted this from the money they expect to receive. This left them with a little over half a million dollars to spend. In the previous Working Session, the Mayor asked them to prepare a list of their priorities. He started with his list. Then each Aldermen presented their list, based on the needs/wants of their wards and/or committees. The Mayor kept track of the projects and their costs and calculated the total cost on a flip chart. That was it. (For a report on which projects were requested, see this article in the Democrat.) Since the total cost was more than the revenues available, they will eliminate projects at their next meeting. What was most amazing to me was how little information the Aldermen had about their projects. They would ask questions of City Clerk Donnie Holloway , who would have to run down to his office to get an answer. I feel certain the Department heads could have done a better job of presenting these requests. Also, there apparently was no evaluation of expenditures to see if they are appropriate. Aldermen Gray did ask for a 3% across the board reduction, but no one paid any attention. I hope after the next election there is at least one person elected with budget experience.

      Plates. Also on Thursday night was a meeting of a group interested in creating a college of art and design in Natchez modeled after the one in Savannah GA. Check out this excellent article describing the economic benefits, where you can see why it would be such a good match for Natchez. What an exciting idea! There were close to 100 people there, so lots of people are energized over this concept. How's that for a big helping of dessert for your plates? I was unable to attend, since I was at the Forks meeting. However, I have asked someone to write a report for me to post here.

      Glasses. Natchez has created the newest chapter of Drinking Liberally - the first in Mississippi, although there are 172 chapters nationwide. What is Drinking Liberally? Basically, it's an informal, progressive social group. Drinking Liberally gives like-minded, left-leaning individuals a place to talk politics. You don't need to be a policy expert and this isn't a book club - just come and learn from peers, trade jokes, vent frustration, and hang out in an environment where it's not taboo to talk politics. You can raise your spirits while you raise your glass, and share ideas while you share a pitcher. Join us at our first meeting on Wednesday, November 8 at 7 pm (when we will hopefully be celebrating election results from Tuesday) at the Natchez Historic Inn at 201 North Pearl in the glassed in room off the courtyard. All liberals invited!

      PS Click on the time below to see the comments along with the story, and you can then click on Post a Comment to add your own. Please register a name before commenting (rather than using Anonymous), so that others can respond to you.

      Tuesday, October 24, 2006

      My Visits to the Zoo

      There was not a big crowd tonight, but that's not surprising. A meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen is not the most exciting event in the world. (Later I stopped by a meeting of the Natchez Historical Society about witches, and it was standing room only.) By the way, if you missed it, you can watch it on Channel 4 Thursday night at 6 pm - I think that's the right time.

      I've been attending meetings for quite a while now, and there is always discussion ad nauseum about getting grass cut at abandoned houses. What a waste of time! I simply don't understand why meetings are filled with such items when they could easily be accomplished by calling a city employee on the phone. If you look at an Agenda for one of these meetings, you never see anything of substance. The only public hearings they have are for issues required by law.

      For example, everyone knows the Board is considering bringing a casino to the Natchez Riverfront, but it has never been on their Agenda. The only reason it was discussed tonight is because three citizens (Gwen Ball, Neil Varnell, and I) asked for time to discuss it. My testimony was basically asking them to involve the citizens in their decisions about the use of city property. Gwen discussed some of the research on casinos. Neil urged them to abide by the Chadbourne plan for waterfront development. Mostly our testimony was met with stares, although I'm quite certain that Aldermen Massey was snearing at us and even made a snide remark under his breath. Gwen asked the Aldermen if they had a vision or a plan for the city. After a period of silence, Aldermen Middleton said his vision was for jobs. Perhaps the most telling moment was when Neil offered to go over the Chadbourne plan and asked if anyone was willing to do this. Only Middleton raised his hand. The rest were totally disinterested in learning about it, even though theoretically they're bound to abide by it - and I'd bet my last dollar none of them are knowledgeable about it. There has been speculation that Middleton is planning to run for Mayor, which may explain why he's being nice.

      During the reports of the Aldermen, Aldermen Gray told us why he walked out of the meeting last time. He said that a city employee, without any authorization at all, negotiated with a developer for a casino and presented a contract to the Board. Aldermen Gray said he didn't want any more citizen lawsuits, and he knew that was not the legal way to do it, and he was having nothing to do with it. After the meeting, I asked him if the city employee was David Gardner, since someone had posted a comment on this blog to that effect. He said it was. Even the most boring meeting has its gems!

      I think I forgot to tell you that, as a result of Aldermen Gray and Mathis walking out, the City has solicited bids on the development of Roth Hill. Bids are due in mid November.

      UPDATE: The ad is in today's paper and says:

      REQUESTS FOR PROPOSAL. Notice is hereby given that the City of Natchez, Mississippi is Requesting Proposals for the Lease or Purchase and Development of the Roth Hill Road Site until 5 pm on November 16 2006.

