West reflects on nearly 18 years in office

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 4, 2008

NATCHEZ — Hanging up his Ward 4 alderman hat after 17.5 years, Theodore “Bubber” West has a lot to reflect on as he stares into the future.

As West sat in the pavilion of Concord Park, he reminisced on how the expansive green fields of the park used to be a gravel parking lot for the Armstrong Tire & Rubber Co.

Back in the mid-90s, he said he approached current alderman who sat on the recreation board about converting it into a park.

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From there the idea took flight and has been an asset added to that neighborhood.

West said he hopes to one day see the two vacant houses adjacent to the lot turned into a swimming pool to meet Natchez’s need for a public pool.

“It’s amazing that we have a generation of children that don’t know how to swim,” West said.

While West is proud of the park, he was humble in saying he can’t take the credit.

“I don’t take personal credit for anything,” West said. “The only thing I take credit for is being a part of a team that works together, disagrees without being disagreeable and that fights in the back room but smiles in the front room.”

He said it took the entire board to accomplish the project and also Recreation Director Ralph Tedder’s going out and finding private and public donations.

He said cleaning up his ward was the major accomplishment he wanted to see when he took office in 1991.

“In 1991, Concord and Minor Street was the worst drug infested, crime ridden area in Natchez,” he said. “I promised myself when I walked out of city government I’d like to at least make sure this area was cleaned up.”

In addition to the park, West said another key project was the reconstruction of Minor Street.

For West, getting into municipal government was a natural thing, a family tradition, even.

His father, George F. West Sr. served on the board and so did his mother.

His brothers served on boards from education, to economic development authority and hospital.

For 12 years prior to being sworn in as aldermen, West was appointed to the Natchez Metro Planning Commission, and for about eight years prior he served on the municipal election committee.

“City government is a natural for me,” he said.

When the Ward 4 seat became vacant in 1991, with only one year left in the term, West decided to run, his opponent being Fred Middleton.

Since then he’s seen Natchez evolve and finds two words to perfectly describe Natchez — diverse and progressive.

He said for a municipality with a population of less than $20,000 is to accomplish all it has in the past 17 years without raising taxes is an incredible feat.

As far as diversity, West said he’s seen Natchez change in a way he couldn’t dream of back when he was younger.

“I remember growing up in a town where I didn’t know where Duncan Park was,” he said because black people weren’t welcome. “I didn’t know where the bluff was.”

He said past Franklin Street, black people didn’t seem to be welcomed either.

He said while there’s still some underlying racial tension lingering, Natchez’ diversity is being embraced and promoted with Forks of the Road, the Natchez Association for the Preservation of African American Culture and more.

He said diversity has spilled over into city politics, with racially equal boards.

In his 17 1/2 years on the board of aldermen, West said he’s worked with many good people.

West worked under four majors, David Armstrong, Butch Brown, Hank Smith and Phillip West.

He said former mayor Tony Byrne will always be his favorite mayor of Natchez, but as far as working under a mayor, his favor goes to Brown.

“Being an entrepreneur, he brought an entrepreneur spirit to Natchez,” he said. “He set the pace for our board to come up with a concept for long range plans for Natchez.”

We said working with former Mayor West was an honor, as well.

He gave special mention to former alderpersons George “Shake” Hardin, Paul O’Malley, Sue Stedman and Vidal Davis.

“We’ve had some tremendous board members,” he said.

He also said he enjoyed working with former city attorney Walter Brown.

West said he calls Brown “the godfather of city government.”

“When he spoke, everybody listened,” West said.

Not only did West enjoy working with elected officials over the years, he relished working with the department heads.

“The most stubborn department head would be Ralph Tedder, providing recreation for the youth is part of his genetic makeup,” he said. “He’s very adamant, very persistent. If not for Ralph, a lot of recreation activities would not be going on.”

City Clerk Donnie Holloway has kept the city financially in line, West said.

“Sometimes I think Donnie thinks the city money is his money because he holds on to it very tight,” West said.

As West settles into his new life out of the public eye, he can only see continuous growth for his hometown.

“I see nothing but brighter and better changes for Natchez,” he said. “Natchez cannot help but grow. I’m not talking about size, I’m not talking about width.

“I’m talking about opportunity.”

Even after witnessing the economic decline in Natchez after the shut down of major industries in town, he has no fear that Natchez will stop expanding.

He said that last light was never shut off and Natchez has come bounding back.

“We have more lights now than we had then,” he said.

West said while this period of time was harmful, it’s natural to see ups and downs.

“Everybody goes through struggles — family, individuals, municipalities — it’s not whether you fall or not its whether you get up or not,” West said.

He said there he doesn’t see how Natchez could ever go through such a dark age again.

“We’ll never go back to talking about turning the lights out again,” he said.

He said there are several things the board needs to look at for the future — recreation, crime prevention, education and economic development.

“We need a strong mayor’s war of drugs, a war against handguns, stronger truancy laws and an education system that will not only educate kids for college but also for non-college-bound kids for trade that will help give them back their self worth,” West said.

Though West said he wants to stay involved in the city’s political process, like any citizen should, he’s not planning to run for alderman again.

“I don’t think I’ll ever consider running again for alderman,” he specifically said.

He said he feels confident leaving the city in the hands of the recently inducted board, especially Mayor Jake Middleton and West’s replacement Alderman Ernest “Tony” Fields.

“As far as Natchez in the future, Tony Fields is going to be a tremendous board member,” West said.

And Middleton has the qualities to lead the city.

“Jake is going to do a good job, he was experience, he comes from a family volunteers, he has strong family support, he’s stubborn, he’s adamant, he’s progressive but he’s fair,” West said. “Jake does what’s right.”