Loss of Brown may mean city problems

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Many moons ago, former Natchez Mayor Larry L. &8220;Butch&8221; Brown was the subject of my weekly ramblings on this page.

The opinion piece was largely glowing, singing Brown&8217;s praise on some recent accomplishment. The words written about Brown were not always complimentary, but these, I recall, were. He&8217;d done something good and deserved praise.

The other thing to stick out from the opinion was a seemingly innocuous line that Brown later mentioned he found annoying.

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&8220;Love him or hate him &8230;&8221;

The line was followed by something about his effectiveness in getting things done.

The mayor never liked that phrase. Many people in public life never want to think about the folks who don&8217;t adore their every move.

Last week that line came back to me again. Only this time, rather than its preceding praise, it preceded a bit of worry that crept into my mind.

&8220;Love him or hate him,&8221; I thought. &8220;Butch Brown surrounded himself with amazingly talented people.&8221;

Together that team of city leaders got an amazing amount of things accomplished by working smart and working together.

Last week&8217;s announcement that longtime City Attorney Walter Brown was resigning from his position had me thinking back to when I first came to Natchez in 1993.

Butch Brown&8217;s administration was running things then, and things were really starting to roll for the city.

Walter Brown was already city attorney when Butch was elected mayor, having been appointed to the position in 1983 by then mayor Tony Byrne.

But the powerhouse of municipal brainpower built by the two Browns and others on the city&8217;s team was truly amazing.

Publicly Walter Brown said his departure is just a matter of timing.

&8220;It&8217;s just a time in my life when I need to redirect my focus,&8221; he said last week.

Privately, one has to wonder if he&8217;s just tired of dealing with all of the grief that comes with the job.

Through the years, I&8217;ve probably sat through more city meetings than an average resident.

I&8217;ve seen Walter Brown fussed and cussed at by residents and politicians alike, usually caused by disagreements with Brown&8217;s legal opinions on a broad range of legal issues.

As a long-time attorney and member and chairman of the Mississippi Ethics Commission, attorney Brown&8217;s opinions were among the most trusted around, yet as the legal spokesman for the city, he often caught the brunt of the anger.

Somehow he managed to keep his cool under fire, which is more than I can say for many of the elected officials with which Walter Brown has served through the years.

Despite attorney Brown&8217;s guidance, some members of the city&8217;s leadership continue to try and do exactly what they want, regardless of the legal and ethical implications.

A prime example was when the city went against Brown&8217;s advice &8212; and state law &8212; in 2004 by rehiring a once-ousted police officer and then subsequently reassigning him to the planning department. The vote was split with Mayor Phillip West breaking the tie.

That didn&8217;t look good then, and it doesn&8217;t look good now.

In just a few short years, the city has gone from doing amazing things &8212; bluff stabilization, creation of the convention center and visitor reception center, for example &8212; and winning national awards for its work, to many more 3-3 ties on key votes by the board of aldermen.

Attorney Brown&8217;s departure worries me. He was a strong, knowledgeable voice who stood up and cried, &8220;The law doesn&8217;t allow that,&8221; whenever necessary. He did it regardless of whether or not any who should have been listening was. I hope whoever is chosen to fill his position has the same level of moral toughness and resolve to take the heat and cry foul before illegal and unethical decisions are made on the city&8217;s behalf.

Love him or hate him, Walter Brown&8217;s wisdom is needed in Natchez.

Kevin Cooper

is associate publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or