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Mayor riding rails over aldermen

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.

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