      I also attended two other meetings that are never attended by the public, although by law they are open. One was the "Working Session" yesterday and the other was the Finance Committee today. In both cases, I was the only person there, although Joan Gandy from the Democrat came late to both. I don't know if I inhibited them or not, but they surely didn't do much of anything in either meeting. It was mostly chit chat about this and that, with no organization that I could ascertain.

      In the meeting this afternoon, they voted to go into Executive Session after about 30 minutes, which meant Joan and I had to leave. There are legal reasons to go into Executive Session, but there's no way to tell what they talked about once we left. I can tell you they go into Executive Session a lot.

      There is another "Working Session" next Wednesday at 4 pm, in case anyone is interested in joining me. This Wednesday (October 25) is the meeting of the Community Alliance at 3 pm in the Convention Center.

      PS I will be letting you know of an organizational meeting in the near future.

      PSS It would be helpful if Commenters would register a name before leaving a comment. When everyone uses Anonymous, it makes it difficult for us to respond to comments. Let me assure you that no one, including me, knows who you are when you register except Google.

      Tuesday, October 17, 2006

      Let's Get Organized!

      Nothing like the threat of a casino on the bluffs to activate people! Have you seen all the comments? People have some great ideas. We need to get organized so we can accomplish some of our goals. Here are some suggestions:
      1. Several people suggested that we should meet and get organized. I'll be glad to call a meeting. Could someone volunteer their home or some other place? If so, send me an email.
      2. Go to the next meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen on Tuesday, October 24 at 6 pm. If you want to speak, you have to submit a request in writing no later than Wednesday. Your request merely has to state that you request time on the Agenda. When you speak, it doesn't have to be long or elaborate. Just ask them to please involve the citizens in the decision to have a casino.
      3. One of the commenters talked about the Community Alliance, which was designated as the "voice of the community" at a Town Hall meeting. They meet on the fourth Wednesday of every month (October 25) at 3 pm at the Convention Center. Let's go check it out.

      By the way, today I went to the meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen. It was supposed to be solely for the purpose of passing the docket, so they could pay bills. And it was. However, they also set a date for a "Working Meeting" prior to the regular meeting on Tuesday. It is tentatively scheduled for Monday October 23 at 4 pm.

      All meetings have to be open to the public, with some exceptions. I'm going to try to attend this meeting. I think there may be some fireworks, according to one of the Aldermen. Come, if you can. However, be sure to check with the Mayor's office (601.445.7555) to see if the day or time has been changed.

      Looks like next week will be busy! Have a Happy Balloon Fest! I'm expecting visitors and probably won't post anything until next week.

      Sunday, October 15, 2006

      Our City is Out of Control!

      The City Government is totally out of control, and Natchez citizens had better take action to protect our City! This crisis became blatantly clear by reading two articles in today's Natchez Democrat.

      One article describes the problems City Departments are having functioning without a budget. This is unconscionable! By state law, the City must adopt a budget in September, as their fiscal year begins October 1. Did they? No! Instead they passed a fake budget. The guys who can't find time in their busy schedule to do their job are the same ones who gave themselves a big raise a couple of months ago.

      The other article explains why they don't have time to deal with piddly little things like financing the City's government. They're busy with their secret deal to develop a casino!

      The most horrible part of the article was that the Mayor and all the Aldermen are in agreement to have a casino under Roth's Hill. They're fighting alright, but not over whether to have a casino, but which one. The white Aldermen brought a proposal from one developer and expected it to be adopted. The Mayor and black Aldermen want it subjected to bid - or they want another developer. The only people with no say in the matter are the ones affected the most - the citizens of Natchez. Needless to say, citizens can be understood if they think these politicians must have something to gain here. After all, casinos have lots of money to throw around.

      They really think that the citizens have absolutely no right to be involved in this discussion! Here's what the Mayor said:

      “I was hoping we could avoid this being a public issue. It’s too important for it to become a public issue."

      Can you believe that? It's too important for us to be involved! He seems to forget that he and the Aldermen work for us. (See Natchez Democrat editorial on this issue.)

      This may be the first time that a racial disagreement benefits Natchez. At least, it delays the secret casino backroom deal. However, I'm willing to bet any takers they'll reach an unanimous decision (behind closed doors of course) to allow a casino.

      What can you do to stop this atrocity?

      1. Get in touch with your Alderman and tell them what you think of their shady deals. Click here for addresses, phone numbers, and emails for City Officials. If you don't know who your Alderman is, contact the Mayor at 601.445.7555 or mayor@natchez.ms.us.
      2. Attend all meetings of the Mayor and Board. They meet on the second Tuesday of every month at 11 am and the fourth Tuesday at 6 pm. The next regular meeting is Tuesday, October 26. However, since they didn't meet last week, they have to have a special meeting next Tuesday, October 19 at 5 pm to approve the docket to pay their bills (Disgraceful!). They say the casino deal will not come up then, but their word is not worth much.
      3. Tell your neighbors and everyone you know what's going on. At least some of these politicians want to get reelected, and the only thing that may stop them is outrage from voters.

