The experience factor

Published 12:43 am Sunday, December 9, 2007

Knowledge can be a powerful thing. It can mean the difference between success and failure. In Natchez and Adams County a wealth of knowledge is just a phone call away.

Several former officials, from mayors to supervisors, still reside in the area and their past experiences in office can prove valuable today. Six of these officials were asked two simple questions: What is the biggest problem facing Natchez and Adams County? What is the solution to that problem? The responses were different, but all answered with a genuine concern for the area. They may no longer be in office, but their desire to see improvement in Natchez and Adams County remains unchanged.

Tony Byrne, mayor (1968-1988)

Email newsletter signup

Problem — My main concern is the division within the supervisors and aldermen. There’s a constant 3-2 vote with the supervisors and a 3-3 with the aldermen. They’re usually voting along race lines. I was hoping people would do what’s best for the community, not vote by color. When an industry looks at an area, they research things like this. When I was mayor we had some tight votes, but people voted their convictions, but that’s not happening now.

Solution — The only solution I see to this problem is to consolidate the two governments. It probably won’t happen until the aldermen do some annexation, but they’re reluctant to do it. Consolidation would change a lot of attitudes real quick.

Hank Smith, mayor (2000-2004)

Problem — The biggest problem I see is the state of the streets in Natchez and Adams County. I don’t know that there’s any plan to address the problem, and I don’t know of many streets that don’t need attention. Our streets have a lot to do with tourism. Tourists are constantly driving on bad streets. It can leave a bad impression of the city.

Solution — I think money from car tag sales should be set aside just to go to repairing or resurfacing streets. That’s primarily what that money is for. There are ways to address the main streets in town, but it’s the others that are getting bad and there’s not enough federal money to go around. The last thing we need to do is have a bond issue for streets though. Natchez has done it before with bond money, but I think it’s foolish.

Willie Huff, police chief (1993-2002)

Problem — I see a problem with the city being able to recruit and retain qualified, capable public safety officers, such as police officers and firefighters. These officers need to be paid more, so we can be more than just a training ground for them. It boils down to, ‘Would you be a public safety employee for the salary they’re making now? If not, what is worth to you to get the job done?’ I know it’s worth more to the people than what we are paying them now. It’s worth more to have a safe community.

Solution – Raising taxes is an option, but it’s not the only solution. I don’t think the budget for these departments hasn’t increased enough through the years. Crime might not be a problem right now, but you don’t reduce budget money just because crime goes down. Maybe we should be more efficient with the way they’re doing things in city government to come up with the money.

David Armstrong, mayor (1988-1992)

Problem – Natchez’s biggest problem is what it’s always been – location. Natchez isn’t on the way to anything. It has gotten better with the four-laning of U.S. 84. If the city was near an interstate, it would twice its size by now. The location may be great for tourism, but for development and industry, it’s a major handicap.

Solution – The four-laning of U.S. 84 helped and some of Highway 61 is four lane now, but it could be better. There’s no easy solution here. Fortunately, Natchez has a great quality of life that can trump the location problem. The city is unique and has lots of personality and can usually make up for the location problem.

Virginia Salmon, supervisor (1996-2004)

Problem – I think a big problem is elected officials coming into office without knowledge of what has taken place before they got there. When new people are elected you always hear ‘We’ve never done this before.’ Chances are though that this issue has come up before in the past and been dealt with. Officials should be aware of every issue across the entire county and city. They should have a broader overview of the entire area.

Solution – I think it should be required that elected officials read the board meeting minutes from previous years. It you’re elected to office, you should have to learn what’s already happened. There are training opportunities for new officials, but it doesn’t inform them of what has happened in their county or city in past years. Also, voters should elect people who are genuinely interested in knowing and learning in order to lead. We need people to get a foundation of knowledge before they sit in the chair and make decisions.

Problem – There needs to be more genuine cooperation between the city and county. There is some cooperation, but there needs to be more. There’s the tendency for the city to try to carry the bigger flag and that’s not necessary. The city shouldn’t try to boss the county around.

Solution – The answer may be consolidation of the two governments. There is this tendency for one to say the other is not doing anything and that’s just not true. Things should be discussed more openly between the city and county. There needs to be more genuine communication between the two.

Larry L. “Butch” Brown, mayor (1992-2000)

Problem – The biggest issue I see is that we are not able to address the needs for infrastructure, such as streets and recreation, in the city. Theses are the things that make a community a community. They don’t seem to be a very high priority right now. There is universal attention to the lack of infrastructure, but no one is addressing it.

Solution – Funding is the solution. There are several ways to find the funds. Taxation is one way, but maybe we should consider a tax restructure where we use some of the taxation we already have in a different way. Another source is outside funding such as grants. We could then leverage these grants to obtain bigger sums. A single grant to address a single problem is not enough. We need multiple grants in place.

Another solution is to create a stronger public awareness that Natchez is the most vibrant and important part of Adams County. There needs to be a better working relationship and understanding throughout the county that Natchez is the most important part of the area.