Ego-itis throws wrench into developments

Published 8:40 am Sunday, March 11, 2007

Something’s wrong with some of our area’s government leaders — chronic cases of ego-itis and what a financial auditor would refer to as a “lack of separation of duties.”

Oh, yes, and the lesson of “practice what you preach” is lost on them, too. Let’s look at a couple of big economic development deals “in play” within Natchez and Adams County for examples of their ailments.

A few months back, the city made a big deal out of its courting developers for the city owned Roth Hill Road site. At first, the aldermen stubbed their toes publicly by trying to keep the specifics of the deal secret. The move prompted a couple of aldermen to walk out of a meeting to avoid a vote on the matter before public input could be sought.

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Under public pressure, the city agreed to hold a public meeting in which two developers could explain their visions for the projects.

At least two members of the jointly funded city-county economic development authority had to come to the “public” meeting just to find out what was going on.

As one said at the time, “The first we heard about all this was what we read in the newspaper the other day.”

That was troubling then and it is troubling now, too. Why would the City of Natchez deal directly with a developer rather than turn it over to the professionals with the Natchez-Adams Economic Development Authority?

That’s difficult to say. Most likely, if pressed, city officials would say that the developers came directly to the city. But for the city to say, politely, “The EDA handles all such requests and we’ll put you in touch with them,” doesn’t seem difficult, or out of the question.

The fact is no one wants to lose the potential “political capital” gained by being able to point the “big fish” landed on their watch. It’s too tempting.

A little over a year and a half ago, much talk was thrown around about the city pulling out of the jointly funded EDA.

Aldermen were upset.

The city considered yanking its funding, going so far as to only fund half of its usual $100,000 annual contribution to the EDA. The remaining $50,000 was held in reserve while the future of the city-county EDA was mulled.

“Something’s not working,” one alderman said at the time.

“People are not communicating,” another alderman said in 2005. “If we can get on the same channel, we can get some things done.”

What’s not working is the spirit of cooperation and selflessness that other communities use to their advantage.

For any kind of cooperative effort to work, all sides must be equally interesting in making it work without concern over who claims credit.

The city’s actions show it has more interest in putting an economic notch on its belt than truly making a concerted effort in economic development in the area.

But the city alone isn’t the problem. The county government recently worked a similar deal with one of the two prison developers considering locations in Adams County.

Rather than putting the deal in the hands of the EDA, the county began courting the developer by itself.

The only involvement, apparently, of the EDA in the deal was that a county supervisor asked the EDA to call a meeting with the alderman to discuss the prison development.

The aim, the supervisor said, was to catch up the city leaders up on the projects. Interestingly at least three supervisors have said they didn’t know a thing about the meeting.

Unless those three supervisors are outright fibbing — and no evidence seems to exist that they are — then the some county leaders are as guilty as some of their city counterparts of working behind the scenes and keeping plans in the dark.

All sides say they didn’t mean any harm, despite the appearances.

City and county leaders should focus on setting policy and managing the business of spending taxpayer money wisely. They should put their hearts where the taxpayers’ money is and leave the development deals to the professionals.

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