Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Who Should Be Our Mayor?

On Tuesday, June 3, voters will choose between Democrat Jake Middleton and Independent Chick Graning to serve as Mayor of Natchez for the next four years.

I was fortunate to have long, involved conversations with both candidates, and I appreciate their giving me their time. It's too bad that every voter cannot have that opportunity. However, for the first time, voters will have the chance to ask their own questions of the candidates. The Natchez Democrat is giving us the opportunity to question them online on Friday, at 2:30 pm for Graning and 3:30 pm for Middleton. I this is a wonderful service being offered, and I will be curious to see how it goes.

I learned a lot during my conversations. One thing I can predict for sure. Whoever wins the election, Natchez will have a much better administration than in the past four years. Although not obvious at first, voters have a choice between two very different candidates.

I queried them both about the principles of effective government, about which I wrote a previous article:
  1. Involve the public
  2. Act in public
  3. Obey the law
  4. Handle our money responsibly
  5. Manage our government

They both support these principles and agreed to abide by them. One reason for the defeat of our current Mayor is that voters did not see any of these principles at work. Both candidates see the desire for an open, honest, law abiding, efficient, and effective city government.

Each candidate's greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. Chick Graning is not a politician, and Jake Middleton is experienced with city government and politics. Most voters believe not being a politician is an advantage, although I don't always agree - especially in an administrative position.

Chick will bring a fresh and different point of view to the job. His enthusiasm is obvious, and you feel he will really love his job. He would make meetings of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen more interesting and lively, for which I'd be eternally grateful. You'll be more likely to get a straight answer from Chick, because he hasn't learned "politicospeak" yet. He'll be more courageous in making difficult decisions, because he won't be focused on the effect on his next election. However, Chick's knowledge of how government works is limited, and I worry this might restrict his effectiveness. Contrary to public opinion, government cannot be run like a business - they operate based on very different principles.

Jake is definitely an experienced politician. As such, he is knowledgeable about how the city works, and that is valuable information for a Mayor. This is not knowledge you can gain by reading a book, and it is painful to learn on the job. He will definitely have the edge on effectiveness and efficiency. On the other hand, this knowledge brings a certain cynicism and may restrain creativity.

Chick and Jake have totally different personalities that will effect their leadership style. Just look at their signs: Jake's are quiet and dignified, while Chick's demand your attention. Chick is obviously a better speaker, more charismatic, and he will lead by inspiration. Jake is more methodical, less confrontational, and will lead by developing consensus.

Jake's biggest negative is that he was a part of the previous administration and can be held responsible for its actions. When asked about it, he said he saw no need to fight losing battles, and he picked his fights. This is reflective of his personality traits of avoiding controversy and trying to make everybody happy. I see Chick as a little like a bull in a china shop. He will have no hesitation to charge right into a fight - even if he has to break some dishes. He may plan less and be less careful, but you'll know he tried.

During the past four years, the Board of Aldermen has run amok. The Mayor just let them do whatever they wanted at meetings, rarely intervening. I asked both candidates about this, and they agreed things would be different, although the changes they'll make will reflect their styles. For example, Jake will depend more on rules, and Chick will be more personally involved.

There is a perceived conflict in this town between historic preservation and economic development. This is a false dichotomy, since with proper leadership, these efforts can complement each other, and both candidates see this. However, in a tough choice, I think Jake would side with economic development and Chick with historic preservation. Both candidates have ideas and visions for moving Natchez forward - some creative and some less so. But the public will know about these ideas and will be involved in their implementation. I think they both understand the importance of the community in any project's success.

I admire Chick for focusing on education, because this is a long term priority, with visible results likely to come after he leaves office. I feel more comfortable with Jake when it comes to managing the City's finances. Not only has he managed the finances of a successful business, but he's been dealing with the City's finances for years.

They both have a serious shortcoming - neither is very technologically inclined. This is too bad, since technology could be the future for Natchez, with some leadership. We can only hope they will delegate this responsibility to a competent and creative employee or advisor.

Finally, there's my personal criteria for evaluating male candidates - their wives. Both candidates have married strong, intelligent, professional women, which says a lot to me on their behalf. I don't know Mitzi Middleton well, but I can say that I love Lil Graning - she'll keep City Hall lively and entertaining.


Anonymous said...

Casey, thank you for this unbiased assessment of our mayoral candidates. I am a MIddleton supporter and believe experience is crucial to the job.

I grew up in Natchez and I know Jake personally since he is my age and I went through school with him. He has a great personality and kept me laughing all through high school and I think sometimes this does not come across because Jake does take his job seriously. I do know that Jake is one of the most honest, hard working, and sincere people I know. You can trust Jake as a friend and as a your mayor.

However, I think personality will only get you so far in the job as mayor; if you don't know the rules and guidelines that can take years to learn then you are dependent on other's opinions and I think you loose your control and effectiveness. This will never happen with Jake because he knows all the ins and outs of the job.

