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
Pittsburgh, PA
Hartford, CT
Cincinnati, OH 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 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.