Leaders form new task force

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 30, 2001

More than 20 leaders came to the table Friday with more defined goals of what the area needs to improve its economic development efforts.

City and county elected officials, members of the Natchez-Adams County Economic and Community Development Authority and business leaders met with a facilitator from the Mississippi Development Authority.

The group’s goal is to develop a strategic plan for economic development.

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During the meeting the group formed a task force to improve the Natchez-Adams School District and look at ways the district might overcome a 1989 court order, which defines the makeup of the district.

The court order limits the number of schools the district may operate and has been the subject of debate recently as overcrowding of the public schools has become worse.

&uot;There’s a lot more improvement that needs to be addressed beyond just a court order itself,&uot; said Rep. Phillip West, D-Natchez, one of six plaintiffs that filed the consolidation lawsuit against the school district.

The discussion evolved from comments from the workforce development committee – one of five subcommittees – public infrastructure, business development, social infrastructure and tourism – that presented its priorities for improving the community.

Natchez Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith said when the Natchez Board of Aldermen interviewed people for a school board position last year, all four candidates thought having more that one high school would improve education.

The schools would be smaller than the current high school of about 1,400, and allow more students to take part in activities such as athletics, Smith said.

Natchez Aldermen Ricky Gray agreed that education is one of the biggest issues facing the community along with race relations.

&uot;(When) we can get our educational system together, then the economic development will fall in place,&uot; Gray said.

West said the community needed school leaders who had the vision to see that having two high schools solve would not solve all educational problems.

&uot;We really haven’t addressed the complexity of the problems,&uot; West said.

Recognizing the importance of public education, alderman Sue Stedman said the issue is something that city and county leaders need to address quickly and need to be accountable to the public about.

Other items discussed at the meeting included a drop in census figures for Adams County and whether the numbers were in fact accurate.

Gray said he did not understand how people could doubt those figures, considering the number of people dying, going to jail or losing jobs.

&uot;We need to just face the facts and try to deal with it,&uot; Gray said.

When talking about recreation, the group discussed a proposed ball field complex for the &uot;beanfield&uot; next to Natchez High School, funding for an archeological survey for the project and funding for the project itself.

After each committee listed its priorities, the group also gave a tentative timeline for when it would like to see them accomplished.