City needs history, planner

Published 12:06 am Sunday, June 6, 2010

Somewhere in the almost vacant Natchez Planning Department, a drawer filled with bits of small history almost certainly exists.

Like many offices, the planning department likely has a treasure trove of history tucked in the back of a few desk drawers — assuming no one regularly cleans house and pitches things.

Inside one drawer, I suspect, are several boxes of business cards of former city planners.

Some of those planners were here for such a short period of time that business cards were almost certainly just a waste of paper — and taxpayer money.

In another drawer, perhaps, the personalized stationery is slowly yellowing. Another drawer might contain a pile of those little desk nameplates announcing the owner of the desk.

If such relics exist, they provide evidence of a sad trend in Natchez city government — an inability to keep a city planner for any length of time.

When the newest city planner, Robert Nix, begins work next week, he’ll be the fifth city planner the city has employed in six years.

The last three have been terminated for various reasons.

When the most recent planner, John “Rusty” Lewis was terminated last fall, volunteer planning commission member Ed Godfrey said the city planner was a critical job.

“It’s the toughest job in City Hall,” Godfrey said in a 2009 article. “Whatever project comes up, people are for it, people are against it, and the planner’s in the middle.”

In most cities the planner is a position that rarely makes headlines unless some huge controversy occurs.

In Natchez, however, what would be small issues elsewhere can be huge issues. Such is the nature of living in an area steeped in history and historic properties.

Historic preservation is a phrase that’s often misunderstood, even ridiculed by some.

Without it, however, Natchez would be a shell of what it is today.

And while some folks point to the loss of heavy industry and seem to take great sport in blaming the “hysterical society” — their ridiculous and inaccurate moniker for all things historic in nature — for all the area’s woes, the fact is Natchez’s historic preservation efforts have put Natchez on the global map.

Heavy industry was doomed to leave the area as author Thomas Friedman points out, the world became “flat” and there wasn’t a single thing the garden clubs or any “hysterical society” could do about it.

Natchez’s history and the tourism industry created around it, was here before much of the heavy industry was here and it survives today.

That’s why city planning in Natchez is so important — to preserve the uniqueness of our city.

Planning and historic preservation are not hindrances to growth and enemies of business. When all are at the table, working together, our community can truly shine and new and old entities can work hand in hand.

Let’s welcome Mr. Nix to our community, encourage him to stay a while and encourage the city’s legislative branch to simply let him do his job and support him in his efforts.

In the end, if all of those things happen, everyone involved will be better off — the city’s leadership and, most important, the taxpayers.

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