Mayor: ‘Nobody’s more familiar with code of the city’

Published 8:54 am Friday, April 6, 2007

Former City Attorney Walter Brown may have retired from his position last summer, but the city still needs his experience and expertise.

That’s the message that the board of aldermen sent when they recently approved Brown to take on two more city projects.

In a 4-2 split at the last aldermen meeting, the board approved Brown to help iron out details of the Roth Hill lease and the proposed new zoning code.

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“Because he’s been the city attorney for more than 20 years, he’s familiar with all the background,” Mayor Phillip West said. “And nobody’s more familiar with the code of the City of Natchez than Walter Brown.”

Private developer Lane Company is in negotiations with the city to lease land under Roth Hill for a riverfront development and riverboat casino.

However, it’s not always clear who owns what property under that hill, Brown said.

“Portions of that property have been owned by other people over the years,” Brown said. “We have attempted in the past 10 years to clear up the title issues.”

Brown said he would be helping City Attorney Everett Sanders by providing documents to help verify ownership of the property.

“We will not be involved in policy decisions of the lease and options of the contract itself,” Brown said. “That will be up to the city attorney and board of aldermen.”

Brown will also help the city planner and a planning consultant in presenting and passing a proposed new zoning code.

Because there have been a number of city planners over the past few years, Brown said his “institutional memory” would be valuable.

“Our contribution will be primarily documented historical changes over the years, assisting at the hearings and helping to answer any questions as to how the changes might affect people,” he said.

Sanders said Brown’s help would mean less time digging through paperwork.

“He’s familiar with the questions, and we can draw on his experience and speed up the process,” Sanders said.

At the aldermen meeting, Alderman James “Ricky” Gray raised the question of costs.

“Why are we paying for two attorneys?” Gray said.

West said the city only had one attorney, but for years, legal work had been divided among multiple people.

“The fact of the matter is, as much as attorney Brown was doing (while city attorney), other times, he had to hire outside attorneys to help with city work,” West said.

“There has never been a situation where he was the only attorney that was doing work for the city.”

Brown is still finishing projects he started as city attorney, such as a suit against the city involving the sale of the old Natchez Pecan Shelling Co. factory and other litigation.

“I think this is sort of a natural course,” Brown said. “After 25 years (in a position), it takes six months to a couple years to wind it all down. We’re glad to help the city in those capacities.”