City needs more open doors

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 19, 2010

Natchez residents are so used to being disappointed by their mayor and board of aldermen that one might ask why it’s worth commenting on the latest round of poor decisions clothed in customary secrecy. The answer is that when the rest of us stand by silently, we tacitly consent to what the board does.

Earlier this month, the mayor and board slammed the door in the faces of citizens desiring information about and conversation with the putative developers of a Roth Hill casino (Aldermen Ricky Gray and Dan Dillard dissenting, to their credit). Then the board — again following a process not transparent to the public — dumped Ed Godfrey from the planning commission and rejected the candidacy of Liz Dantone, probably one of the most qualified people in years to offer herself for service.

Meaning no disrespect to those chosen for the planning commission, Godfrey for years has consistently fought to require developers to adhere to the city’s planning codes. Dantone, trained as an architect and with extensive experience in the planning process, also would have been a strict constructionist.

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The reason these recent disappointments are worthy of lament is that the board started its current term with three new members and a new mayor. Naively, perhaps, many of us hoped that Mark Fortenbery, Tony Fields and Dillard would not be sucked into the culture of secrecy and low aspirations that characterized the previous board and that Mayor Jake Middleton would follow a course different from his predecessor’s.

So far the signs are not good. Although Dillard has asked good questions about Roth Hill as well as about the city’s budget, and we don’t know how he, Fields and Fortenbery voted on the planning commissioners, in the main the newcomers have chosen to go along and get along. None has crusaded to change the system that allows all the big decisions to be hashed out in the so-called “finance committee meeting” rather than in public session. Meanwhile, Middleton, abetted by City Attorney Everett Sanders, leads the charge for secrecy.

So why beat my head against a wall complaining about business as usual at City Hall? Only to appeal to the three newest aldermen to have the courage to think for themselves and not run with the pack. The electorate wants to see fewer closed doors and more contrarianism like Dillard’s questions about Roth Hill.

C’mon, guys, shake things up. Let in a little sunshine. Show some leadership. Think about what’s best for Natchez.

Bill Furlow