Natchez shouldnt sue its citizens

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 15, 2006

The City of Natchez&8217;s mishandling of the ongoing condo development saga is a textbook example of how not to tackle a touchy issue.

When concerns over the demolition of the former Natchez Pecan Factory hit snags, city leaders plunged ahead anyway, despite cries of alarm from some citizens. The city&8217;s brash behavior made the matter much worse.

Ultimately, the city was correct. The pecan factory needed to go. It was an eyesore in one of the most historic, most picturesque areas of Natchez, and the condo development would be an improvement.

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More recently, a court battle has erupted between the city and a group of citizens who believe the sale of the pecan factory property violated the law.

The city has reacted by threatening to file a countersuit against the citizens. The move is mostly a scare tactic, but alarming for its potential impact on citizens&8217; rights.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens&8217; right to &8220;petition the government for a redress of grievances.&8221;

Despite the 25-cent words that may seems foreign to our ears, that phrase is generally interpreted to mean that citizens have a right to take the government to court to settle a difference of opinion.

But the First Amendment doesn&8217;t have a footnote that says, &8220;but the big, bad government can sue you back.&8221; Sadly, in Natchez the First Amendment seems to have grown that footnote.

Ultimately the city is right that the condo development needs to happen, but being &8220;right&8221; doesn&8217;t make it OK to act like a bully.