Numbers game tough for mayor, city enforcement
As I settled back into my office chair after a restful five-day vacation Wednesday night, I heard a familiar voice on the police scanner next to my desk.
“Natchez One” was making the rounds and spotted an illegally parked car on State Street.
For readers who are not familiar with radio handles, “Natchez One” is the name Natchez Mayor Butch Brown uses for identification on the police scanner.
Brown’s unmistakable voice was the first sign that the days of digging my feet in the sand and listening to the surf were over.
As best I can recall, Brown is the only mayor to regularly use the radio in the past 11 or so years that I have had the police scanner as my newsroom companion.
I didn’t live in Natchez during Brown’s first stint in office, but I do know of his reputation for calling Natchez Publics Works employees to fix things he spotted during his afternoon dog walks. So it is not far fetched to think that Brown is doing the same as he travels around Natchez in his car.
Wednesday night, Brown called the police dispatcher to report a car parked on the sidewalk on State Street. Not one to be content with just reporting a problem, Brown waited to make sure a police officer was dispatched to issue a citation. It would be one of at least nine reports of improper parking written by Natchez police officers Wednesday.
Brown warned residents when he took office that cars would not be parked on sidewalks, lawns would not be overgrown and the city would not be unkempt.
Brown has demonstrated he is not afraid to address properties that have proven controversial in the past. The city has already taken Arlington’s owner, Thomas Vaughan, to court with the promise that the property will be cleaned.
Last week, citations were issued to Lucy Preston, who lives at the north end of Broadway Street. She has been told to remove the decorations the city says are a safety hazard and an eyesore, even though tourists drop by almost every day of the week just to take a picture. A quick view of Instagram, Flickr and the Panoramio websites show Preston’s house may be photographed just as much, if not more, than Stanton Hall and other Natchez landmarks.
Whether on his own or through citations from the planning department, Brown has, in effect, become the long arm of the law in the City’s quest to maintain appearances.
There is some research to support the idea that “fixing things up” creates a safer city, regardless whether you think Preston’s displays are art or an eyesore.
Unfortunately, there are far too many violations for one mayor to handle. City Planner Frankie Legaux admitted as much recently when she said her office only issues citations when they field complaints.
Such unequal enforcement just creates more problems for the city and more resentment from residents and business owners who feel they are being unfairly targeted.
Last month, local business owners asked the city to designate parking spaces in front of their businesses for to-go parking. How can the city even entertain such a move when both the residents and the police ignore the two-hour limits for downtown parking?
The problem isn’t that the city doesn’t have the laws on the books. The problem is the city doesn’t have the personnel to enforce them.
After all, “Natchez One” can only do so much.
Ben Hillyer is design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org.