Mayor must take control of shenanigans

Published 12:07 am Friday, April 17, 2009

The Natchez mayor needs to take a lesson from my 11th grade trigonometry teacher Mr. Latham.

The biggest class clowns knew better than attempt any kind of misbehavior in his classroom.

Note passing, spit ball fights, pulling hair, even the rolling of eyes — all were strictly off limits in his presence. And that meant in his classroom, in the hallway or any other place Mr. Latham’s shadow fell during the course of the day.

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Disrespect of any kind was not tolerated.

“Students come to school to learn and you will learn,” Mr. Latham said on the first day of class, peering over his horn-rimmed glasses.

Like laser beams, his eyes locked on to the biggest culprits of misbehavior in our class. Almost instantly his stare caused backs to straighten and eyes widen.

I did not go to a Catholic school, but I can imagine being taught by a nun was slightly less intimidating than being taught by Mr. Latham.

The teacher, who dressed in the same gray shirt and dark green polyester pants streaked with chalk dust every day, had total control.

As a result, I probably never learned as much in any other high school classroom than I did in trigonometry. Looking back on it, I realize that I learned the least in the classes that lacked control.

In fact, there seems to be a direct correlation between a teacher’s control and my learning.

Attending a Natchez Board of Aldermen meeting these days is a little like watching an unruly group of school children.

In the past few days you have heard much about the clapping of hands by Ricky Gray as City Engineer David Gardner stormed out of Tuesday’s finance meeting. Whether or not Gray was reading a text message, his outburst and even his personal text messaging are actions that are disrespectful in any public forum.

Yet Gray is not the only aldermen who pays little attention to rules of civility in meetings.

In recent weeks, it hasn’t been uncommon for aldermen to point fingers, laugh and even mock their colleagues during the regular session.

Some aldermen seem content to snipe back by asking questions that serve little purpose other than to score points.

White, black, veteran, rookie, male, female — this childish activity has become all too familiar for this particular board.

Unfortunately, the public seems to be getting in the act as well.

Too bad the cameras are not focused on these juvenile acts. Sadly, it makes the two-, sometimes three-hour meetings even more onerous.

So where is Mr. Latham when we need him? Where is the person who can take control of this unruly bunch?

Natchez may have a weak form of mayoral government, but the man in the middle is still the man in charge.

Not only should mayor Jake Middleton be ruling with the gavel and armed with points of order, he should be willing to call out these acts of disrespect when they happen — especially when it happens to the department heads he hires.

The mayor needs to demand civility from the board and the public.

Instead, Middleton seems willing to sit back and let aldermen meetings devolve.

At what point will the childish actions and disrespect end? Why should the public have to tolerate it?

Most of all, to what detriment is this childish display to city business?

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