City officials must obey legal process

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 14, 2005

The Natchez mayor and board of aldermen have displayed such a lack of respect this week for people and regulations that they have now opened themselves up for the possibility of legal action that could threaten the very project they are trying to protect.

On Friday, Mayor Phillip West declared that the old Natchez Pecan Shelling Factory needs to come down, with or without the support of the state Department of Archives and History.

The pecan factory sits, of course, on the site of a proposed $19 million condo complex on the bluff, a project whose design has been a source of controversy for the past several weeks.

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The dispute over the condo design could have been resolved with some patience and some facilitation.

But the mayor and board of aldermen have misread the situation; this is not about residents who against development, it is about people who are against development that is inappropriately designed for our historic city.

Many of the people who are against the condo design would be just as happy as aldermen to see a $19 million investment in our community.

But, rather than facilitate compromise, the actions the mayor and board have taken this week have only alienated residents and drawn a line between the people they could have brought together.

With this latest determination to tear down a building whose historical value is in question, we wouldn’t be surprised if the city found itself embroiled in legal action soon and at odds with a state agency that has brought millions of dollars in grants to our community.

Perhaps city officials have forgotten they already submitted paperwork to Archives and History to begin the historical review process.

The apparent decision to demolish the pecan factory is the latest in a series of actions in which aldermen have flouted the rules they are supposed to uphold. They attempted to change a zoning ordinance without following the rules that call for public comment on the issue, forcing them to revise their proposed amendment the very next day.

Then, after disrespecting the members of the Preservation Commission in an open meeting, they proceeded to take the teeth out of the commissioners’ decisions by changing the way they are appealed.

The results of the past week are a lot of confusion, hurt feelings and now the possibility of legal action.

We want to see this condo complex succeed; we want to see that kind of investment in our community, because it can breed more development.

But aldermen need to follow the rules they and their predecessors have set out and listen to the professional advice of the people they have hired.

And they simply need to have respect for legal processes and the people who are trying to make them work.