I know Jake is the right man for the job!

Anonymous said...

And I'm all for Chick in the upcoming election.

asey had some great observations, and read chick's response. Chick is a very good man, with high principles.

And he's right on the money about the school system! We ALL should be involved to turn the apathy towards a good education around. A good school system is crucial towards attracting people and businesses.

And as to him having "no political experience", I say Hallelujah!! A real person!! Not some failed career politician that has sat idle for too many years as an alderman. Sorry Jake- watching you and your comrades on public access- geez.. what a bunch of illiterate, loud, and incompetent people.

Maybe they are the output of a broken school system!

And also- as to having no experience- how 'bout the old lamentation of people applying for a job that requires "experience"?

"They want to hire someone with experience, but how do you gain experience if you aren't doing the job?"

Jake has had years to garner experience and use it to bolster our community, but instead has sat idle and watched the paychecks roll.

Come on Chick- do us good!

Anonymous said...

I got mail today from Jake and Chick - both sent bulk rate. Jake's bulk rate stamp has a return address of Natchez MS. However, Chick's says Fenton MO (Missouri), which is strange. Did he spend his campaign dollars out of state? If so, that's not very loyal to the city of Natchez.

Anonymous said...

Good article Casey.

I have been disappointed with both campaigns. Both campaigns lack any vision.

Middleton's resume is thin, his years in office have been lackluster yet he does have contacts and political experience. Chick's campaign is also lacking something, he seems to have a limited grasp of the way the city of Natchez works.
Chick is correct that the school system is struggling but the role of the mayor has very little influence with the school district. He has said he will encourage more parental involvement, this is good but he could do that without being mayor. The problems with the public schools are complex and the best solution will require a new school to be constructed, more parental and community involvement. This is unlikely. The school superintendent also seems to be lacking leadership although he appears to be a good administrator.

Both candidates are nice guys, both care about the city. The choice is not easy but I have to give the edge to Middleton, Chick is aligned and supported by good intentioned people who have fought progress. These people have protested new construction and development. Some of these projects with guidance and and a good city planner and planing commission could have worked through some of the problems. No new project is going to get everyone's support but all concerns should be heard and considered. Phillip made mistakes in this area and lost his job because of it. I am worried that either candidate may actually be a worse option than Phillip. (Lets hope they will be better than Hank.) Butch Brown's 8 years were marked by bullying and corruption. Butch although he was excellent promoter and salesman for Natchez his deals that benefited his pockets and bought unneeded property for the city. He overbuilt grand scale projects and diverted promotional funds for Natchez. This is a legacy that will take years for Natchez to overcome.
I think Phillip will be viewed later as one of the best mayors that Natchez had in recent memory.

I hope the new mayor will not build monuments, will not tax us to death, will be a hands on people person. It would be nice to see our mayor around town and visiting businesses schools and neighborhoods. (at times other than election time)I hope the next mayor will not waste money on stupid trips to Sweden (Phillip's golf trip) or to Israel ( one of Butch's free vacations) . Natchez has so much potential lets hope the new mayor can finally help it become the place it could be.

I will vote for Jake, although I have known Chick for years. (And I did not vote for Jake in the primary!) I actually originally thought I would have voted for Chick against Phillip. His campaign has been a huge disappointment to me.

Anonymous said...

I thought I was voting for Chick unitl I read this!
He stated Middleton "left our budget and our finances in a shambles", can he read a balance sheet?

The truth is....we have a balanced budget and a little over a million in the bank.

Chick continues by saying Middleton's wife will not retire. Who is he to speak for this women?

Middleton can send out all the negitive mailing he wants. He should let people read this and Chick will kill his own votes.

Anonymous said...

Chick has no place saying what Mrs. Middleton will do. He has started slinging mud himself.

Which "powers" of downtown convinced him to run? I heard he was a last resort for them.

Anonymous said...

Chick has his materials printed at Office Depot not a local printer like Middleton. Thats local economic support right there!

Anonymous said...

It appears that Chick is trying to garner some of the "black" vote by listing predominatly black subdivisions as with out recreation facilities. I can name several predominatly white areas without recreation facilities. (Village Green, Montebello, Woodhaven, The Trees, and more)

Sheldon Kaiser said...

In Chick Granning's response, he stated that Holiday Apts., Cambridge Heights, and Maryland heights is without recreation facilities. These locations are Housing Authority managed property, not city managed properties. Therefore the city does not have jurisdiction on that property to be able to place and maintain the playground parks at these locations. Where would the extra money come from if the city could place playgrounds at the Housing Authority properties ? How can Chick justify adding new park facilities at these proposed locations ,when there is currently not enough available funding to maintain the existing city park facilities. Please explain or correct me if am misinformed.