Friday, May 30, 2008

Gwen Ball Is the Obvious Choice in Ward 3

On Tuesday, June 3, the voters in Ward 3 will choose whether to keep the incumbent Bob Pollard or replace him with the challenger Gwen Ball. To me, the choice is obvious.

Bob Pollard's big claim to fame is that he attended all the meetings of the Board of Aldermen. Well, big whoopy doo! So he's like a bump on the log that never moves? I hate to break it to you, Bob, but voters expect you to DO something while you're there. So what has he actually done?
  • Served as Phillip West's lapdog by doing everything he asked.
  • Sat in on those closed door meetings and took his voting orders like a loyal soldier.
  • Sounded like a redneck with his poor grammar while representing the City to outside interests.
  • Allowed an illegal pay raise for Aldermen before considering one for police and firefighters.
  • Smirked while his constituents were ignored and abused at Board meetings.
  • Wined and dined with all the developers and casino operators looking for business in the city.
  • Voted for a corrupt condo deal over a fair one far better for the City.
  • Supported the illegal destruction of City property.

Does this sound like someone we want representing Ward 3 and the City of Natchez? Not to me.

Now, look at Gwen Ball, his opponent in this race. It's like night and day.

If Gwen is elected, I guarantee you there will be no closed door meetings that do not clearly abide by the law. All we need is one honest Alderperson who is willing to blow the whistle on illegal activity, and it will no longer happen. On that point alone, Gwen should earn your vote and support.

How will Gwen make decisions? Well, unlike her opponent, it won’t be based on who spent the most money entertaining her. She will first and foremost solicit citizen input. And, as she demonstrated countless times in her appearances before the Board, she will do her research to gather FACTS – something totally lacking during the prior administration.

Someone once said to me, “Gwen will be a great public official, because she cares about the ‘little’ people.” Although I might disagree with the term “little people”, the idea expressed is right on target. Pollard will pay attention to you if you’re important or rich, but Gwen will give everyone equal attention.

Gwen is not afraid to tackle tough issues. She demonstrated her courage when, against all odds, she took on the condo developers. You would not believe the abuse she has suffered, but she has never waivered – because she knew she was right. She showed courage again when she agreed to run for Alderwoman, when everyone said she didn’t have a chance.

Even if she doesn’t win, Gwen has already performed a service for Natchez. She was the first candidate to campaign for open government, and now almost all candidates endorse that position (except Pollard, of course). The next Mayor and Board, whoever they are, will operate in a much more open manner and involve the public in their decisions, and you can thank Gwen for that.

However, I think she’ll win. Why? She has worked very hard, knocking on practically every door in her ward and talking to voters. If she missed them at home, she has tried to call them. And do you know what? When voters meet her, they really like her. Her genuineness comes across, and they trust her to represent them fairly.

Please vote for Gwen Ball on Tuesday, June 3.

A vote for Gwen is a vote for Natchez.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Chick Graning's Response

I have given both candidates the opportunity to write a response, and here is Chick's. Comments will not be permitted to this article. Post comments on the Mayoral race to my previous article.
In reply to your write up regarding the Mayoral race interviews, I would like to make several comments:

1) Thanks for the kind words about my wife. She is special and loves people--- she would indeed be a full time ambassador for Natchez. Jake's wife, Mitzie, is an outstanding Neonatologist in Jackson. I seriously doubt if she will retire, as he says, if he becomes mayor. Therefore, his time will continue to be divided between Natchez and Jackson as before. Add to that his current business interest here and being a full time mayor will be difficult, if not impossible.

2) If my opponent's experience at dealing with the city's finances for 16 years is seen as a positive in the race, then why are the city's finances in such abysmal shape? Where was my opponent's leadership for all those years? During those same 16 years, I started a commission-only insurance business and built it from zero to retirement. In addition, during this time, I recruited a number of agents, trained them, and made a very successful sales force with them.

3) Apparently I came across in the interview as a " bull in a china shop". I am aggressive, but only where challenges are concerned. This is a good thing! I am a team builder, and my real strengths are communication, compromise, and cooperation. These methods of management are the best and most thoroughly proven way to make progress.

