City needs a confident captain

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 11, 2009

The turmoil inside the City of Natchez and its baffling decisions by the board of aldermen have been the subject of much talk over the last few days.

The talk on the street ranges from taxpayers who are shocked and upset by the seemingly lack of direction for the city to a verbal throw-up-the-hands mentality over the whole debacle.

Both extremes — those who care passionately about the city and those who sort of chalk the shenanigans up to simple ineptness of government and worthy of only sarcastic humor — are worrisome.

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They both stem from an overwhelming sense that no one seems to have his hand on the rudder steering the city.

Recent terminations of a number of city employees were touted as saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then, days later, the city announces plans to hire people to fill similar positions to the ones that were terminated.

There goes the savings, huh?

It all leads to the question: Who’s driving the bus here, the mayor or the board of aldermen?

While there may be a few aldermen who can cast aside personal views and politics for the sake of the greater good, many cannot.

No one seems to be able to predict the aldermen’s collective actions ahead of time and fewer still can understand their moves in hindsight.

While we have a strong board, weak mayor form of government, the mayor can — and in the past has — led the city by simply coming to the table with a plan of action and showing confidence and vision.

It’s easy to simply hold up a hand and say, “the board did it,” regardless of what “it” is.

But that would be shortchanging the key role a mayor for the city can — and should — be.

First, he should exude confidence or at least publicly pretend to be confident.

I doubt former Mayor Larry L. “Butch” Brown always had his plans in concrete before he spoke.

No, Butch simply dreamed up things and worked out the details later.

And a big part of that vision was an overwhelming sense of confidence that whatever notion was being dreamed up and no matter how crazy it may have seemed at the time, not only could be accomplished, but that it would be accomplished.

Second, the mayor should be smarter than the aldermen and simply come to the table with a plan before they create one. Nine times out of 10, doing this will get your plan adopted, or at least most of it.

The mayor can come up with ideas and publicly challenge the board on theirs, if necessary. Think the grants coordinator shouldn’t have been on the chopping block?

Then rather than sit by and watch it happen, why not create a list of grants that the position secured for projects, split out by each alderman’s ward and present it to them publicly. Wouldn’t that likely have quickly explained away the silliness of this act?

What the city seeks — even craves — is someone who seems to care about being smart with government, not simply being a punching bag for critics and for aldermen.

All we ask for is a confident captain at the helm during the storm. Natchez has certainly had its share of small storms recently.

Despite the fact that most of the gusts and rain have been self-inflicted, all we need is a little confidence that the captain will see us through this. Natchez cannot wait for the next “Jake ’08.”

We need the one we’ve got to step up and publicly take charge and rebuild our confidence before the next storm cloud appears.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or