Wednesday, October 07, 2009

I Was a Movie Star Today - Sort Of

Over the past four years I've been through four hurricanes and made three insurance claims. Each time, I think they're going to cancel me - or jack up my premiums. Nope. Not only that, but my insurance company (Travelers) was wonderful. So wonderful in fact that I decided to write and thank them after the last storm - around May or June of this year. I'm famous for writing nasty letters, but I write nice ones, too. Unfortunately, nasty letters tend to get more of a reaction than nice ones. Until now, that is.

A couple of days ago, I received a call from Travelers asking if I had written that nice email, and I said yes. He asked if I would be willing to be interviewed about my experience for a video they were putting together for training purposes. I said sure.

Today was an immensely busy day at the Library, since we just reopened after installing our new automation system - and of course, there were tons of little glitches. However, I was sure I could take off a few minutes to talk to Travelers. I told him to call me when he got to Natchez.

When he called, I gave him directions to the Library and went right back to work. Shortly thereafter, there was a knock on my door, and I looked up to see a whole passel of people - I think 5 or 6. I was a little taken aback, because my experience with TV interviews is one person talking and another with a camera.

Then they walked around the Library looking for a good location, while I'm thinking we could just stand in the hall and talk. Finally, they decided on our meeting room - which was the only room without people, since we were very busy after being closed for almost a week. They said it would take them a little while to set up, and I went back to work.

When they came to get me, I was in total shock. Our meeting room had been transformed into a real live television studio. The sound man - yes there was one - was concerned about how noisy our air conditioning was and wanted to know if it could be turned off for a little while. I died laughing, and those of you who have been following the travails of the Library's antique AC will appreciate why. This was the best part - they put make up on me - who never wears makeup. It was just to get rid of the glare and not to make me look good - but still it was pretty funny.

I then proceeded to have a conversation with the interviewer who was off camera - and it went on for a while. Then the person I thought of as the producer asked some extra questions. About this time, the adjuster that I had dealt with showed up. They wanted to walk over to my house, which is fortunately a half a block from the Library.

The adjuster and I then had to reenact our original interaction in my back yard. This was a little difficult, since the first time my back yard was totally taken up with a tree - and now it is gone. But we did out best. Then they filmed him in the car with his computer submitting the necessary information and processing the claim. Then we sat on my front porch while he went over the imaginary report and presented me with a blank check - which unfortunately I couldn't keep.

While all this is happening, my neighbors are wondering what in the world was going on. One even drove around looking for the TV truck so he could go back and watch me on TV. They figured with all those people and equipment, it must be something big. Coincidentally, a helicopter flew over during our filming - which the sound guy really didn't like.

The funniest part of the whole event was when they had me get into the closet under my stairs (which is my safe place during storms). Then I had to walk out and act like I did after the storm and wander over to the door and look out. I was definitely doing my best Sarah Bernhardt imitation.

They gave me a huge red Travelers umbrella and a gift card, which was very nice. The final filming of the day was the adjuster and me standing under the Travelers umbrella talking.

I hope that one beneficial outcome of this event will be that whoever sees the video will have a positive impression of Natchez. One question they asked me was why I stayed somewhere where I suffered through four hurricanes in as many years. So of course, I had to explain how unique Natchez is, and they did some filming of the city itself - including the bluffs over the Mississippi River, which I talked about.

They are going to send me a copy when it's finished - 2 hours of filming will probably be condensed into two minutes. However, I can barely wait to see it - and I will share it.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

An Open Letter to Alderwoman Arceneaux-Mathis

This letter was sent to Alderwoman Arceneaux-Mathis by Tom Scarborough, but he never received a response. It is published here by permission.

