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Brown vote timing is black eye for state

Butch Brown may have as many fans in Natchez as he does enemies in the state, but neither group should matter much right now.

Instead, Brown should be focused on his health, his family and his future.

Two votes Tuesday morning in Jackson forced Brown’s thoughts to his enemies though.

Longtime rival Dick Hall, transportation commissioner for the central district, found the vote he’s been seeking in newly elected northern district commissioner Mike Tagert. Together, the commissioners gave Brown an ultimatum — resign by tomorrow or be fired.

Brown received the news from his hospital bed at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, where he’s spent most of the last three weeks.

Brown joined the political arena decades ago and hasn’t backed down since.

An opinionated, strong leader, Brown quickly let a “my way or the highway” management style be known.

Natchez residents need only look around to see the fruits of that leadership.

The bluff was stabilized, the convention center and visitor’s center built and the federal courthouse project started when Brown was mayor.

When Brown started spending his weeks in Jackson as executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, Natchez benefited then, too.

The bridge at the terminus of the Natchez Trace was redesigned, downtown roads were paved, a major intersection re-done and the bridge lit.

Brown gets things done.

Of course, go-getters always make enemies. And I’m quite sure Brown stepped on — or perhaps stomped on — more than his fair share of toes in Jackson.

His spending, travel and management style were questioned by Hall and others. Asking questions when public money is at stake is always justified.

But the commissioners have final say-so on the MDOT budget, meaning three other men were responsible for reigning Brown in.

Facing a third battle with prostate cancer, Brown announced last month that he would retire from his MDOT job in June.

Sure, health aside, it’s likely he saw the writing on the wall when it came time to elect a new commissioner.

But anyone with a heart wouldn’t have predicted what Hall and Tagert did Tuesday.

Brown said Tuesday afternoon that he was going to think through and research his options before responding to the ultimatum.

Obviously he’s facing a mound of hospital bills, potentially with no insurance and life with no job, all from his sick bed.

The timing of the commissioners’ vote is as low as low goes. The man is in a hospital bed with another surgery scheduled for this week.

His family is awaiting test results to see if the cancer has spread.

If the commissioners wanted a change before June, that’s understandable, it’s their prerogative.

But it could have waited a few weeks, at least until Brown was out of the hospital.

It could have been handled more professionally.

Friend or foe, Brown is a human being with a worried family. I’d hoped my home state — known for hospitality and generosity — would have shown a little heart.

Instead, we’ve kicked a man when he’s down.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.

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