MML conference touts engagement, transparency in government

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 5, 2009

NATCHEZ — Newly elected officials serving Mississippi’s small towns were told Wednesday an effective administration lives by two words — engagement and transparency.

Dr. P. Edward “Eddie” French, assistant professor of political science and public administration at Mississippi State University, offered the words of wisdom during the opening session of the Mississippi Municipal League’s Small Town Conference at the Natchez Convention Center.

“Overcoming public mistrust in government is not impossible, but it’s a relentless task,” French said.

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More than 200 small town administrators are in Natchez for the annual two-day conference, which concludes today. Approximately 35 percent of attendees were elected to office in June.

French, a former town manager in Virginia, told his audience he sympathizes with their daily administration struggles, but reminded them of their passion for public service.

“We’re not alone in our endeavors,” French said. “Eighty-five percent of all cities in America have populations of under 25,000.

“You as (administrators) need to be proactive rather than reactive. Responsible government today is about process, politics and partnership, and one of the best partnerships you can develop is with citizens of your community.”

French urged administrators to educate citizens regarding policy objectives, and affording citizens easy access to public records and documents.

French said several towns and cities are using social networking Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter to connect with citizens.

“Many localities are using these technologies to reach citizens instantaneously,” he said.

French said the most significant challenge administrators will face is citizens’ high expectations for city services coupled with limited finances and limited human resources. Again, he said the task requires engagement and transparency.

“I’m a firm believer if you can manage a small town, you can manage any place,” French said.

Following French’s remarks, administrators were free to attend a variety of workshops ranging from municipal debt administration to acquainting oneself with city ordinances.

Mayor Jake Middleton offered welcoming remarks on behalf of the City of Natchez. City attendees Wednesday included City Clerk Donnie Holloway, Alderman Dan Dillard and Alderman James “Ricky” Gray.

Workshops today include the role of municipal officers in a code charter and a primer on economic development.

The conference concludes at 12:45 p.m. today.