      Thursday, October 12, 2006

      Casino Crisis?

      In the story I posted about the non meeting of the Mayor and Board of Alderman, I said there was a rumor they were considering a casino development. This rumor is getting stronger.

      An anonymous comment on the last story:

      "Hunch: There is a bigtime casino operator knocking on the door and wanting to invest cash in Natchez. Hunch: Other proposals are lurcking and may pay the right individuals better. Likely minority group, maybe from Atlanta."
      In an editorial in today's Democrat:

      "None of the board members will confirm the details but sources say the issue involves a potential second casino development."
      In that same editorial, the important issue is made very clear.

      "Regardless of the specifics of the development potential, the city needs to come clean on its plans and let the public have input. Secret deals never seem to pass the smell test with us, or the taxpayers."
      If the Mayor and Aldermen ever want to survive another election, they'd better pay attention to that advice. If the citizens of Natchez are involved in the process and the majority want a casino, fine. But if the Mayor and Board decide on a casino behind closed doors, all hell will break loose.

      Stay tuned.

      Tuesday, October 10, 2006

      The Non Meeting

      Last time at the meeting of the Mayor and Aldermen, we had the budget public hearing on the non budget. This time we had the non meeting. With this group, there is never a dull moment!

      The Mayor apologized to the public and said there could not be a meeting since there was no quorum. There is, of course, a story here.

      As we all know, the Board always meets prior to the public meeting in the little room in the back. And as we all suspect, it is in there that all the real decisions are made. They work out their deals in there and then come out and put on a pretty face for the public. However, something went wrong this time - or right maybe.

      Alderman West was not there. Right before the public meeting, Aldermen Arceneaux-Mathis and Gray left the back room, continued on out of the building, and never returned. Hmmm! I think they were mad, don't you? Apparently, something was being voted on, and they were on the losing side of a 3-2 vote. I imagine they thought Aldermen West would vote with them, which would result in a tie vote - and the Mayor might break the tie. Better to leave and try again when everyone was there.

      To justify this kind of extreme behavior, it must have been something really big and important. According to the Natchez Democrat, Aldermen Arceneaux-Mathis and Gray were not happy with the way things were being done in there. Alderman Gray was quoted as saying:

      “I didn’t like the way we were handling business in executive session about the possible sale of city property. For legal purposes, I was not satisfied with what they were saying back there. . . I felt like to keep the city out of another lawsuit, it was best for me to just convene at another meeting instead of this meeting."
      And Aldermen Arceneaux-Mathis:

      “We need to legally accept requests for proposals, not jump on any one bandwagon. That developer might be who we end up with, but we’re trying to be legal. We don’t jump with the first person we see. We need to look at everybody and be fair.”
      Here's another quote from the article:

      "Gray said he was upset because the item in question was not on the agenda, and therefore shouldn’t be discussed."
      Now where have I heard that before? Hey! This is starting to look good. Do you think maybe we're going to have someone with ethics?

      Just to make matters juicier, I heard a rumor that they were considering a casino! (Now, this is just a rumor, and I can't prove it.) They had better be really, really, really careful how they handle a casino, because there are some strong feelings about that here - and some of those feelings belong to people with money to file lawsuits. I don't know about any of you, but if they try to build another casino in Natchez, this is one grandmother who is going to throw herself in front of a bulldozer.

      Monday, October 09, 2006

      Municipal Salaries Compared

      The link above will take you to the 2006 Annual Municipal Salary Survey provided by the Stennis Institute of Government. (It's a PDF document and requires Adobe Reader, which can be downloaded free.) This document is also available at the Armstrong Library. Pretty interesting information!

      I looked at the three municipalities with populations in the 18,000s: Natchez, Greenwood, and Laurel. (Ocean Springs also has a population in this range, but I left it out because of Katrina.) Our Mayor earns more than the Mayors in the other two municipalities. Our Aldermen, at their old salaries, earned more - now they earn a lot more. The City Clerk in Greenwood earns the most, with those in Natchez and Laurel about the same. Laurel has the most employees, and Greenwood has the least.

      Our Personnel Manager and Court Clerk earn the least. Our Parks & Recreation Director is in the middle. Our Public Works Director and Code Enforcement Officer earn the least, and our Building Inspector and Laborers are in the middle. The other two cities do not list City Engineers or City Planners. Our Police Chief, Fire Chief, and Police Officers were in the middle, but our Firefighters were the lowest. For all but one of these, Laurel pays the highest.

      Thursday, September 28, 2006

      Support Your Firefighters

      The Natchez Firefighters Association is having a Benefit Fish Fry on Saturday, October 14 from 11 am to 2 pm. For a donation of $6, you can pick up a catfish dinner, complete with french fries, hush puppies, and cole slaw, at Duncan Park. The firefighters will also have fire prevention activities for kids. These are the guys (there are no gals yet) who run into burning buildings to save your house, your business, and your family. The least we can do is give them $6. You can get tickets from me or at any firehouse.

