What do they make?

Published 12:40 am Sunday, December 2, 2007

NATCHEZ — It’s a basic principle of democracy — elected officials are responsible to the voters who elect them.

Therefore, it’s only right Miss-Lou residents should know what their leaders earn.

Elected positions such as sheriff, city clerk and mayor are considered full-time occupations, whereas the position of alderman is classified as part-time.

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But responsibilities often broaden beyond what’s in the books.

For example, aldermen’s responsibilities, in Natchez, at least, stretch far beyond the bimonthly meetings. Along with attending planning sessions, each alderman chairs a committee.

“We listen to the citizens of the community and try to react to their needs as far as public safety, being business friendly and trying to build a tax base we can use to make the city better,” Alderman Theodore “Bubber” West said.

West said his role as alderman never stops. He and others are on call 24 hours a day. West talks with his department heads on a regular basis and addresses from concerned citizens.

“The meetings twice a month are easy,” West said.

Although each alderman is elected by his or her ward, responsibilities don’t end where the ward does, Alderman Jake Middleton said.

“Someone may not know what ward they’re in, but they may know Jake Middleton,” he said. “I’m going to get that taken care of.”

Middleton said he spends roughly 20 hours a week, if not more, in his role as alderman.

“It’s a lot more than the public is really aware of,” he said.

Mayor Phillip West said he, too, carries a heavy workload.

“The mayor of Natchez has probably double the responsibility,” West said. “He’s chief operating officer for the city, which basically means he’s responsible for day-to-day operations of the city government. He’s also an ambassador for the community, which takes up a great deal of time.”

For Alderman David Massey, the longer he is in office, the easier problems are to solve. But he’s also more involved.

“When I first started in 1988, people told me it was a part-time job, you don’t really do that much,” he said. “But the longer you’re in, the more you find out, the more you do and the more you’re called on. It becomes more of a full-time thing and part of your life every day than people have any idea.”

Vidalia aldermen make nearly a tenth of their neighbors across the river. But it’s a smaller town, Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said.

“Historically, Vidalia aldermen have made less than surrounding communities,” Copeland said. “It’s just been that way.”

Potential earnings have never really been a factor in an alderman’s decision to run, he said.

“I’m sure it’s this way in Natchez, too, but most of the aldermen in the past and present run because they want to contribute to the community,” Copeland said. “In all the years I’ve been involved in politics, I’ve never had anyone who was running ask how much the job paid. It’s a community service.”