Informed choices are best approach

Published 12:05 am Friday, April 18, 2014

I wish I lived in Natchez Alderman Mark Fortenbery’s ward.

It is not because he lives in a great neighborhood or that the people he represents are upstanding citizens. I am certain Margaret Avenue is a fine street, and I have many friends who live in Ward 5.

I like Fortenbery because he refuses to cast a vote without knowing what it is he is supporting. If you have ever attended a Natchez Board of Aldermen meeting, you know Fortenbery doesn’t talk much. In the last six years, I have noticed he is one of the few on the board who refuses to grandstand while the television cameras are rolling.

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I haven’t ever asked Fortenbery why he doesn’t talk much during meetings, but my suspicion is he finds all of the preaching a waste of time and hot air. What is important to Fortenbery, however, is casting votes that are supported by facts and information.

One good example is Fortenbery’s refusal to commit $350,000 of the city’s money for a satellite senior center at North Natchez Park during the April 8 meeting of the mayor and aldermen.

After pitching the idea to the board, Natchez Community Development Director James Johnston requested the board approve resolutions that would authorize the filing of a Community Development Block Grant application for the center, give the mayor the authority to sign any and all documents to make the application, give permission to host a public hearing and commit $350,000 in cash and $127,180 in engineering, site construction services. The cash would not have to be available until 2015.

Apparently, it was the first time Fortenbery had heard of the plan, and I suspect it was the first time for others on the board as well. After fumbling around to make a motion, the board erupted into a series of questions and comments.

“So this is strictly an application, not our commitment for $350,000 right now?” Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith asked.

“That is correct,” Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said.

Natchez City Clerk Donnie quickly responded. “No, it is a commitment,” Holloway said.

On video, Johnston can be heard verbally confirming what Holloway said. After several seconds of confusion, Mayor Brown tried to answer Smith’s concerns. The city would have to come up with the cash “only if the grant request is approved,” Brown said.

Johnston once again confirmed he was requesting the board approve the request for $350,000 in cash and that documentation would be required showing the city had the cash on hand.

Fortenbery then spoke up.

“I understand what (Johnston) is doing here, but this is the first I have heard about it,” he said. “I sure would like some time to think about this, because I know some other board members always have time to think about things.”

Fortenbery then amended the motion to rescind the city’s commitment for the money until the board has a chance to discuss where the money will come from. The whole scenario leaves me scratching my head.

When the city spends years debating recreation even after voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum on the issue, the same board spends less than 15 minutes before asking aldermen to commit $350,000 in cash without knowing where the money is coming from.

When I vote for a leader, I cast my vote believing that person will represent me and that he or she will make intelligent and informed decisions on my behalf.

At least Fortenbery is willing to do that for his constituents. I hope other aldermen are ready to do the same.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at