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.