      One of the good things that came out of the Aldermen raising their salaries was the very deserved raise they also gave the firefighters and police officers. When I went to the next meeting of the Board of Aldermen after the Raises meeting, the room was full of police officers and firefighters. The police made a very good case for a raise, and the firefighters were there to support them. Those Aldermen knew they'd better give them a raise, or there would be hell to pay.

      Special Kudoes go to Alderman Gray, who has been pushing for raises for fire fighters for a long time. In fact, when he voted against the Aldermen raises, he said he couldn't vote for a raise for himself until the firefighters got one. I'll bet he could easily get a free catfish dinner, if he wanted one!

      I may not be overly fond of the elected officials we have in Natchez, but I know we've got some fine city employees.

      Tuesday, September 26, 2006

      Board of Aldermen Votes to Sue Citizens

      The Mayor asked the Board to approve taking legal action against the individuals who are "holding up the condo project", and of course the Board went along. In their typical fashion, it was the last item before adjournment. Of course, there was no discussion whatsoever - obviously this was the result of another back room deal. Since they never seem to have roll call votes - just a voice vote - I could only detect one vote against, which was Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis.

      As you all know, two developers (Worley Brown) purchased the old Pecan Factory property from the city for basically nothing in order to build luxury condos on the bluff. There was a large group of citizens who were incensed about this project for many reasons, but especially about the way it was handled. Three of those citizens - Gwen Ball, Neil Varnell, and Sarge Preston - filed a lawsuit against the city questioning the legality of the sale of the property. This Board seems to think it can violate the law whenever it wants without any consequences. Thank goodness these citizens were brave enough to challenge them. I personally applaud their courage and thank them for taking this action on behalf of the rest of us.

      And what thanks do they get? Their City is suing them! Can you believe that? I guess the City is concerned about losing in a court of law, and now they are resorting to intimidation of these citizens, whose only concerns are the welfare of our community. Here's the message, folks: don't you dare to disagree with this group. This is pretty outrageous in my book - when citizens in the community cannot have a voice in their government.

      This condo deal is looking worse all the time. The recently released report from the National Realtors Association indicates that condo prices are sinking and condo sales are way down, and they expect that trend to continue at least a year or two. So why is the city so desperate for this project? It was a bad idea to begin with, and it's not getting any better.

      On the subject of the condos, I have heard a nasty rumor, and I would like to know if anyone out there knows anything about it. I was told that Butch Brown, Secretary of Transportation and father of the Brown in Worley Brown, told the City it would not get its Trails Project approved unless the condos were allowed to be built.

      UPDATE: The meeting was televised and will be shown on Thursday at 6 pm on Channel 4. This is supposed to be regular now.

      Thursday, September 14, 2006

      Mayor & Board of Aldermen Non Budget Hearing

      I've now been to a public hearing for a nonexistent Budget - it sure was exciting! It was so important that even the Mayor didn't stay for the whole thing, and my Alderwoman wasn't there at all.

      There were three pieces of paper handed out. The first was entitled "City of Natchez, Combined Cash Basis Budget, All Governmental Fund Types and Internal Service Funds, Fiscal Year 2006-7". This was a list of broad categories of Revenues (eg Taxes, Licenses & Fees, Bank Loans) and Expenses (eg General Government, Public Safety, Public Works) with amounts from five Governmental Fund Types (General, Special, Debt Service, Capital Projects, and Internal Service). Revenues and Expenses of all types equal $30,693,989.

      The second sheet had no title, but I think it was a list of Revenue and Expense line items in the General Fund. One column was labeled October 1 2005-06 and the other October 1 2006-07. Although the next year's Budget was supposed to be the same as this years, the figures in the two columns did not match. Also, neither column seemed to match the first sheet.

      The third sheet was totally worthless - a list of the same broad categories which were on the first handout, but with no amounts or fund types.

      The hearing began with City Clerk Donnie Holloway reading the first handout with no explanation. That was certainly not very enlightening - unless you don't know how to read. Then the Mayor opened it up to questions and comments from the audience. Hardly anyone was there, since there was really no Budget to have a hearing on. A couple of people asked for funding for certain items. I asked if there would be a public hearing on the amended Budget, and I didn't get a direct answer. The Mayor said they didn't have to but they might. When I asked if the amended Budget itself would be made public, he said yes.

      After the public hearing was closed, the Mayor had to leave. There was some discussion by the Board before they adopted the so called Budget. One thing was obvious to me: no one there really understood what they were voting on. Alderman Gray, who is not as dumb as some people think he is, said he knew of only four items they had voted to increase: Legislative, Police, Fire, and (I think) Public Works. He asked the City Clerk if those were the only items that had been changed in the Budget, and he was told yes. Afterwards, I asked Alderman Gray why there were differences between the two columns, if the only changes were the ones he mentioned. He said that's why he asked the question - to get it in the record.

