Aldermen speak against annexation

Published 12:27 am Friday, March 20, 2009

NATCHEZ — What was supposed to be a hearing to discuss the city’s plans to annex county land turned into a hearing on race and the impact annexation would have on black voters in the city.

“It was certainly a surprise,” said attorney Walter Brown.

Brown, representing the city, said Wednesday that no one was scheduled to speak against the annexation.

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But that quickly changed Thursday.

Moments after Judge George Ward opened the hearing, Natchez Aldermen Ricky Gray, Tony Fields, Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, former Natchez Mayor Phillip West, members of the NAACP and one county resident stood to voice opposition to the annexation.

The group argued that a potential development slated for one of the sites to be annexed has the potential to weaken the pool of black voters and violate the Voters Rights Act on 1965.

One tract to be annexed, approximately 2.1 square miles near Trinity Episcopal Day School, is being named as a possible site for housing and shopping development.

Mathis and others in the anti-annexation group said they’re concerned the housing in the development would be priced too high for blacks and minorities and would create a disparity in the voting pool.

“The ability to move is not attainable for the majority (of minorities,)” Mathis said.

Additionally, Mathis said she and others who spoke against annexation were concerned the second parcel of land, slightly more than half a square mile north of town near Old County Club Drive, had no prospects for development.

Mathis said she also recently learned the area has been subject to contamination from tire burning years ago and may not be suitable for any construction at all.

Mathis has requested a report from the Department of Environmental Quality regarding contamination of the land.

Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton said he was surprised by Thursday’s move since the board voted unanimously in October to pursue annexation.

Middleton said when the board initially began to look into annexation, his board liked the idea that both sites were open for development.

“There isn’t anything out there but dirt,” he said. “And (this action) sends a bad message to the business community.”

However, Mathis said she was not aware of the possible ramifications annexation could have when the board first began discussing the subject.

Gray and Mathis both said they’ll rescind their votes in favor of annexation at the next board meeting. Fields could not be reached for comment.

Ward asked that all facts and findings be presented to the court within 45 days. He gave no time frame for rendering a decision.