Natchez leaders offer opinions on flag issue

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 2, 2001

City officials sounded off Friday on how changes to the Mississippi state flag could impact future economic development.

The discussion, perhaps the first in a public forum for officials since the flag debate began, was spurred by a question-and-answer session hosted by the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce.

In response to an anonymous question asking who among the mayor and board of aldermen would take a stand on the flag issue, Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith said the voters would be the ones to take a stand, &uot;as they should.&uot;

&uot;I’m not going to say it’s a non-issue, but not a single person has commented to me about the flag issue,&uot; he said.

Smith did say he hopes the April 17 referendum on the flag will not be divisive or hinder the cooperation between the two races in Natchez and Adams County.

Ward 2 Alderman James &uot;Ricky&uot; Gray said he believes it has been apparent for some time the state needs a new flag, and it should have been done without spending $2 million of taxpayers’ money to put it to a vote.

&uot;I could have had that $2 million to help fix needs in Ward 2,&uot; Gray said.

Alderman Theodore &uot;Bubber&uot; West challenged aldermen, Adams County supervisors, the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority and The Natchez Democrat to take a stand on the flag issue.

Bobby Russ, chamber president, said a poll of chamber members showed that 64 percent were in favor of changing the flag.

Gray said he has been accused of sending a negative message to prospective industries by refusing to vote on a tax exemption for Titan Tire’s Natchez plant, an exemption the board approved earlier this week.

But Gray said by not taking a stand on the flag, the city, county and EDA are sending just as powerful a message.

&uot;If it’s going to mean getting an industry if we have the new flag or the old flag, I’m all for voting for the new flag,&uot; he said.

Alderman David Massey said he wonders how many people wake up in the morning and wonder if the state flag is flying.

Because as a veteran of the Vietnam War, &uot;there’s only one flag that matters to me, and that’s the United States flag,&uot; he said.