      It was really very scary to watch our elected officials deal with a $30+ million Budget. That's our tax dollars - and our city's future.

      Friday, September 08, 2006

      Questions about Hotel

      natchezblues said...
      I read in the paper that the city will issue bonds to the persons/co. building the new hotel downtown. Then this co. will buy back the bonds, I believe. I guess this made the deal more appealing, but WHY? Why aren't they paying property taxes? We must stop giving our city away and instead appreciate its value and act accordingly. I know others were interested in buidling a hotel on this site, why couldn't taxes have been a barganing tool in choosing the right prospect.

      Thursday, September 07, 2006

      The County Is Totally Different!

      Tonight I went to the County Board of Supervisors for the hearing on their Budget. What a difference in atmosphere from the City!

      First of all, they handed out several sheets of paper to everyone in the audience. There was the Proposed Budget, plus two sheets comparing information from this year and the Proposed Budget. Charlie Brown is the recently retired County Administrator, who is consulting on the budget this year. He gave a brief overview of the budget, and then the discussion was opened to the audience. It was very friendly and informal. Anyone could just raise their hands and make comments or ask questions, and I know you'll be shocked to learn that I asked several.

      Because the County will have an increase in some revenue sources and has been able to decrease some expenses, the millege rate will be slightly less than last year - so you should pay less in taxes.

      The County starts the year with $2,139,377 cash balance, and the Budget projects overall Revenues of $20,776,537 for a total of $22,915,914. About half the Revenues comes from property taxes and about another quarter comes from federal, state, and local government. The rest comes from other taxes, fees, licenses, interest, etc.

      The total Expenditures are the same as the total Revenues (required for balancing a budget). The categories are, from largest to smallest: General Government, Public Safety, Public Works, Debt Service, Education, Health & Welfare, Other Financing, Conservation of Natural Resources, Economic Development & Assistance, and Culture & Recreation.

      It's difficult to tell much from the Budget itself, since it is based on broad categories. As they say, the devil is in the details. There is a very lengthy budget, with all the line items. I suggested that after the end of the fiscal year (September 30), they send a copy of the entire itemized budget to the Library, which they happily agreed to do, along with a final itemized budget for this fiscal year. They also agreed to see if it was available in electronic form, and if so, to send that to the Library to post on its website. So citizens will have all year to look at the figures and can come to next year's budget hearing knowing exactly how their money is being spent.

      I did find out that the Budget ultimately adopted by the Board is the one with the broad categories. The itemized budget is to help the Board determine how much goes into each category. So long as a department stays within its overall allocation, it has flexibility in expenditures. The Board will vote to change the budget only if a department needs to exceed its allocation.

      The openness of this meeting was so refreshing!

      The City will have it's public Budget hearing next Thursday, September 14 - don't forget to attend. Since they don't have a budget, it should be interesting.

      There is also a meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen on Tuesday, September 12 at 11 am.

      Thursday, August 24, 2006

      The Annexation Process

      If you read the paper today, then you know the Mayor wants to double the size of the city by annexing parts of the county. I was curious how this process would work. So I went to the Mississippi Secretary of State's website, where I can look at the Mississippi Code, assuming that Natchez must conform to state laws governing annexation.

      This information is found in Title 21 Municipalities: Chapter 1 Classifiction, Creation, Abolition, and Expansion. Extention or Contraction of Corporate Boundaries is found Sections
      § 21-1-27 through §21-1-41.

      First, the City has to pass an ordinance (following procedures in the City Code) defining the changed boundaries, describing proposed improvements in the annexed territory and when they will be made, and stating the services the City will provide to the annexed territory. Unless they decide to suspend the rules, we may assume the public will have an opportunity to be heard.

      Next, the City files a petition in the Chancery Court. Any parties interested in, affected by, or aggrieved by the annexation have the right to appear at the hearing. The chancellor (which I assume is the Chancery Court Judge) decides if the annexation "is reasonable and is required by the public convenience and necessity" and that "reasonable public and municipal services will be rendered . . . in a reasonable time". The burden of proof is on the City. The chancellor also has the power to modify the annexation.

      The decree of the chancellor goes into effect in 10 days, unless appealed before that. The City or any person aggrieved by the decision may appeal, and it goes to the Mississippi State Supreme Court for a final decision. The loser pays for the costs of the appeal.

      Tuesday, August 22, 2006

      Board of Aldermen Stonewalls Raises Issue

      I was on the Agenda of the Board of Aldermen tonight. I made a brief presentation about the raises being illegal, since I had already written them all letters, including the citations from the City Code. I ended by asking, "So am I right?" Dead silence. The Mayor asked the Aldermen if anyone wanted to say anything. Then Ricky Gray said he wasn't going to answer my question, but he had something to say when I was through. I said I was through. I have to paraphrase what he said, since I didn't have a recorder.

