It’s Groundhog Day all over again for some issues in the Miss-Lou

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 1, 2009

The 1993 movie “Groundhog Day” gave new fame to the Feb. 2 holiday, and new meaning came along with it.

Bill Murray’s character in the movie painfully lives through the same, awful day, over and over again. His life becomes a rerun, and America gets pulled into his suffering.

But Murray’s on-screen woes don’t seem that far from real life sometimes.

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In the Miss-Lou, many local issues just keep coming up, seemingly with no resolution.

This Groundhog Day, a few former leaders have shared their thoughts on what the area must do to break the cycle.

Economic Development Authority

Since its inception several years ago, the Natchez-Adams Economic Development Authority has undergone downsizing on its board and been under the management of several directors.

The Adams County Board of Supervisors recently slashed the EDA’s funding, citing a lack of industrial prospects coming into the area.

Former Adams County Supervisor Lynwood Easterling said communication is the key to keeping the EDA and local government moving in lockstep.

“(Local government) needs to keep up with how they’re running,” Easterling said. “They’re elected to be involved.”

But not everyone sees a problem with the EDA.

Former supervisor Sammy Cauthen said he believes the EDA has run as smoothly as it could have in the past years.

“He did a lot of good work,” Cauthen said of former EDA director Jeff Rowell.

And Cauthen supported a more hands-off approach when it came to government involvement in the EDA.

Natchez public schools

It’s a common cry from those running for public office — the Natchez-Adams School District must be improved.

But the district’s students consistently score lower than the national average on standardized tests.

Former Natchez-Adams School Board member Matilda Stephens said one of the best ways to improve student performance is to get all of the district’s employees invested in education.

To do that, school administrators must bridge an existing gap with school employees.

Stephens said once there’s a bond between the district and its employees, the students will benefit.

“There needs to be more of a team approach,” she said. “Not an us- against-them mentality.”

Former district director of operations Wayne Barnett said he sees a lack of parental involvement as having a detrimental impact on students.

City of Natchez code enforcement

Natchez is blighted with dilapidated houses, overgrown grass in vacant lots and other violations of city ordinances set in place to avoid disturbing the city’s quality of life.

The rules are there, but enforcement is lacking.

Constant vigilance and everyday attention is key in fixing lackadaisical enforcement, former Natchez Mayor Larry L. “Butch” Brown said.

During his mayoral terms, Brown said he worked with city officials to compile a list of problems that needed direct attention — vacant lots, litter, billboards in historic districts and more.

“They were all pretty innocuous ordinances, but we did them as a package,” he said.

And through campaigns and enforcement to uphold the ordinances, Brown said it was a success.

“We pressed hard to have that package enforced. Everybody in the community finally embraced it,” he said.

And to keep enforcement going, Brown said it was a hands-on, every day duty.

“Our enforcement was strong because I insisted on it being strong,” he said.

Communication was also a strong force.

He said he kept a constant line of communication open with the chief of police and department heads so that everybody worked together to bring the ordinances to fruition.

“It’s a hands-on attitude for what you want your community to look like, and that hands-on attitude and a strong forceful package of codes is what you have to have,” Brown said.

Natchez, Adams County recreation

City officials have discussed and stressed having a recreational facility for years — not only as a benefit for city residents but as economic development for Natchez.

And yet the city is still without recreation.

If Natchez is truly committed to bringing recreation to the city, a solid plan is the foundation upon which it must be built, said former Natchez Mayor Phillip West.

“In the past it’s been talked about a lot, but a serious effort has never been done to move it forward,” he said. “There have been minor efforts put forward in the past, but nobody has taken the ball to commit themselves in getting it done.”

The initial step in bringing in recreation is to create a plan based on the community’s needs.

With a solid, comprehensive plan that can be sold to investors and the community, recreation can be brought to fruition, he said.

Finances can be found from state and federal government and through the private sector, he said.

West said he feels in the past, leaping over the hurdle of garnering finances has kept recreation from moving forward.

“You have to overcome obstacles, but you can’t continue to use excuses. I think, to a certain extent, excuses are what we used in the past,” West said.

“I learned that over my years, if you really want to do something good, there are people who will step forward.”

Ferriday water quality

For the last 20 years, Ferriday’s water quality has been on an up-and-down rollercoaster ride, with residents sometimes complaining about its color and saying organic matter had come through their pipes.

In 1999, the issue culminated in a 120-day boil water notice because the water plant kept shutting down, eventually resulting in a class action lawsuit.

The water quality has improved somewhat since then, but it’s still a battle the town fights.

The problems began with the construction of the current water plant, said former Superintendent of Sewer David Ellis, who also worked with the water department.

The town needed a new plant, and when they were offered money to build the current one, they built the wrong type of plant, he said.

“They didn’t need the one they got,” he said. “It’s been a mess ever since they accepted it.”

The other problem is where the town gets their water, Ellis said.

“When Old River gets low, it gets stagnant and has a fishy smell,” he said. “They can shove a pump deeper into the water, but it’s still going to be that nasty water.”

The solution Ellis proposed was to pump water in from the Mississippi River or dig deep wells, something he acknowledged the town probably doesn’t have the money to do.

Currently, the town is working on an overhaul of the plant that will include building two new storage tanks and a large retention pond to allow organic matter to fall out naturally before water is brought into the plant for treatment.

Mayor Glen McGlothin said he plans to lobby for money in Washington, D.C., to raise the weir on Old River, which would in turn keep the water level higher and reduce stagnation.