Voters know what they want candidates to address in electionPublished 12:05am Sunday, April 8, 2012
Furlow said he believes the city has misused and overused executive sessions.
“There is a legitimate purpose to meet in executive session,” he said. “To make political decisions, as seems to be the case with the casino issue, is not a legitimate purpose for going behind closed doors.”
Middleton said many sensitive topics like litigation or economic development prospects must be privately discussed.
“(Executive sessions) are not any kind of secret,” he said. “I think the media gets upset by them, but we’re not going to ever discuss something in there that shouldn’t be discussed in executive session.”
Brown said the public is supposed to be given a report of what happens in an executive session, which has not always been the case.
“Once you get into a situation where the public is vitally interested and there’s no communication, that’s when the officials and city lose credibility,” Brown said. “There’s got to be transparency and accountability given to the voters. They have a right to know.”
Buie said he believes the legal interpretation of when the board can meet should be strict, and he said he wants to ensure executive sessions are kept at the lowest possible number.
What the candidates say on the latest casino development
The board’s use of executive sessions received much public scrutiny during the recent negotiations and approval of the third amendment to the city’s lease with Roth Hill casino developers. The mayor and aldermen spent nearly six hours during four meetings in February in closed-door executive sessions.
Brown, Buie and Furlow said the city handled the casino amendment dealings terribly.
“I don’t think it could have been handled more poorly,” Buie said. “It was shoved down the throats of the citizens and handled in back room deals.”
Middleton has said the city did not illegally discuss anything regarding the casino amendment during executive session.
Brown said the city should not have taken an outdated and “probably invalid” lease and amended it as a valid lease. He also said the public was not given an adequate chance to give input or get answers from the city to questions residents posed at meetings.
“(The lease amendment) would have had a much different shape to it had I been mayor,” Brown said.
Furlow said he believes the pressure from the public during open meetings was the key factor in the aldermen denying the first draft of the amendment and getting a better deal.
“We took a situation that I would describe as having been 100 points bad for Natchez and improved it to being 50 points bad for Natchez,” he said.
Brown said he is also not afraid to “push and shove” and further amend the deal with casino developers to get the best possible outcome for the city.
Middleton said he believed the city got the best deal possible during casino amendment negotiations.