No clear front runner yet in mayoral race

Published 12:01 am Sunday, June 7, 2015

Local politics is a bit of a sport for many. A handful of folks in town can tell you how various voting boxes have voted historically and project forward ideas on how they might vote in the future.

Speculation on who is going to throw their names in the ring for next year’s city races has come fast and early this year.

That seems to signal a highly discontented voter base.

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I’ve heard a number of people suggest incumbent Mayor Butch Brown’s rekindled role as leader of the city will not stay lit for another term of office.

“He seems to have lost his stroke,” one man told me recently.

Another questioned his health. Brown has battled with cancer in the past and had a heart attack earlier this year.

While the voters may seem unhappy, Brown suggests he’s all in and plans to run for office again.

Clearly, he loves the seat of power. Despite his boisterous, even cavalier attitude toward obstacles — real or perceived — Brown truly does seem to want what’s best for Natchez, at least on some level.

Unfortunately for Brown, since his 2012 return to the city’s throne, the town has been mired in a financial mess, complicated by two factors — the death of a long-time city employee and the inability of the city clerk’s office to sort out the problems.

The year prior to Brown’s return, a long-time employee of the city clerk’s office, Gary Valentine, decided to retire. Valentine’s departure left a gaping hole of knowledge in the city clerk’s office.

If you wanted to know a number — any number — related to the city’s budget, or expenditures for that matter, Gary was pretty much your only hope for getting it pulled out of the city’s then-antiquated computer system.

When Valentine retired, he took with him volumes of institutional and practical knowledge.

He was so missed that the city clerk’s office eventually hired him back part-time in 2012.

Sadly, Mr. Valentine passed away in early 2013.

The city pretty much has been flying blind financially ever since.

A new software package was purchased just prior to Mr. Valentine’s departure, but apparently no one on the staff understood it enough to actually make it work correctly.

That software has been blamed for the financial mess, as described by the city’s own accountants and auditors, practically ever since.

The mess has led city leaders to abolish the elected office of city clerk and change the position to one of appointment, which will require more stringent qualifications for holding the post.

The move should prove to be a good one, eventually, for the city. Having transparency in government finances should not be as complicated as it currently is.

The question for Mayor Brown is: Will the change come fast enough?

He has 12 months to figure that out and prove to voters that he continues to be the best candidate to lead the city. Brown’s likely challengers have 12 months to figure out how to position themselves as being a better, more electable leader than Brown.

It’s still a year off, but the race for the mayor’s seat should be a good one. Who will win at this point is anyone’s guess.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or