What happened to city’s vision?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 4, 2009

Good grief. Can anyone out there in readerland explain the City of Natchez’s latest actions? I’m beyond baffled.

The city’s grant writer was fired. Then she’s not fired, but on probation — the reason for which is still not clear.

Then citizens learn that aldermen have opted to wipe out pretty much the entire city planner’s office. Yet, as best we can tell they left the code enforcement officers — who seem spotty at best — and the city’s community development coordinator on the payroll.

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Natchez appears to be downsizing itself into oblivion with what seem to be ill-conceived plans to save money, regardless of the effect.

Just a few short years ago Natchez was a city led by a visionary mayor whose projects were so vast that — 10 years after he left City Hall — only now are we beginning to run out of his projects.

Leadership starts at the top and, although many people disagreed with former Mayor Larry L. “Butch” Brown’s style, few can argue that he made things happen.

Although Natchez has for a number of years had what’s called a strong board, weak mayor system of government, perhaps never before has our government seemed weaker and less directed.

Weak isn’t the adjective for what we have. Gelatinous may be more apt.

The city’s past triumphs included awards for preservation and millions and millions of dollars in hard-fought outside funding that did everything from stabilize the bluffs to put laptops in every Natchez Police cruiser.

Today, we’re a city that must borrow to pay the bills and which has little vision for the future — or if the vision exists, we’re doing an awful job of making it public.

In the past few years, aldermen — present and past ones — have emasculated the long-standing volunteer boards which previously oversaw issues of planning, zoning and historic preservation.

No one knows the future of these boards or the laws they struggled to enforce.

Perhaps the city simply plans to scrap its planning and preservation laws and go back to a time when the roads were dirt and horses were tied up along Main Street. Hopefully some master plan exists the details of which simply haven’t been made public yet.

Unfortunately it’s not just locals who see how lost our city’s leadership seems to be. The world sees it, too, only they don’t know the back-story. They simply see the results.

Type in “Natchez” in a search engine and you’ll likely see a link for the city’s former official Web site: natchez.ms.us.

I say former because the city apparently got into a dispute with the company that once hosted the official city Web site a couple of years ago and the company simply turned off the switch.

Today, months and months later, apparently the issue either isn’t resolved or has simply been forgotten. A new Web site has been created — mind you it contains sadly out of date or incomplete information.

But since the old site was around on the Web so long, the old one still shows up a good bit. It was the sixth listing when I searched “Natchez” last week.

And just under the link it reads: Natchez.MS.US. Coming Soon. That’s a sad billboard to have hanging out for the world to see. Of course real billboards in Natchez have been illegal for years, but that’s never stopped us either.

I hope and pray that our leaders will rally together soon, cast aside differences of race and politics and work together toward growing Natchez, not merely holding on to what we once had.

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