4) My opponent or his campaign manager have begun to "sling a little mud". I refuse to join in that sort of thing, but I WILL answer statements I consider to be unfair or untrue. I will continue to run my campaign just as I will run the city--in an honest, above board, and open manner. The voters of Natchez truly do have two clearly different choices in this mayoral race. I offer a mayor who brings a brand new outlook to the duties and responsibilities of city government, and a work ethic to make good things happen. My opponent brings 16 years of experience in three administrations which have left our budget and our finances in a shambles, our streets un-paved (until the state came to our aid), and large portions of our city, particularly Holiday Apts., Cambridge Heights, and Maryland Heights, are without recreational facilities altogether. My opponent has been in charge of recreation for most, if not all of his 16 years in office. If so, then why are those children still playing in the dirt? Was there no money or no management, or both? Also, I disagree with your assumption that I will be the "historical" mayor and Jake the "growth" mayor. My opponent appears determined to thwart my drive to improve our public school system, most recently in his flyer stating public education is not the mayors job. In ANY community, the road to economic developement (growth!), and the road out of poverty lead directly through the school house! My opponent seems unwilling, or afraid to tackle such a daunting challenge.

5) My opponent is attempting to demean me via innuendo and assumptions,i.e. "lack of experience", "politicical neophyte","--he doesn't understand--", and other politispeak. My answers are based on fact and are a matter of public record.

Once again, please consider that the voters of Natchez will get exactly what they ask for. Vote your concience, but VOTE.

NOTE: No comments allowed to this article. Make comments on the Mayoral Race to the previous article.

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.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Natchez Blog Makes the Big Time!

Today the Natchez Blog receive an amazing email. We have been selected by the Democratic National Committee to be the Official State Blog for the State of Mississippi at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August. The Natchez Blog will be given official floor credentials and will be seated with the Mississippi Delegation.

This is an awesome honor. As I looked through the list of chosen blogs, I realized we will be with some incredible company - famous blogs that I've been reading forever. I don't know this for a fact, but I imagine we might be the smallest blog there.

In an announcement today, DNC Chairman Howard Dean said
"The Internet has played a critical role in connecting Americans to elected officials and candidates seeking office. The DemConvention State Blogger Corps will continue to foster this dialogue - in all 50 of our states and our territories too - as we head towards this year's historic election and elect a Democrat to the White House."

WOW! This is going to be exciting! More information to come later once we get over our shock.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Why Saving Church Street is Important to Natchez

The Mississippi Department of Transportation’s plan to widen Port Gibson’s Church Street and make it the permanent route of US 61 is disastrous for all Mississippians. It’s not just a tragedy for a handful of homeowners who live on Church Street and whose property will be destroyed along with their peace and quiet; it’s a tragedy for anyone who cares about the beautiful historic churches that give Church Street its name. Large trucks moving along this highway at any speed is damaging to these historic churches and homes and dangerous for the citizens who want to attend church.

Why should Port Gibson’s Church Street be of any concern to Natchezians?
If MDOT can do this to Church Street, they can do it to our streets. Destroying what makes Port Gibson unique and replacing it with what everyone else has, generic gas stations and fast food restaurants, is economic suicide. It’s true for Natchez as well. I hope that Natchez citizens will continue to reject short-sighted business plans by ignorant developers that threaten our historic buildings and neighborhoods. Currently, my friends in Port Gibson (black and white) want new businesses to build up around a bypass, like the ones in Natchez and Brookhaven and the countless historic towns throughout the South. They want to encourage tourism on Church Street and downtown. Fortunately, they have a new mayor who is pro-preservation. New citizens are now moving to Port Gibson because of affordable historic homes and buildings. This is similar to Natchez. Without the charm of our historic downtown and renovated buildings, Natchez loses its strongest asset as a unique place that brings tourism and, more importantly, new citizens with the money and time to help the city maintain its historic architecture. We should be proud of being a destination city that attracts new citizens who want to invest their assets in Natchez, pay taxes on the property they renovate, and become active in our community.
If you are as outraged as I am about the destruction of Church Street and concerned about the future of historic buildings in Mississippi, log on to and go to Port Gibson’s Church Street site to sign the petition and state your opposition. If Natchez is assaulted by a plan this stupid, we would hope that the citizens of Port Gibson would support us. Therefore, let’s support them!
One more thing. My friends in Port Gibson tell me that Natchez’s former mayor and head of MDOT Butch Brown is fully supporting this disastrous decision and indeed pushing for it. Letters to the Clarion Ledger support this belief. I find this hard to believe since Butch Brown has the reputation of supporting preservation in Natchez. The Natchez Garden Club’s Party for Preservation was held at his historic home Mount Repose last month! Can anyone explain to me why Natchez’s native son is pushing for the destruction of Port Gibson’s Church Street ?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Fat Mama's Saga

