Are we standing in front of the wizard?
Evidently all Natchez needed was the Wizard of Oz.
From the regular meetings of the Natchez mayor and board of aldermen to simple conversations at the coffee shop, a new attitude has taken hold of Natchez. In less than a month Natchez has transformed a city that couldn’t into a city that can.
Did it really take a simple change at the top to change the attitude of an entire town? Has the election of Larry L. “Butch” Brown brought new confidence to the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River?
If you watched the mayor, city clerk, municipal judge and the Natchez board of aldermen take the oath of office earlier this month, you might get the impression that Butch Brown is a humble man.
Those who know Brown know he is anything but humble. The former mayor and executive director for the Mississippi Department of Transportation has been known for enjoying the spotlight, yet on swearing-in day Brown could barely be seen standing behind the long line of elected officials and their family members.
Was this Brown’s way of taking a symbolic back seat to his fellow leaders or was he like the Wizard of Oz pulling levers and pumping smoke from the behind the scenes?
As much as I might like to think Butch has mellowed in the 12 years since he last pounded the mayor’s gavel — and maybe he has a bit — I tend to think Butch is working the city from behind the scenes like the Wizard behind the curtain.
All you had to do was attend the first regular meeting to get a sense of this Wizard of Natchez.
There was arrogance. When discussing the state of power lines and power poles in the city, Butch expressed frustration with Entergy and how wires and broken poles dot the city. But his biggest frustration was not having immediate contacts with company representatives in town.
“We need somebody to pick up the phone and call and we don’t seem to have that right now,” Butch said. “And if they are listening to me and watching this on T.V. right now, shame on you. I haven’t heard from you since I was elected mayor, and you should have come by and kissed my ring,” he said.
Of course, arrogance and power was just a façade for the leader of the Emerald City. Anyone who has read the book or seen the movie knows the Wizard was just an ordinary man, who showed the Scarecrow, Tin man and the Lion that all they needed was self-confidence to gain the qualities they thought they lacked.
In that way I guess Butch Brown is also like the Wizard.
Who else could convince the casually dressed IT department head to buy a dress coat and tie for his first board meeting? Who else could persuade city departments to change the way they address overgrown grass and vacant properties? Who else could convince the board and residents that city board meeting could be run effectively?
It appears that Brown’s demands for accountability and action in every level of city government from the department heads on down have not only changed the attitude of city government, but have for the moment given many residents the confidence in the city that they recently lacked.
Of course, for the real Wizard of Oz the biggest challenge of all was returning Dorothy and Toto to Kansas. Similarly, Brown’s biggest challenges lie ahead to bring its citizens back to the city they once loved and cherished.
Recreation, industry, tourism, tax revenues, crumbling infrastructure and making city government more efficient are just a few of the challenges that lie ahead.
For now the Wizard is working his magic on Natchez. Will the magic last?
Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540.