Talk first, act second, cut the drama

Published 12:01 am Sunday, February 21, 2010

One could almost feel the frustration and emotion seething in the audience.

Adams County Supervisors strolled into the room, one by one, smiling, greeting and shaking hands with the audience — most of which illustrated impeccable Southern manners and returned the niceties.

Audience members, however, were obviously upset over a decision that was made that affected them all in some form or fashion.

The purpose of the meeting was to exchange information.

But I’m not talking about Wednesday’s meeting between hospital workers and the supervisors, who had 24 hours prior, voted to enter into discussions to sell county-owned Natchez Regional Medical Center.

Instead, the meeting described occurred almost exactly one year ago and the subject was another quick reaction by the county board — the decision to abruptly announce funding cuts to the city-county economic development authority.

In early February 2009, supervisors met with members of the Natchez Board of Aldermen and the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority Board.

The county’s decision to cut funding took the city — which was an EDA funding partner along with the county — and the EDA board by surprise.

The correlation between the reaction of those affected in both decisions — cutting EDA funding and opting to sell the hospital — are clear.

Both stem from the belief by supervisors that they live and operate in a bubble. And, more important, that any information that doesn’t somehow find its way into the bubble must not exist.

Near the end of the 2009 EDA meeting, it became clear that both the city and the county hadn’t followed the law which required both entities to meet each year to discuss funding together.

Halfway through last Wednesday’s meeting with hospital workers, it was clear the issue driving the supervisor’s decision to rush into sales talks stemmed from either outright bad information or just a lack of information.

The same argument was made in 2009 when supervisors put a bullet in the EDA’s head. None of the players — county, city or EDA — had the wherewithal to keep lines of communication open.

That almost always ends in confusion, frustration and more drama than necessary.

Once all sides sat together at the table and started talking, a new plan for economic development eventually was created.

In the end, the EDA is being retooled and will likely come out better in the end, with an entirely new board of fresh faces working for the community’s behalf.

And, maybe, last week’s hospital drama — we’ll talk of selling, then we’ll listen, then we won’t sell — will result in a better, more stable situation for Natchez Regional Medical Center and for the county.

At the end of the week, supervisors and hospital board of trustees vowed to meet more regularly to understand the status of the hospital’s finances.

But wouldn’t it be nice if all of the various leadership groups — supervisors, city leaders, EDA leaders, hospital leaders, etc. — could simply sit down together and discuss matters first, before publicly announcing action?

Imagine how much less drama our community would have to endure. And, in the end, our community would be stronger and more cohesive.

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