Dear Ms Arceneaux-Mathis:

I am writing to you today to express my deep unhappiness with the decision of the mayor and Board of Aldermen to terminate John "Rusty" Lewis as the City Planner. Mr. Lewis is one of the few individuals in city government I regard as having been highly competent in discharging the responsibilities of his job. You and your fellow aldermen have repeatedly demonstrated your disregard for the city's planning and preservation ordinances, but eliminating the entire Planning department takes your collective irresponsibility to new and breathtaking levels. Your personal animosity towards Mr. Lewis (and towards Ms. Brinegar) is no secret, and it is transparently obvious that this has little to do with city budget concerns. This is purely personal and political, a hallmark of your tenure as the alderman for our ward.

If you and the other aldermen are serious about cutting city expenses, may I suggest that you begin by reducing your own part-time salaries to $12,000 per year--roughly what aldermen in Ocean Springs and Brookhaven are earning. That would be a savings of nearly $60,000 per year, which could be used to pay Mr. Lewis' salary, with money left over. Then I would suggest eliminating Darlene Jones' position as head of Community Development, saving the city $38,000 per year. I see very little in the way of tangible results coming from that position that would justify funding her position, but eliminating Mr. Lewis'. I realize this would demand setting aside your racial biases and petty personal animosities, and putting the needs of the city ahead of personal agendas, but that is what responsible leaders do in times of crisis--and Natchez is indeed in a state of crisis.

I moved to Natchez in 2005 from California. I am a registered Democrat, a progressive-minded liberal and, now, a deeply concerned city tax-payer and constituent of yours. For the four years I have lived in your ward, I have watched with growing dismay as you have wallowed in the politics of race, wasted city money on your "lobbying" excursions to DC, and further polarized the people of Natchez. And now you have used our current budget crisis to go after two highly competent department heads towards whom you have held a personal grudge. Please know that should you decide to run for reelection, I will contribute to the limits of my voluntary time and my wallet to whomever your opponent happens to be.

Tom Scarborough

UPDATE: He sent a similar letter to the Editor of the Natchez Democrat.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Planning Vice Chair Comments

Ed Godfrey, Vice Chair of the Planning Commission, sent this letter to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen and is reprinted here with permission.

I was first appointed to the Natchez Board of Adjustment in 1992. After fifteen years on the Board of Adjustment it was merged with the Metropolitan Planning Commission to form the Natchez Planning Commission, of which I am Vice-Chairman. I have worked with seven city planners and can state that John R. Lewis is the most qualified planner we have had since James Shelby. Mr. Shelby left for a better position in Jackson before eventually becoming a city planner in Atlanta. Fortunately John Lewis lived in Natchez for a few years in the 1970’s and fell in love with the city. He was willing to work in Natchez for less than he could make elsewhere and eventually retire here.

Your plans to gut the planning department would be a major step backward for the city of Natchez. There is not a more qualified planner available; if fact it’s questionable you could find even an unqualified one willing to take a chance on a city which has had four planners in the last six years. Is that what you feel is the best we can do in Natchez? . I can’t believe the Board of Aldermen would support a system where a person could open a bar next to a church without a hearing.

Mr. Lewis inherited a disjointed planning department and has worked hard to bring it around. The job of city planner is tough in any city as there is always a sizable segment of the population who think that they should be able to do anything with their property, and take it out on the planner when he tries to explain the codes and zoning ordinances of a particular city. In the last seventeen years I’ve received numerous complaints concerning all seven planners I’ve worked with; generally developers complaining about being asked to comply with city codes and ordinances and neighbors opposing projects neat their homes or businesses. And the city planner is always in the middle.

Natchez enacted a new development code in January, 2008, and hired John Lewis to enforce it. He has done just that and written amendments to the new code when it needed to be adjusted. He has worked 50-60 hour weeks to improve the planning department and have it functioning properly. Prior to his arrival public notification of various special exception and zoning requests was limited, members of our various commissions received information for our monthly meeting too late to investigate the requests and our decisions were often tabled for lack of information. Since we meet monthly the volunteer members of the commissions often had to agree to called meetings to keep developers from waiting another month to begin a project

Please do the right thing and retain John Lewis as our city planner.