      He was mad that I called him a "hypocrite" for voting to suspend the rules to allow the vote. (Someone's reading the blog, since that's the only place I've used that word.) He said there are numerous motions to suspend the rules, which he votes for without knowing why they've been made. (So I guess he votes for things he doesn't know anything about and somehow thinks that's better than being a hypocrite.) He said I should have brought the issue to the attention of the Mayor first. (I did, but he never answered me.) But then he went way over the line. He said the Library (where I work) has enough problems of its own and needs to get its own house in order before telling other people how to run their business. He gave examples, which I'm not going to dignify by repeating.

      I said, very forcefully, that this has nothing to do with the Library. That I was here as a private citizen and the work was done on my own time. I sincerely hoped that no one on the Board would hold the Library responsible for anything that I did or said on my own time.

      When Ricky finished, I asked the Mayor if I was going to get an answer to my question. He said he asked the Aldermen if they wanted to say anything, and no one did. I said that I guessed I wasn't going to get an answer - and that was very interesting! I then sat down and stayed for the rest of the meeting. It was a short meeting and not much happened. (Although I understand something big happened in the meeting before the meeting.)

      After the meeting, I was on the sidewalk walking home, and Alderman David Massey passed me on his way to his car. I asked him, "Don't you think y'all should have answered my question?" Obviously very angry, he said, "Lady, you need to get a life. You have big problems." I just said "Whew!" as he slammed his car door.

      Now I may not be a lawyer, but I am a psychologist. This is the behavior of guilty and defensive parties, and it is very obvious to me that the Board broke the law. If I had been wrong, they would have told me so - and probably taken great joy in making me look like an idiot. What possible reason could they have for not correcting me?

      They could have admitted their mistake, said they didn't realize it at the time, apologized to the citizens of the City, and then done it the right way. I think most people would have been so impressed with that response that they wouldn't even have objected to the raises. I know I wouldn't have objected. I was more upset with the process than I was with the raise itself. But of course, this type of rational response is not in the personality make up of this Board.

      Tell me again - when is the next election?

      Monday, August 21, 2006

      Updates on Tax Assessment

      Previously, I told you how to look up the value of property belonging to anyone in the state. At the time, I wasn't sure what all the terms meant. After a visit to the Tax Assessor's office, I can report the following:
      • True Improved Value is the value of your house.
      • True Land Value is the value of your land.
      • True Value is the value of your house and land combined.
      • Assessed Value is 10% of the True Value and is what your taxes are based on.
      • You pay taxes for the county and for the school district - plus the city if you live in Natchez. All three together add up to .1662, unless someone raises taxes.
      • Multiple your Assessed Value by .1662 to determine your taxes.
      • Then subtract your homestead exemption.

      Don't forget the Mayor & Board of Aldermen meet Tuesday at 6 pm. I hope to be on the Agenda about the raises, and I requested it in time. We'll see!

      Tuesday, August 15, 2006

      Raises Again

      Below is a copy of a letter that I've written to the Mayor and Aldermen and will hand deliver tomorrow. Hopefully, my request to be on the Agenda will be early enough. Make plans to come to the next meeting on Tuesday, August 22 at 6 pm.

      On June 17, you voted to give yourself a raise effective July 1. I believe that vote was illegal, and I have enclosed the wording of the two applicable sections of the City Code.

      If I am incorrect, then please let me know why. On the other hand, if I am correct, then I am asking that you acknowledge your mistake, rescind the motion, and do it again legally.

      I am requesting that I be placed on the Agenda of the meeting on August 22 to discuss this issue.

      Interesting Fact from Natchez Water Works

      At the last meeting of the Mayor & Board of Aldermen, David Gardiner (Natchez Water Works) reported that for the first month since Katrina, there were more water turn offs than water turn ons in July. Generally speaking, when your turn ons are higher than your turn offs, your population is growing, and vice versa. (This sounds vaguely obscene.)

      Is this a trend or just a blip?

      Monday, August 14, 2006

      Find Tax Appraised Value of Anyone's House

      This is a very interesting site, which was found accidently by an anonymous friend who passed it on to me. It's from the State Treasurer's office. If you click on the link (which is the title above), you'll see a list of counties. Click on Adams for our county - but you can do any county. Then put in a name., and you'll see a list of properties in that name. Click on one, and you'll see the 2005 landroll information.

      Here are two examples: my house and Trent Lott's, which I guess is no longer there.

      Casey - Trent
      True Value (TV): 87,060 - 308,940
      Assessed Value: 8,706 - 30,894 (10% of TV)
      Cultivated Value (CV): 900 - 0 (10% of TLV)
      True Improved Value (TIV): 78,060 - 122,060 (TV-CV/UC)
      Improved Value: 7,806 - 12,206 (10% of TIV)
      Uncultivated Value (UV): 0 - 186,880 (100% of TLV)
      True Land Value (TLV): 9,000 - 186,880

      I have no idea what all this means. What is cultivated and uncultivated value? Why deduct only 10% of cultivated and 100% of uncultivated? Most importantly, how are my taxes figured on this? If anyone knows the answer, please post a comment. Otherwise, I think I'll trot myself over to the Tax Assessors Office to find out.

