Leaders should look to lawyers before making decisions

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 10, 2009

Last week a local businessman asked me, “Do they know how stupid they look acting like that?”

The “they” was a blanket assessment of some of our local politicians.

“That” could have been any number of silly issues that seem to be stumbling blocks to progress lately.

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I disagreed with the man’s use of the word “stupid” — ignorant would have been more correct.

It’s easy to get those two words confused, but they have vastly different meanings. I don’t consider myself stupid, but I’m ignorant of thousands — even millions — of things. With each thing I learn in life, I become a little less ignorant.

But, I digress; the man’s point still struck me.

He was correct. If brains were hair, some of our leaders seem to be on a record streak of bad hair days.

We’ve cut funding to the EDA, only to reinstitute the funding after actually reading the law — and getting an unofficial comment, the county attorney said, from Elmer Fudd, who apparently now works for the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.

Then after we actually read the EDA law, both city and county leaders learned that neither entity has ever followed the letter of the law.

Some city leaders have stood up and publicly protested annexing uninhabited land, a plan that they’d supported only a few weeks earlier.

The city paved roads only to learn the funds we thought were in the bank actually were not there — and not coming either.

Now, the county is hell-bent on putting a trailer right in the middle of the city, despite the city zoning laws that forbid such. The city can slow the project by not allowing water and sewer to be hooked up at the site.

No problem, some supervisors say privately, the county crews could use the nearby restrooms at the Liberty Park ball fields.

So are all these moves unbelievable?




But what’s the cause?

After the businessman’s comments I started thinking of what exactly is at play here and how could some of the large public gaffes been prevented.

The best prevention method going forward may two-fold.

First, maybe our elected officials need to start thinking about themselves as members of a bomb disposal team, you know the kind Hollywood film directors love to mimic.

Don’t cut the yellow or blue wires unless you dang well know what they do. If you do, bad things can happen. People and things can get hurt.

Similarly, in government you don’t monkey around with laws or funding until you know the results.

The second point, and perhaps much more important one is about getting good advice.

Our elected officials need to start paying close attention to the sources of their advice.

Listening only to a close-knit set of advisors can get you into intellectual predicaments found in the children’s fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

It’s easy to make fun of attorneys, but I have to think that if the city and county had better, more careful legal advice, perhaps a couple less toe-stubbing moments could have occurred.

A good government attorney would always advise reading existing laws first, then following the law. Both of those are concepts that we have lacked a good bit lately.

Lawyer jokes are a dime a dozen — but those folks go to school for a long time to help keep you out of trouble.

A handful of our local leaders seem ignorant of that important lesson, though the business community seems to see it crystal clear.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.