Mayor needs to stick to facts not offer spin

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 18, 2007

When someone alleges to be seeking the truth and promoting integrity, but does so with false words, their intent seems questionable and their argument doesn’t hold water.

Natchez Mayor Phillip West’s reputation shrank with today’s Top of the Morning article.

West titled the article, “We need integrity in our news reporting.”

Email newsletter signup

My interest in what I expected to be a good article diminished when my name was misspelled in the first sentence and throughout the article.

Just a typo, I thought. Lord knows it happens to us enough, so I overlooked that. But his second sentence alleges that this newspaper has printed misrepresentations, half-truths and total falsehoods. Until today, we had not knowingly or intentionally done so.

But we made an exception when we printed the mayor’s opinion piece and only cleaned up his most obvious errors. Normally, we clean up typos in submitted opinion articles. We did so on West’s piece, too, but even that may spark West to cry foul. So we stopped at the typos.

Had we corrected his facts, West might have argued that our changing his words — even as error-ridden as they are — is evidence that we’re out to get him or out to censure his opinion. So we’ve left errors, writing notes to explain the truth.

Let’s address West’s “points.”

First, he alleges that this newspaper printed false information about a recent meeting on crime by reporting the public was not invited to the meeting.

West says we must have just misunderstood and that had we bothered to call him, he could have cleared it up.

That’s a gross misrepresentation, Mr. Mayor. First, listen to the audio clip we have posted online from the Oct. 23 board of aldermen meeting. (It will be attached to this column).

When Police Chief Mike Mullins asks West if the meeting will be public the mayor clearly responds, “No.”

We did attempt to call the mayor — and others with the city — numerous times, well in advance of the meeting. Callers to City Hall, only hours before the meeting, were told the meeting was not open to the public.

No one related to the city said anything differently until our attorney called City Attorney Everett Sanders and told him that we planned to press the matter. If the city had continued it would have been a violation of state law. Sanders eventually said the meeting would be open.

The mayor’s attempt to “spin” a failed non-public meeting is ludicrous.

If West intended the meeting to be public, he certainly communicated that poorly to the board of aldermen, the city attorney, the staff at City Hall and anyone at the Oct. 23 meeting.

In addition, West criticizes me for essentially picking on him while not being critical of former city administrations and the “allegations of corruption, unethical behavior, etc.”

I’ve been critical of West — and of previous administrations — for their actions. “Allegations” (which are unproven) are best left to the gossip hounds at the beauty shop and not printed in our newspaper.

Mr. Mayor, I doubt you’d appreciate me, or anyone else, printing “allegations” about you. Public life and public actions are fair game, always have been, always will be. To say anything different is a half-truth, Mr. Mayor.

So what about the total falsehoods? West wrote two of those in his article.

First, he said I was from Alabama. Although I’m sure it’s a fine state, I’ve never lived there. I was born and raised in Mississippi and proud of it. I’ve only lived in one other state briefly and I moved there for a job promotion.

And I returned to Natchez for a promotion, too. Perhaps Mayor West struggles to understand the concept of earning a promotion since he’s spent nearly three decades receiving a taxpayer provided paycheck.

The second outright falsehood is West’s implication that because I’ve been critical of him that such criticisms must stem from his skin color.

That’s a sideways way of saying he thinks I’m a racist. But he won’t do that, because he knows it would be a lie. Calling me a racist or saying this newspaper knowingly printed false information — other than the mayor’s words today — is about as ludicrous as thinking he ordered the demolition of the pecan factory over public safety fears.

Come on, Mr. Mayor; let’s stick to the facts, not your fiction.

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