      One interesting thing: Trent starts with a True Value worth more than 3.5 times mine. He ends up with an Improved Value worth only 1.5 times mine. Maybe that vegetable garden in my back yard is hurting me!

      Thursday, August 10, 2006

      How to Find Out What the Law Is

      If you want to be a responsible and active citizen, and you can't afford to hire a lawyer, you need to be able to look up the law yourself. Fortunately, that's a lot easier now than it used to be because of the Internet.

      Mississippi Law
      • It's valuable to have the website of the State of Mississippi saved in your Favorites to check out all sorts of state agencies.
      • The entire Mississippi state code is online and searchable.
      • If you want an old fashioned paper copy, it's in the Armstrong Library. You may read it and make copies, but it is Reference material and cannot be checked out.

      City Law

      • Just recently, the Armstrong Library has received a paper copy of the Natchez City Code. Again, it is Reference Material and cannot be checked out.
      • The City Code is not yet available online. However, it can be for only $400 a year. The Mayor has been asked to put that amount in the City Budget for next fiscal year (October 1). So hopefully that will be available soon.

      County Law

      • You're not going to believe this, but there is no copy of the County Code. If you want to know what the law is, you have to go searching through all the old minutes. Looks like somebody doesn't want you to know what's going on!
      • The good news is that Chancery Clerk Tommy O'Beirne is going through the minutes to put everything in one place. There's no telling how long that will take.

      Wednesday, August 09, 2006

      Rinaldi Strikes Again!

      On the front page of the Miss Lou Magazine, you'll see an article entitled Aldermen's Raise Illegal? - Commentary by Peter Rinaldi. (You will recognize the information right away, since it came from this blog.) At the end of the article it says: Thanks to Casey Ann Hughes of Natchez for her research on this controversy. See her commentary at www.natchezms.blogspot.com.

      This is a perfect example of why I'm not a big Rinaldi fan. He's smart, and he knows alot, but there's always something missing or not quite right about what he writes. If you were reading the article and you didn't know any better, you might think I was a researcher for Rinaldi - or at the very least that I had provided the information to him for his use. However, he not only didn't ask me if it was alright to use my information, he didn't even have the courtesy to let me know. Such a class act!

      Let me tell you how I found out - it's a good story. A charming gentlemen that I did not know called me on Tuesday evening. He wanted to tell me about some other issues I should research. He obviously thought I was some kind of investigative reporter. During the course of the conversation, he said he was 90 years old. I was very impressed that someone of his age should be reading a blog, and I asked him who told him about it. He was totally confused. Finally, he said, "I didn't get this off any computer - I read it in my paper." Now I'm confused, so I asked which one. He said the one they throw in his driveway for free - written by the guy who attacks everybody. He thought I worked for it. I quickly assured him I did not!

      It took me a while to find a copy of the paper, since apparently it's not delivered everywhere at the same time. A friend kindly brought me a copy.

      Oh, by the way, I intend to send Rinaldi a copy of this. (My momma taught me some manners.)

      Educational Inadequacies

      gritsisit said...

      I wish our leaders would address the educational inadequacies in Natchez. When this was brought up at a city council meeting last year, I heard Joyce Arceneaux say "Natchez has a wonderful education system" and that was the end of the discussion. I've also heard that our ACT scores in Natchez were second to last in the country - after the city of Washington, D.C. Is that true? Does anyone know the facts?

      Skyrocketing real estate prices!

      sayitaintso said...

      Who has thoughts about the skyrocketing real estate prices? Lil ol Natchez has something going on . . . I feel the groundswell. But, what might it be? Could Katrina have done this?

      Tuesday, August 08, 2006

      How to View and Post Comments

      There are two ways to see and/or post comments. At the end of each Article you’ll see:
      1. The Time the article was posted. Click to see the article with the Comments listed afterwards. At the end of the Comments is a link to Post a Comment which you can click to post your own.
      2. The word Comments with a number after it, which indicates how many comments there have been. Click on Comments to see other comments and to post one of your own.

      Either way, here's how to post a comment:

      1. Clicking (as described above) will take you to a place to type your message.
      2. You may choose to sign into your Google/Blogger account or post as Anonymous. Although Anonymous is allowed, we encourage you to get a Google Account. (See below for how.) At some point, we might have to disallow Anonymous comments.

      If you don't have an account, look where it says: “No Google Account? Sign up here." Click on that to create an account. Only Google will have this information - it is not sent to us.

