Leadership questioned in mowing incident

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 23, 2010

What is leadership?

This particular question is at the center of the controversy that unfolded at the corner of Woodhaven Drive and U.S. 61 South Monday and Tuesday.

In this day and age it is all too easy to identify examples of bad leadership.

In fact, many people sit salivating ready to point fingers, place blame and complain, especially when it pertains to elected officials. Even worse are those who delight in the drama from such controversies like fans of a sordid reality show.

Inevitably lost in the din created by such naysayers are small examples of true leadership.

Take the leadership demonstrated by Bryant and Jean Reed.

Having already experienced how slowly government responded to their concerns over neighborhood potholes, the Reeds decided to take action and mow the overgrown grass fronting the welcome sign at the south entrance to the city.

Certainly they are to be applauded for being proactive, but it may be what they didn’t do that deserves a standing ovation.

In their effort to correct a problem the Reeds neither sought attention nor tried to score points. The only thing they were seeking Monday was a solution.

Publicity does not make good leaders. All too often politicians confuse press conferences, grandstanding in front of the camera and their smiling faces spread across the front page with leadership.

Publicity is the last thing the Reeds wanted Monday morning when they cranked up their weed trimmer and lawn mower and went to work.

In fact, Mrs. Reed’s jaw dropped when she discovered that the newspaper had received numerous tips on their activities. She laughed with surprise when a driver stopped on the side of the road to applaud their efforts. In the Reeds’ minds there was no story worth printing in the newspaper.

It may be that the Reeds are not alone in their willingness to play an active role in their community.

Interestingly when The Democrat asked Web site readers in the daily online poll “Have you ever cleaned up areas in your neighborhood that weren’t your property?” Seventy-seven percent of respondents said they had at cleaned up their neighborhood at least once. Of those people, forty-four percent said that they did it often.

It is good to know that there are many others like the Reeds who are leading by example in their neighborhoods, even when elected leaders do not act responsibly.

Despite the not-our-job response by one alderman, there was a glimmer of responsible leadership in city hall.

After all of the grass clippings settled and all of the facts were uncovered, city engineer David Gardner made the most positive public statement to come from city government in a while.

“If someone else is not cutting (around the welcome signs), then we will,” Gardner said.

Gardner agreed with the Reeds’ assertion that the city should be responsible for the grass mowing around the welcome signs — the first greeting given visitors.

“It’s our community. We’ll do what we need to do,” Gardner said.

I suspect that it is the same attitude the Reeds adopted Monday when they loaded up their SUV with lawn equipment.

Hopefully some of our city leaders will learn a few lessons from the Reeds and Gardner and make an attitude adjustment.

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@natchezdemocrat.com.