City leaders need to make case to public

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 2, 2009

I am lucky in that I have never been laid off.

I have come close on a couple of occasions. During the recession in the early 90s, I worked for a 200-person architecture firm that struggled to survive as major companies slashed their project budgets. I saw many friends leave my manager’s office, box up their belongings and wave good-bye as they walk out the door. Each time I was thankful that my position was spared.

Most managers will tell you that laying off a colleague is one of the hardest things to do. In most occasions layoffs are made when every other cost-cutting option has been considered.

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Unfortunately, layoffs are necessary in most cases. For weeks, it appeared as if the city had finally reached this point. The only way to cut costs significantly in Natchez government was to cut employees. Everything else had been cut — even elected leaders’ salaries.

A considerable amount of planning is required in order for any layoffs to be effective. In most cases cutting employees does not cut the amount of work that needs to be accomplished. Cutting positions only shifts job responsibilities to other employees — who may or may not get compensated for added work. Cutting a secretary means the boss has to type letters and answer phones.

Planning what happens after the employees are cut may be more important than making the decision to cut the employees altogether.

If the mayor and board of aldermen are trying to project the image that they know what they are doing, recent actions only indicate otherwise.

In the current spate of layoffs, any planning obviously was derailed by leaking rumors to the community that the grants coordinator and others were going to be cut. Evidently with just a few protest letters, citizens convinced leaders to scrap an aspect of the cost-cutting plan they had for the city. How many letters would it have taken to take the rest off of the chopping block?

If there has ever been a time to layout for the community what happens after the public works director, the city planner and the majority of the planning office have been sent packing, now is the time.

At first glance it may seem smart to gut a department that has been a lightening rod for controversies ranging from Blue House to the Fat Mamas.

As these controversies simmered other important functions of the city continued.

What happens now to a department that has a track record over 20 years of bringing in more than a million dollars in grant money from the state and federal government to help re-roof Margaret Martin, renovate Memorial Hall and various other planning projects?

Do residents have a place to go to with questions about new projects or property disputes with their neighbors?

What happens to the various volunteer boards that depend on the expertise of professionals to make decisions about the health and welfare of our neighborhoods?

Do the current actions of the mayor and board of aldermen suggest that they do not support the rules by which we plan our town?

If so, they need to state this publicly, instead of hiding behind closed doors.

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