How many city workers does it take to turn on a lightbulb?

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 2, 2009

A drive by the Natchez Visitor Reception Center lately evokes a wide-range of emotions for me.

Despite displays of Santa Claus and his reindeer, snowmen and stars, I am less than cheery about the skeletal remains of the city’s attempt at holiday cheer.

Others may not even notice these wire frames peeking up over the hills surrounding the visitor center. They are hardly visible, but they are there.

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On Dec. 8, I drove into the visitor center parking lot to take holiday photos for the front page. I thought it would be nice to promote the city’s new Christmas light display.

Crews had just started to take the wire-frame lights from the city Christmas parade and install them around the center parking lot.

It was a great idea.

What I had hoped would be a quick photo turned into a four-hour wait until I could take a quick shot of three employees actually installing lights.

There were three city trucks parked in front of the center that morning — enough I thought to get the lights installed quickly. When I approached, no one was doing anything.

“We are waiting on stakes,” one of the workers explained.

Never mind the piles of lights waiting to be moved into place or the various other decorations yet to be put up. All work had ceased until four stakes could be found for this one display.

Six employees waited in city trucks reading the paper and talking on the phone until one of their own drove back to the city barn, found the stakes, and then returned.

In all, it took an hour to get the stakes. By the time the stakes arrived, the workers decided it was a good time to take a lunch break.

Not wanting to waste any more of my time, I went to check off other items on my to-do list. When I returned an hour-and-a-half later, one display was finally complete.

Unfortunately, I missed the shot. No sooner had city workers finished one display; they were once again standing around idle. This time they were waiting for bolts — bolts they could not find.

Thankfully, I eventually got a photo, some four hours after I first drove into the visitor center parking lot. I left in dismay, hoping that they would eventually get the display complete.

If you are scratching your head wondering if you missed seeing the lights this Christmas, you haven’t.

The corner of Canal Street and John R. Junkin remained dark this holiday season.

Despite the hours of labor it took to get the display erected, not to mention the hours waiting around for stakes and bolts, the city evidently didn’t have an adequate plan for getting power to the lights in the first place

Which begs the question …

If the city does not have the ability to plan and organize a simple holiday light display, then how will our leaders ever accomplish anything remotely complicated — like maintaining city streets, addressing the city’s recreation needs, improving our schools and attracting new industry?

A lot has been said recently of the mayor’s campaign promises of free water and state-of-the-art recreation facilities.

Mayor Jake Middleton’s most important pledge, in my mind, was his promise to change how the city works. In his campaign and in a chat on our Web site, Middleton touted a top-down, hands-on approach to leading. He said he would hold people accountable. He promised to “find out what the problems are and solve them.”

If that is not happening at the level of Christmas lights, is it happening at any other level in the city?

There is no evidence of it yet.

Ben Hillyer is the Web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540.