Commission asks Brown to leave MDOT now

Published 1:55 pm Tuesday, February 8, 2011

JACKSON (AP) — Within moments of taking office Tuesday, a new Mississippi transportation commissioner voted with one his colleagues to give embattled agency director Larry “Butch” Brown an ultimatum: Resign by Wednesday or be fired.

Mike Tagert, who won a special election runoff last week to become Northern District commissioner, was sworn in just before the meeting. He voted with Central District Commissioner Dick Hall to replace Brown.

Brown has had a series of public gaffes and run-ins with other officials, and Hall had frequently criticized him as a heavy-handed manager.

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Southern District Commissioner Wayne Brown, no relation to Butch Brown, voted Tuesday against pushing Butch Brown out of the job. Wayne Brown is not seeking re-election this year.

Tagert said during the campaign that MDOT needs new leadership. Tagert is filling the final months of a four-year term started by Bill Minor, who died in November. Minor had been an ally of Butch Brown.

Butch Brown, 67, announced in January that he would retire in June, citing a recurrence of prostate cancer. He had surgery in late January and has been recuperating. Brown did not attend the commission meeting.

Hall told The Associated Press there is no reason to wait for Brown to retire.

“I think the most important thing is to make a clean break,” Hall said. “We had a new commissioner come on board … and it was time for us to make a new start, a new beginning.

“He has been asked for his resignation by the end of business Wednesday and if he doesn’t then he is terminated,” Hall said.

Brown is being replaced temporarily by Melinda McGrath, MDOT’s chief engineer.

Hall said the search would begin immediately for a new MDOT director.

Hall said he disagrees with some people who believed the agency needs to be led by an engineer.

“I don’t think that’s necessary at all,” Hall said. “You need an administrator. If he or she happens to have an engineering degree, then fine. But you need an administrator … this is a billion-dollar company.”

Brown, a former Natchez mayor, had faced an uncertain future with MDOT.

Two years after Brown’s 2002 confirmation as MDOT director for the first time, he was fired by a vote of the commissioners. He was reinstated six weeks later when a new commissioner took office. He has served since then.

At his confirmation hearing in 2009, Brown defended his use of department stationery to write letters in 2004 and 2006 asking the state Parole Board to release Douglas Hodgkin, who was convicted of capital murder in the death of a University of Mississippi student who was raped, sodomized and strangled in Oxford in 1986.

Brown said he sent the letters because he knows and likes Hodgkins’ father, a banker in Kentucky.

In recent months, Brown’s behavior has drawn negative publicity. He was arrested at the Beau Rivage Casino in July and charged with public intoxication. In November, Brown agreed to anger management classes and, in return, the city of Biloxi would drop a public intoxication charge.

Brown said the incident was a misunderstanding and he was neither drunk nor disorderly.

“I’m Butch Brown. I’m from a river town. That’s how we act,” Brown told reporters Jan. 10 at his retirement announcement.