Two challenge incumbent in District 1 race

Published 12:02 am Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories profiling candidates in this year’s Adams County elections.

NATCHEZ — Two challengers say they can do more to create jobs in Adams County than the one-term incumbent in the District 1 Adams County supervisor race has done.

But, the incumbent says, creating work isn’t in the job description of a supervisor at all.

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The District 1 Candidates include three Democrats, Derrick Batteste, Robert “Bobby” W. Braswell, and incumbent Charles Michael “Mike” Lazarus.

Derrick Batteste

Derrick Batteste

Batteste said he decided to run for District 1 supervisor when a number of citizens asked him if he would.

The most pressing issues facing Adams County are jobs and recreation, Batteste said.

Jobs are available in Adams County, he said, but residents do not have an equal opportunity to fill the positions.

“If you’re not the ‘who’s who’ you don’t get the work, but there are a lot of people that can do the work,” Batteste said.

He said the community and private sector, in addition to the supervisors and Natchez Board of Aldermen, should be involved in job creation.

Batteste said some county employees have expressed they are overdue in receiving pay raises, which he sees as another issue facing the board.

Four years after a majority of voters said they wanted a recreation complex, Adams County is still lacking a complex, Batteste said.

“Smaller places than Natchez have a recreation complex. We need to ask those people what they did to get (a complex) funded,” Batteste said.

Batteste said he has seen the profitability of recreation facilities in other areas, and he believes a complex will have economic development befefits in Adams County.

He also has concerns that too much of Adams County tax dollars are being spent within the city limits.

In order to fix the educational system, Batteste said if elected, he would get the community involved.

“Maybe we need to get some volunteer programs started where Natchez could have a mentoring program,” Batteste said. “We need to let the kids know that we, as adults, love them.”

Batteste said the current board tends to lead on the public with some issues, especially during election season.

“I work, I’m a real worker,” Batteste said. “I’m not a suit and tie person; I work.”

Bobby Braswell

Robert “Bobby” W. Braswell

The owner of Braswell Construction Company Inc., Braswell said he decided to run because he wants a better leader to serve the people of Adams County.

“I will do them justice by my leadership,” Braswell said. “I’ve got a proven track record in business of doing that.”

He said he is more qualified than the incumbent to bring jobs to Adams County because he has created jobs in Texas, Ferriday and in Adams County.

“I have a proven track record of keeping (expenses) within my budget, increasing workforce and cutting costs at the same time,” Braswell said.

Braswell said he supports efforts to build a public recreation complex, but he pledges he would not vote for a tax increase to get it built.

The current board of supervisors has not been successful in creating jobs, Braswell said.

By bringing jobs to Adams County, the county would take in more tax money but tax rates would not go up, Braswell said.

“You can continue to tax the people, and that is not a way to create prosperity,” he said.

Braswell said his experience qualifies him to use different avenues other supervisors have not thought of to create jobs.

Braswell said the supervisors are failing by continuing to raise taxes in an economy that is currently struggling.

The supervisors approved a 2.59 mill increase for county residents outside the city limits in a 3-2 vote in September. City residents did not have to pay an increased tax rate.

The county budget included a tax increase levied by the Natchez-Adams School Board for $300,000, or approximately 1.45 mills, in additional taxes.

Supervisors Lazarus, Darryl Grennell and Thomas “Boo” Campbell voted to accept the budget with the tax increase included. Henry Watts and S.E. “Spanky” Felter voted against it.

Lazarus, along with Watts and Felter, voted to “object” to the school board’s tax increase. However, the county is legally bound to approve the school board’s request as long as it falls below a maximum mill count outlined by the state.

Education can be improved, Braswell said, by creating more transparency of the school board’s operation and by supporting the educators and staff of the Natchez-Adams School District.

“I believe (a supervisor’s role in education) would be to stand as a role model and support difficulties and the people that do work,” Braswell said.

Braswell said he would not sleep through meetings, but make positive changes on the board.

“I’m not about politics, I’m about getting the job done.”

Mike Lazarus

Charles Michael “Mike” Lazarus

Lazarus said he is running for re-election to make Adams County a better place where his children can raise their families.

“I’m a new grandfather now, and I want to see my grandkids grow up in Natchez,” he said.

Lazarus said he has business experience as well as experience serving on the board of supervisors.

“I know how to work well with others, and that’s what it takes,” he said. “You have to be a team.”

The No. 1 issue facing the county is job creation, Lazarus said, and steps are already in place to take care of that with the entrance of Elevance Renewable Sciences, Rentech Inc. and another prospect, which he cannot name because the county is under a confidentially agreement.

“(The supervisors and Natchez Inc.) are working together as a team, and I believe we’ve turned a corner,” Lazarus said. “It didn’t happen overnight.”

Lazarus said the county’s road overlay project is a positive achievement of the supervisors.

But the school system is not doing well, and more emphasis needs to be placed on appointments to the NASD school board, which he thinks should be elected

He said the county should consider downsizing current schools and creating more schools based on neighborhood zoning, a system he said is working well in Lincoln County.

Lazarus said the supervisors’ role in job creation is to support Natchez Inc. and create tax incentives for industries to locate in Adams County.

“The worst thing you can have is a supervisor running up and down the road trying to get jobs. We have an economic development director with educational background and connections to do that now,” Lazarus said.

Lazarus said he supports efforts to build a recreational facility, and he believes the county can find a way to fund it without raising taxes.

“(The board’s staff) has pulled the numbers several times, and I don’t think we will have to raise taxes to build a recreation complex,” Lazarus said.