Leaders set goals for future By NITA MCCANN

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 14, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; The year is 2010, and Natchez officials have been asked by the National League of Cities to come to Washington to receive that year&8217;s Business Development and Community Engagement Citation.

Recipients are those cities who work with all types of local stakeholders to enhance economic competitiveness and quality of life.

With city officials pointing to a retreat they and city department heads held Nov. 3, 2005, as the turning point in their working together, a Washington Post reporter wants to know the secret. What five major decisions or goals made at that retreat led to the city receiving nationwide recognition?

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With that scenario in front of them, elected officials and department heads were asked, in Thursday afternoon&8217;s retreat, to come up with several goals they thought would make the biggest difference in the city&8217;s economy and quality of life from now to 2010.

&8220;Talk is cheap,&8221; said Dr. James West, a former Cooperative Extension official now serving as mayor pro tem of Raleigh, N.C. &8220;You need to have an action plan.&8221;

West &045; no relation to Mayor Phillip West or Alderman Theodore &8220;Bubber&8221; West &045; led the retreat along with Dalton McAfee of Alcorn State University&8217;s Cooperative Extension Service.

Their answers, in no particular order, included:

4Placing emphasis on access to, and development of the city&8217;s riverfront.

4Sending a delegation of 60-100 key leaders toWashington to get any help possible to attract businesses. Those leaders would include state, city and county elected officials and businesspeople, among others, from both Mississippi and Louisiana.

4Annexation and/or consolidation. Although manyfavored consolidation of city and county governments &045; or at least functions, such as recreation &045; others said the steps needed for such a move, such as legislative approval, would take more than five years to accomplish.

4Partnering in any way possible with not only the school district, but also with Alcorn and Copiah-Lincoln Community College to boost the economy.

4Making a major investment in recreation.

4Meeting every six months with business groups and the Historic Natchez Foundation to share city government&8217;s vision for Natchez and what progress it&8217;s made toward realizing that vision.

And the first step that can be taken toward reaching those goals, participants decided, is to begin improving communication.

Toward that end, several people at the retreat said they&8217;ll take the lead setting up neighborhood meetings to hear people&8217;s concerns and inform them of city programs and printing bulletins and newsletters to let residents know what&8217;s going on with their city.

Others will find ways to increase participation in the Community Alliance, a Chamber of Commerce group of community leaders that meets to discuss projects for improving quality of life.

Still others will work on improving communication between aldermen and department heads, something some department heads said is necessary to keep the board informed about their ongoing projects.

Those are just the first actions toward the goals the group hopes it can achieve in the next five years &045; on the road, perhaps, to an awards banquet in Washington.

&8220;There&8217;s so much potential in Natchez,&8221; Mayor West said in closing the retreat. &8220;What we can achieve is bigger than anyone in this room could even imagine.&8221;