Part One

Fat Mama's, now located on Canal Street, bought property on the corner of Canal and Washington. They then went to the Planning Commission to request a rezoning of the property to B-2. The residents and property owners in the adjoining residential area were opposed. The Planning Commission, in what I thought was a brilliant move, proposed a compromise: rezone the property to B-1, which is for businesses in residential areas. Fat Mama's would have been able to open a business very similar to what they have now. The neighbors would not have been happy, but if Fat Mama's had worked with the neighborhood, I think a workable solution could have been reached.

However, Fat Mama's got greedy. They wanted a drive through window and a warehouse, which are not allowed under B-1. Mind you, they don't have them now, but they wanted to expand and improve their business. So they had a choice. They could have built at another location in a B-2 district. Or they could have accepted their limitations, designed the facility to allow for future expansion, showed themselves to be good neighbors, worked with the residents, and convinced them the expansion would be a good thing. If Fat Mama's had taken either of these choices, that would have been the end of the story - and with a happy ending.

Instead, Fat Mama's said "screw you" to the residents. We're political bigwigs, and we'll just go to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen and tell them to override the Planning Commission. There was a public hearing on the issue. One hundred percent of the residents in the area signed a petition against the B-2 zoning. Immediately after the hearing, without discussion (so you know it was all decided ahead of time), the Board voted to overrule their own Planning Commission and granted a B-2 zoning. When was the last time you heard of an elected body going against all residents? They were so incredibly arrogant that they thought they could do anything they wanted.

Some residents filed suit, and it was finally resolved in favor of Fat Mama's, because the Court was reluctant to rule against elected officials. In the meantime, Fat Mama's received preliminary approval for site plans by the city's Preservation and Planning Commissions. It was on the basis of these plans that the Court ruled.

Part Two

Fat Mama's began construction, but they discovered some sort of underground drainage structure right where their building was to be, and they couldn't build above it. So, they just moved the building. One minor problem - they neglected to get approval for the new site plan. Can you believe that? The rest of us have to get approval for a stair railing or a new color for our shutters, but these yahoos think they can move a building without approval. Incredible!

The City (maybe because it was an election year) issued a stop work order on May 1. Did they stop? No, they continued to do work. I guess some people think they are above the law, and rules don't apply to them.

The Preservation Commission had a specially called meeting tonight. The meeting began with the new City Planner, John Lewis, presenting a summary of the situation and listing the problems that needed to be addressed. Right away, you knew something was different. For the first time in years, we had a professional planner, and it showed. As he listed all the problems, I was appalled. There was a long list of requirements in the original site plan that had been totally ignored. And these weren't small things either: moving a building 50 feet, using concrete instead of grass, missing shrubbery and landscaping, having exits that weren't there before, etc.

That professional presentation was followed up by a masterful presentation by the Commission Chair, Marty Seibert. She said the Commissioners had visited the site and had agreed on what their major concerns and recommendations were, which she then went over. She bent over backward to tell Fat Mama's that the Commission's goal was to work with them to help the construction continue as quickly as possible. However, her message to them was very clear though polite: they must follow the rules and procedures.

Neither Fat Mama's nor the public had much to say. Fat Mama's did say they thought they could comply with the requirements. They will submit a revised site plan for approval at the Commission's regular meeting next Wednesday, May 14, at 5:15.

I smell a breath of fresh air in Natchez. Wonder if Tuesday's election had anything to do with it?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in the Election

The voters spoke for the first time in this year's City Elections, and there's good, bad, and ugly in the results.

The bad, in my opinion, was that my Alderwoman, Joyce Arceneaux Mathis, got the most votes in Ward 1, and depending on the absentee ballots, may even avoid a runoff. She is without a doubt the most disruptive influence on the Board of Aldermen. Ricky Gray was also reelected, but he's not all bad. UPDATE: She has avoided a runoff. YUCK! Well, maybe the new mayor will keep her in check.

There is lots of good to see in the election results. My favorite result is the election of Tony Fields in Ward 4. He was such an exciting candidate, and I hope he fulfills his promise. In addition to Tony, there will be at least two new Aldermen. One is Dan Dillard in Ward 6, and I think he will bring a great deal of much needed professionalism to the Board. Ward 5 will have a runoff between Frances Thompson Bailey and Mark Fortenberry, and either will be a welcome addition.

