Big plans signal possible start of 2008 campaign

Published 11:20 pm Saturday, September 15, 2007

And, they’re off. With a surprise — at least to all but apparently his inner circle — recreation plan, Natchez Mayor Phillip West recently kicked off the 2008 city election campaign in earnest.

Two weeks ago, West proposed, and the board of aldermen approved, a $15 million recreation plan with few specifics.

The plan’s “due date,” by which a plan should be detailed and ready for a decision, is April 1.

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Seems like that will be just in time to make it a big issue in the city elections next year.

The unfortunate thing is that recreation seems to come up every four years, and just around election time.

The city has been talking about recreation for years, obviously, but little gets down.

West deserves applause for seeking to get something moving, but his method — and timing — seems suspicious.

Although West hasn’t said he plans to run again for office in 2008, he appears to be getting in position to do so.

Politically, dragging out the recreation issue seems smart.

It potentially takes the issue away from West’s most out front opponent, Alderman Jake Middleton.

Further, by challenging Adams County to come up with up to half the funds, West puts the county board and its president, Darryl Grennell, into the debate. Grennell has long been discussed as a possible mayoral candidate.

Score a preemptive victory for West.

Don’t get me wrong, recreation is a huge topic, and needs action. We just need to do it together and with some logic.

The good news here, however, is that if citizens stand up and begin telling their elected leaders what they should do about recreation, something might just get some traction and get done.

But the recreation issue is only the first 2008 election issue thrown into the race.

More will certainly follow.

Sometime between now and Election Day, you can almost bet one of the incumbents — either the mayor or a member of the board — will propose the city take on the project of developing the Forks of the Road site.

That would be a mistake.

It’s one of those things that sounds good, and might earn you a few votes, but it’s shortcutting the real impact that the site could have.

The Forks of Road site was one of the South’s largest slave markets. Because of that, the site has national significance. That site, while located in Natchez, should have impact far beyond the city limits.

The site needs to be developed, but the city shouldn’t do it, at least not yet.

Natchez should not — especially for political expediency — jump the gun and half develop the site. It’s far too important.

Developing the Forks site should be done by professionals.

The National Park Service, which already has significant historical sites in Natchez on public display, has begun a feasibility study to determine if the Forks site could be included into the Natchez National Historical Park.

Until that study is completed, nothing more should be done to the site. Further development could damage the historical integrity of the site.

NPS has some of the best historians and preservationists on the federal payroll. These folks know how to preserve and display locations with historical significance.

If you’d like to see the difference between a city effort and an NPS effort, compare the NPS managed William Johnson House and the museum of the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture.

The William Johnson House’s restoration and ongoing operating expenses are provided by the federal government. Its exhibits are top notch.

While the volunteers who founded and for years have operated the NAPAC Museum have done an amazing job, the museum still struggles year to year to secure enough funding to operate.

But, it’s almost a certain bet that someone will try and use the facility for his or her own political benefit. And that shouldn’t happen. The legacy of the men and women who walked in chains to the Forks of the Road site deserve to be remembered with our nation’s best effort, not our best campaign slogan.

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