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Mayor riding rails over aldermen

Published 12:00am Sunday, January 20, 2013

Natchez Alderman Dan Dillard has a lot of gall.

Dillard suggested last week that the Natchez Board of Aldermen pass a resolution requiring the city save, not spend, the remains of the $1 million the city received as its first-year lease payment from Magnolia Bluffs Casino.

The gaming outfit opened its doors last month and is committed to pay a minimum of $1 million per year for use of city-owned land.

Since the checks started rolling in, the money has apparently been going right back out the door, with less than half of the $1 million now remaining.

But questioning how the city is spending its money is blasphemy according to the Book of Butch — as in Mayor Butch Brown.

Dillard’s idea actually wasn’t bad. Frankly, it’s a pretty good idea.

Natchez should show some fiscal restraint and save money for either rainy day needs or for larger projects.

The problem wasn’t Dillard’s idea. Brown’s concern was the silly notion that the board of aldermen has to formally vote to tell the mayor not to spend money until he’s authorized to do so.

While Brown disagrees, Dillard’s goal doesn’t seem like a hopeful request of a dreamer. It was actually just an affirmation of what’s already the law of the city.

Despite the current mayor having a larger-than-life personality and an authoritative tone in his voice, the fact is, he works for the board in a way.

Natchez’s system is called a strong board, weak mayor form of government. The mayor almost certainly cringes each time he hears that fact.

The board sets policy, legislates and appropriates city funds.

The mayor’s role is to simply run the city. He’s kind of the general manager of the city, but questions of money are supposed to come before the board of directors — i.e., the aldermen.

For Brown’s part, however, who could blame him for throwing a little bit of a fit?

It doesn’t hurt much to try and convince aldermen — and the public — that the casino’s lease payment money is really his to spend how he sees fit.

That’s exactly what Brown did, almost on cue.

“For this board to come and start restricting the use of funds is hamstringing the operations of the city,” he said. “(The board of aldermen) does not nor should it have the (right) to tell this city administration how to operate its business.”

But the city’s charter suggests a different line of thinking. It outlines the mayor’s power as executive in nature. The mayor has day-to-day control over the city’s operations, but that doesn’t mean he has free rein to spend every penny the city earns as he sees fit.

Brown operates much like presidents Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt, both of whom seemed to hold the belief that in spite of the Constitutions balance of power, the executive branch is more powerful than the legislative one.

Brown seems to feel the same way about the aldermen.

Basically, if no one shows him a specific law prohibiting him from doing something, he assumes the lack of explicit prohibition means it was OK to plow ahead.

That’s fine and dandy until the folks who actually hold the legislative power — in this case the six elected aldermen — begin to realize they’re being railroaded.

Dillard seemed to hear the train whistle over the casino lease money, but it’s too early to tell if other aldermen also heard the locomotive ahead.

 

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

  • Anonymous

    Where can you get a copy of the city charter? Does the Isle pay lease monies to the city?

  • Anonymous

    This is in stark contrast to what you think the NRMC should do with their money, isn’t it? Don’t you want the NRMC to pay off all its debts? In the front door and out the back?

  • Anonymous

    Paying down/off the debt is a responsible use of NRMC money. Giving Butch open purse strings is irresponsible, I guess the rent on his city apartment is due.

  • Anonymous

    That is so assinine.

  • Anonymous

    Railroaded? It’s been a runaway train for some time now. Crops on the Bluff/Kitchen on the Cliff, etc. has been the latest.

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com Kevin Cooper

    steve_o1: I’m not positive which of these is the *most* up to date, but here are two links to online versions. I believe the City Clerk’s Office should have copies of the most current.

    The library keeps one copy (link at the bottom of this page):
    http://www.naw.lib.ms.us/Local/natchez.htm

    Ward 4 Alderman Tony Fields keeps a copy here:
    http://www.tonyfieldsntz.com/download_forms.php

    I’m not sure if the Isle of Capri leases any land from the city or not. I’ll try to check.

  • http://www.natchezdemocrat.com Kevin Cooper

    Thanks for helping explain the difference. Essentially, in both cases, we (the public) needs to be able to offer input on how the “extra” funds are spent. In NRMC’s case, the whole thing has been worked quite secretively. In the City’s case, they’ve had cash flow issues for years (i.e., having to make year-end tax anticipation loans to make payroll). It seems logical that this additional money could (if not rapidly depleted) end the need for that practice.

  • Anonymous

    Much appreciated!
    On the Isle question, I was thinking of the employee parking area, as the other 2 spots dollars go to the Biglanes.

  • Anonymous

    > JIM CROW <. THE RING LEADER.