The ugly was the voter's dissatisfaction with the way the City has been run, and they took it out on the Mayor, as he was soundly defeated. This should send a message to the Board that things had better change around here.

Jake Middleton did several things I disagreed with when he was Alderman. However, he ran one of the best campaigns I've seen around here, and it paid off for him. If he were to become Mayor, I do believe the City will be far better off that it was. My heartfelt congratulations to Jake for a job well done.

But it's not over yet. In only two weeks on May 20, there will be a Runoff Election in Ward 5, and if I'm lucky, in Ward 1. Then two weeks later on June 3, there will be a General Election for Mayor and for Alderperson for Wards 3 & 5.

Do you want an opportunity to help fight some of the craziness that was foisted on Natchez during this City Administration?

Ron and Mimi Miller have probably done more for Natchez than any other couple. Now it’s time that Natchez returns the favor, and they really need our help.

It’s Fat Mama’s again. It was bad enough that the Mayor and Board of Aldermen overrode the ruling of their Planning Commission and allowed it to be built. But now Fat Mama's doesn't even want to abide by the plan submitted to the Preservation and Planning Commissions. Take a drive down Washington Street, turn left on Wall, then right on Wensel and just look at what Ron and Mimi (and their neighbors) are going to have next to their house. It is an outrage!

What can you do? Attend a meeting of the Preservation Commission which has been called for this Thursday, May 8 at 5:15 pm at the City Council Chambers. Tell everyone you know. Don’t let them get away with violating the law again. Please come and show your support for Ron and Mimi.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

If You Care About Natchez, Please Vote Tuesday

On Tuesday, May 6, Natchez residents will have an opportunity to express their opinions about the future of our City. In contrast to many other elections, the outcome of this one really will make a difference.

There are no Republican primaries. There are Democratic primaries for Mayor and 5 of the 6 Wards. The Ward 3 Alderperson will not be decided until the General Election on June 3, when voters will choose between the Democrat Gwen Ball and the Republican Bob Pollard.

I bet almost everybody knows who's running for Mayor: the incumbent Democrat Phillip West, Democrat Jake Middleton, and Independent Chick Graning. However, not everyone may know that the only choice on Tuesday is between West and Middleton. The winner will run against Graning in the General Election. I have no idea who will win this race on Tuesday, but I bet the turnout is high. It will be no secret to readers of this blog that I am no fan of West, and I intend to vote for Middleton.

Ward 1 votes at the City Council Chambers across from City Hall on South Pearl Street. There are four Democrats running: Incumbent Joyce Arceneaux Mathis, Paul Johnson, Jim Sanders, and Sonya Anderson Mars (whom I've never seen and she may have dropped out). If you read what I wrote about this race, you know I'm a member of the ABA Club - Anyone But Arceneaux. This is my Ward, and I haven't had an Alderperson for years. I beg you to please vote for Johnson or Sanders.

Ward 2 votes at Frazier Primary School on G F West Boulevard. There are three Democrats running: Incumbent Ricky Gray, Larry Hooper, and Johnny Franklin. I also wrote about this race. Although I've never seen him, Hooper looks like a good choice, mainly because I would like to see a whole new Board.

Ward 3 votes at the Elks Lodge on Lower Woodville Road, but only for Mayor, since there are no primaries.

Ward 4 votes at United Rubber Workers Union Hall on Gayosa Avenue. There are three Democrats running: Incumbent Bubber West, Tony Fields, and Donnell Newsome. Although all have their strengths, my definite favorite is Tony Fields, as you can tell from my article about this race.

Ward 5 votes at National Guard Armory on Liberty Road. Incumbent David Massey is retiring, and there are three Democrats running in the Primary: Frances Bailey, Mark Fortenberry, and Tim Session. They all look good to me. The winner will face Republican Charles Zuccaro in the General Election.

Ward 6 votes at the Duncan Park Canteen. Incumbent Jake Middleton is running for Mayor, so there is a vacancy. This is the only race that will definitely be decided on Tuesday, since there is no Republican and only two Democrats running. I prefer Dan Dillard over Forest Foster, because his professional experience would bring much needed knowledge to the Board.

If you don't know what Ward you are in, this map might help.

Keep your voting shoes on, because there may be runoffs in Wards 1, 2, 4, and 5 - and in only two weeks on Tuesday, May 20.