      1. You will be asked for a username, a password, a display name, and your email address.
      2. Your username is how you login to Google, and it can be anything you want. However, I will warn you there are millions of people registered, and you will have to come up with something unusual.
      3. Your password can be anything you want, so long as it is at least 6 characters long.
      4. Your display name is what is shown when you post a comment, and it can be anything you want. It doesn’t have to be the same as your username. This is what can make your comments anonymous, because no one, including me, knows who that is.
      5. After that, it will ask you what you want to call your blog. You can leave that blank and click on continue.

      That’s it! Once you’ve done that, your comments will be posted to the blog for all to see with your Display Name as author.

      This blog is moderated. That means that comments have to be approved prior to being posted. If your comments are irrelevant to the article, use profanity, or contain scurrilous comments about others, they will not be published. Comments typed in all caps will not be published. Comments with extensive grammatical and spelling errors will not be published. However, your opinion will NEVER cause your comments not to be published.

      Remember, unless you use your real name for your display name, no one will know who said it.

      If you have any questions, email Casey Ann.

      Report on Meeting

      I did not get on the Agenda for the Board of Aldermen today. You now have to make your request, in writing, the Wednesday before the meeting. I understand that rule has been around for a while, and they decided to start enforcing it. There were others in the audience who had the same problem I did. I'll let you know what I decide to do now.

      The major items of interest today were the raises for police and firefighters. I believe what they said was $2700 across the board raises. The raises go into effect September 1, even though the fiscal year doesn't start until October 1. The employees of the Public Works Department got a $.50/hour raise, which was accomplished without increasing their budget. One person retired, they will not replace that person, and duties have been rearranged.

      If you were at the meeting, please let us know (by Comment) if I forgot anything important.

      Wednesday, August 02, 2006

      Questions about the Aldermen Raises

      On June 27, the Board of Aldermen voted themselves a raise. Here is the exact wording from the Minutes.
      Alderman Massey asked that a motion be made to suspend the rules to make changes to an ordinance. A motion was made by Alderman West and seconded by Alderman Massey to suspend the rules to make changes to an ordinance. The motion carried unanimously. Alderman Massey noted that it has been ten (10) years since there was a change in the salary of the Board of Aldermen. A motion was made by Alderman Massey and seconded by Alderman West to change the salary of the Alderman to $22,300 effective July 1, 2006. The motion carried with the vote being as follows: Arceneaux-Mathis=Yes, Gray = No, Pollard=No, West=Yes, Massey=Yes, Middleton=No. The vote was tied 3-3. Mayor West voted yes to break the tie.
      Three hypocrites: Gray, Pollard, and Middleton think they're off the hook because they voted against the increase. Don't let them get away with it. They voted to suspend the rules which allowed this vote, and they are just as responsible as the others. If they really cared about the city, its citizens, and its employees, they should have voted against the suspension of the rules. At least the other three were honest in their greediness. It's pretty obvious that a deal was worked out on who would vote which way.

      Is It Legal? Probably not. Here's a copy of an email I sent to the Mayor on July 11.

      As you know, the Board voted to give itself a raise retroactive to the beginning of the year. It appears to me that action violates the City's code, as follows:

      Part I. Charter
      Sec. 23. Salaries of officers

      The mayor and all subordinate officers of said city shall, for their services, respectively, receive a just compensation by annual salary or otherwise, payable out of the revenue of said city, to be established and regulated by ordinance of said mayor and aldermen in council; and the aldermen shall receive such compensation as shall be so established, out of said revenues; but, there shall be no increase of the compensation of aldermen to take effect during the year in which it is made.

      Part II Code
      Chapter 2 Administration
      Article II Mayor and Board of Aldermen
      Division II Rules of Procedure
      Sec. 2-85.
      Salary increases (Rule 49).

      Other than at the time of the adoption of the budget for the succeeding year, no salary raises shall be made without first referring same to the finance committee to be sure that funds are provided for this purpose in the budget and approved by the board at two successive regular meetings. This rule shall not be subject to suspension as in rule 50.

      Would you please refer this to the City Attorney and ask him to respond?

      First, I sent this before I had been allowed to see a copy of the Minutes. The public is not allowed to see the Minutes until they've been approved at the following meeting. So you have to wait at least a half month before seeing what actually happened at a meeting. I tried to get a copy at the July 11 meeting, but no one could seem to find a copy (!), so I wrote the letter based on what I thought I had heard or been told. A couple of days later, I was able to get a copy of the Minutes. It turns out that the raises were not retroactive, according to what's in the Minutes.

      But everything else is absolutely right. I have quoted directly from the City Code and cited the appropriate sections. By the way, the city's fiscal year starts on October 1, and the calendar year starts on January 1. No matter which type of year you choose, July 1 is not appropriate.

      Surprise! Surprise! I have not heard from the City Attorney. The Board did not meet on July 25 as scheduled. They will meet again On Tuesday, August 8 at 11 am. I intend to ask to be on the calendar to discuss this issue, and I would appreciate your being there to support me.

      PS I sent a copy of my letter to the Natchez Democrat, and the reporter was looking into it, but there has been no article yet.

      Casey Ann Hughes