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Mayor Brown highlights first 6 months

NATCHEZ — A crowd of coffee drinkers gathered early Friday morning at Natchez Coffee Co. to hear the mayor and three aldermen give an update on accomplishments and challenges of the administration’s first six months at this week’s Friday Forum.

Mayor Butch Brown said the first six months has been a “very active and very aggressive” period.

Brown highlighted the changes in personnel, including new hires and replacements in various departments and the two new accountants working in the city clerk’s office.

“In the previous administration, there were issues with bookkeeping and computer programs and personnel that were involved in all that,” he said.

Brown said the city has made “leaps and bounds” in its bookkeeping operation.

“We will have a better set of books by the end of this fiscal year than we’ve ever had in the history of the city, and believe me, that’s not a small task,” Brown said.

Brown said the most difficult thing his administration has had to deal with is better communication between City Hall and the public, including even the city’s telephone system.

“If you call us and don’t get an answer, you don’t have to call us back and tell us,” he said. “Trust me, we know. We’re working on it.”

Brown bragged on the Natchez Board of Aldermen and city staff for working to build unity in city government.

“One of the most difficult challenges is to have consensus,” he said. “This board has consistently worked together to make sure we show a face of unity and harmony in handling these problems (in the city).”

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis was pleased to tell the audience of the new revenue her ward is receiving from the DRAYCO oil operation on Cemetery Road and the recently opened Magnolia Bluffs Casino.

Mathis said she was pleased that DRAYCO worked through the city’s process of approval and directionally drilled its well as to not disturb the nearby city and national cemeteries.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith said her ward fortunately does not have a great deal of problems with which to deal, but she said roads is a consistent issue in Ward 3 and throughout the city.

“When I was running in the election, that’s the thing I heard the most, and that’s something I personally felt I wanted to get involved in,” Smith said.

Smith commended the city’s engineering department for putting together a program that ranks streets based on repair needs and other factors. The program, she said, will allow the city to efficiently spend money on street repairs in an organized manner.

As chair of the utilities committee, Smith said she has been working with utility companies to minimize utility poles and wires in the city. Smith said she is hoping the city can soon draft an ordinance that requires all future utilities be located underground to eliminate clutter.

Smith also mentioned that Community Development Director James Johnston and Natchez Regional Medical Center’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations Kay Ketchings have been working on a healthy workplace program to benefit the city’s employees.

Ward 4 Alderman Tony Fields said he is particularly excited about the prospect of reopening Brumfield Apartments as public housing.

New Hope Missionary Baptist Church’s nonprofit housing program has expressed interested in the apartments as well as a developer from Houston, Texas.

Fields said he would prefer that Brumfield be in the hands of someone local.

“Someone we can see and talk to and hold accountable,” he said.

Fields said he was happy Mathis’ ward was able to benefit from oil exploration, but he said he is fighting a battle against oil with the proposed Arlington oil operation.

“I want the residents over there to know that I still stand with them,” Fields said.

The state oil and gas board approved an application from Mike Biglane of RMB Exploration to drill on historic Arlington property. The operation has previously been denied by the city, and Biglane will appear before the planning commission for the second time next week for approval.

Brown said he predicts the planning commission will deny Biglane’s application.

A resident asked the city’s position on the Arlington operation, and Brown said said the challenge lies in accommodating the mineral rights owner while still preserving Arlington and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Brown noted that DRAYCO agreed to directionally drill its operation, but he said Biglane has refused to do so.

“There are ways of making this work… to that extent, (Biglane) did not go along with the city’s position on trying to be accommodating,” Brown said.

Fields also said he was happy to the see the board of aldermen working together.

“The only headlines we should be making are about progress, not bickering,” he said.