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City needs to quit making quick deals

Call me a skeptic, it’s OK, I won’t be offended, but I simply don’t trust things that seem too good to be true.

Perhaps it’s in my genes.

If so, that genetic trait apparently may not be shared by some in our city government.

That might explain why city leaders seem to believe practically anyone who comes before them and says, “Have I got a deal for you?”

Several years ago, this came in the form of a handful of “financial experts” who convinced the aldermen that a complicated financial instrument called a bond swap would provide a pot of gold at the end of a debt rainbow.

History now shows us that the $400,000 ceremonial check that was created for the photo op was a bit of a myth.

The amount shown in the giant check shrank to approximately half that figure before it hit the bank due to a number of fees involved in the transaction.

That was in 2006.

Few of the people involved — the then-mayor, the aldermen or the city clerk — seem to understand all of the implications of the deal.

The men in the slick suits left with pockets filled with cash and with smiles on their faces.

They returned earlier this year — many of the same faces, but with newer, nicer suits.

“Have we got ANOTHER deal for you?” they said.

In no time flat, the city essentially refinanced the bond swap deal, replacing it with another arrangement.

The suits left town, again with cash-lined pockets.

Only after they left did citizens begin to realize that both arrangements had prolonged the payoff of the Natchez Convention Center’s construction debt.

More than five years ago, another group came to town and said, “Have we got a deal for you?”

This time the deal involved the management of the Natchez Convention Center, which had previously been managed by City of Natchez employees.

A big contract later and the city has been writing large checks to a New Orleans management firm ever since.

Interestingly, the management firm hired the former city employee who was leading the convention center.

Years later, there’s no telling how many thousands of dollars have headed to New Orleans as part of the deal.

In the latest, “Have I got a deal for you?” scheme, a local radio station is seeking the city to carve up its contract with the convention center management firm. The local radio folks seek to gain control over the Natchez City Auditorium.

Just as the other folks before them have done, they’re merely seeking to make a buck off the city’s own naiveté.

I completely understand the reason the city seeks to streamline its processes for service-related items such as grass cutting. Most of us hire professionals for non-routine, specialty services — dentistry, medical care, legal services, etc.

But basic management and marketing of city assets — or in the case of the bond swaps, city finances — should not be doled out.

Management of the convention center and city auditorium should be operated by those with the city’s — not their own — best interest in mind.

Logically, that would fall under the auspices of the Natchez Convention Promotion Commission.

If city leaders aren’t happy with the current management, why not seek to bring the whole deal back in-house and, perhaps, not make another mistake by letting others profit off taxpayers’ assets?

 

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.