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Lack of control has destroyed leadership

Tuesday night’s meeting, in which three aldermen walked out on a motion to elect a new police chief, was the culmination of four years of disorder and chaos that have too often characterized the regular meetings of the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

Meetings that include loud outbursts from the public, residents speaking out of order and the grandstanding of politicians have become more and more commonplace.

Tuesday’s meeting had all that and more.

Few people would say city meetings are conducted with decorum, professionalism and respect.

Residents use other words to describe these bi-monthly sessions. Words like embarrassing, chaotic, secretive and disappointing are just a few.

Roberts Rules of Order has long been discarded for reactionary style of leadership.

It is unfortunate that the one venue the mayor and the aldermen have to communicate policy, vision and to practice effective government has turned into a circus. The one opportunity leaders have to build trust is now destroying it in the eyes of voters.

The mayor is the person in charge of the meeting, yet Mayor Jake Middleton has decided to relinquish control of the meetings to the aldermen.

For four years, he has openly promoted the notion that the city leadership was designed to be a weak mayor, strong board of aldermen government — which it is.

While the argument has helped Middleton shed some of the blame for the controversies that have occurred during his tenure, it has also served to empower the aldermen, who sense an unwillingness on the mayor’s part to take control of the meetings.

Why else would two aldermen feel comfortable in betraying the trust of the mayor and the board by going behind their backs and making motions to hire a police chief when the board agreed to wait for more information?

Why else would three aldermen agree to walk out on the mayor before he can explain why he was going to vote in their favor?

In the last four years, Middleton has had the opportunity to build consensus among the aldermen by working with them both in and out of the boardroom — not in a way that violates the state’s open laws, but one-on-one in order to promote his vision for the city and, in turn, learn what is also important to the aldermen.

It doesn’t appear as if that sort of team building is happening right now. Time and time again in board meetings aldermen have expressed surprise in getting information at the last minute.

Middleton at one point in discussing the third amendment with the casino, pleaded with the board to hear why he was supporting the amendment in executive session. After several meetings about the amendment, Middleton was still trying to make his case. Obviously, what limited communication exists between Middleton and the aldermen exists only at the public table. The board denied Middleton’s pleas unanimously.

In many ways that lack of communication has created unnecessary confusion, tension and animosity on the board.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.