Alderman walkout linked to lease proposal

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; The city should jump on a potential interest in leasing and developing property under Roth&8217;s Hill, some aldermen said Thursday.

In Tuesday&8217;s executive session, two aldermen walked out before the open meeting began. Because of this, the aldermen did not have the quorum necessary to hold a meeting.

The conflict of opinions that caused the walk-out centered over the lease, not the sale, of riverfront property, Alderman Jake Middleton said Thursday.

Email newsletter signup

The property would reportedly be used for a second casino.

At the time, Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis and Alderman James &8220;Ricky&8221; Gray said they wanted to open bids to all investors.

&8220;The problem with the whole situation was the mayor had suggested to the board we open the process up for requests for proposal,&8221; Mathis said Friday.

Requests for proposal, or RFPs, detail goods or services required by the city and are sent to potential contractors.

&8220;If we don&8217;t open it up and allow in everyone who had expressed interest, that&8217;s discriminating, and that&8217;s illegal,&8221; Mathis said.

City Attorney Everett Sanders declined to comment on the legality of such an action because he had advised the board during Tuesday&8217;s executive session. He also would not comment on what advice he gave.

Sec. 21-17-1 of the Mississippi Code says a municipality must accept bids for the lease or sale of property, except if the governing body determines by a resolution placed in the minutes that the use of property will promote the development and improvement of the community, including economic or industrial welfare of the community.

Alderman Bob Pollard said Thursday he and others wanted to accept an immediate proposal to lease the land.

&8220;This developer is ready to move now,&8221; Pollard said. &8220;Roth Hill has been available since 2000. The options (from previous developers) in the past have been to tie up the land for six months to see what they can get. This group is ready to get a lease now.&8221;

Pollard said he thought the development being proposed would bring in substantial income for the area.

&8220;We felt this was the best deal we&8217;ve received so far,&8221; he said.

He said he had no qualms at all about the legality of the situation.

&8220;It was perfectly legal,&8221; Pollard said. &8220;And it was the best offer possible for the city.&8221;

Middleton echoed Pollard&8217;s eagerness to accept a promising proposal.

&8220;I&8217;m ready to move forward with this project, and if we&8217;ve got someone who wants to do it, let&8217;s get it done,&8221; Middleton said.

Middleton said the slow-down was costing the city money. A development would mean more tax money for the city.

&8220;More people would come to Natchez and spend more money,&8221; he said. &8220;That&8217;s money we can use for paving streets and other things.&8221;

If it meant opening up bids to speed up the process, Middleton said he would support it.

&8220;If we&8217;re going to do (requests for proposal), let&8217;s do RFPs and do it,&8221; he said. &8220;I would like to see some development at Roth Hill, and the sooner, the better.&8221;

The board of aldermen will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday to approve the docket because Tuesday&8217;s meeting did not take place. Mayor Phillip West said the subject of potential investors was not likely to be covered in Tuesday&8217;s meeting.

&8220;I was hoping we could avoid this being a public issue,&8221; West said. &8220;It&8217;s too important for it to become a public issue. It&8217;s because of miscommunication and misunderstanding.&8221;

West said he has met several times over the past few months with several investors.

He said Friday he had requested Sanders draw up requests for proposal for the project.

&8220;He is drafting RFPs as we speak,&8221; West said. &8220;I hope everybody will be on board with the RFP once it has been drafted.&8221;

When the board meets again to discuss the issue, West said, they will have the opportunity to reject sending out the requests.