Newly-elected mayors ready to bring change to the Miss-Lou
Published 12:05 am Sunday, June 12, 2016
NATCHEZ — During the recent round of elections, the area’s mayoral winners have received a clear message from the Miss-Lou: It’s time for change.
In Natchez, Mayor Butch Brown dropped out of the race, and Democrat and former Adams County Board of Supervisors President Darryl Grennell defeated Tony Fields in the primary and independent Eric Junkin in the municipal election.
Vidalia’s Buz Craft ousted Hyram Copeland, who had spent more than 20 years at the helm of the city. And in Ferriday, Sherrie Jacobs defeated Gene Allen, who had been mayor since 2012 and had also held the office from 2004 to 2008.
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“I’m looking forward to working with Mrs. Jacobs in Ferriday and Darryl in Natchez,” Craft said. “Hopefully, we will all make our towns and areas proud and sincerely put the people’s interest first.
“We need to take our selves out of it and move forward for our people. If we can do that, I think everything will be fine.”
The group will be sworn into their respective offices on July 1.
Grennell, who was elected most recently on June 2, said he hit the ground running and has met with 80 percent of the departments in the city.
“I have a very short window before being sworn in,” he said. “My mission, like I’ve done (Friday), is to get familiar with all of the city departments and properties.”
The mayor-elect visited with both the fire and police chiefs Friday, and toured all of their facilities, meeting the police officers and firefighters present.
His other visits included the senior center, Natchez Water Works, public works, IT, he went to city hall to meet the accounting and payroll clerks, and he also enjoyed a tour of Duncan Park.
“I took a ride around the entire golf course — I had never been to the golf course in my entire life,” he said. “I didn’t realize how beautiful it was.”
The departments and places Grennell still needs to visit include the inspector’s department, the staff at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center and a few of Natchez’s recreational sites.
Craft was elected on March 5, and has since spoken to many of the city’s employees, department heads, Copeland and the aldermen. He’s also tapped former Vidalia alderman Bill Murray to be his city manager.
“I’ve also been digging into as many of the issues as I can,” he said. “On that, I’ve met with many project leaders to discuss the town’s business.
“I want to put together a working team and get the right people in place, particularly with taking the financial part of the city to where it should be.”
Craft said he has had a chance to meet some of the regional and state elected officials and their staff who work in Baton Rouge.
“They have been very friendly and forthcoming with information,” he said. “They are there to help us do whatever we want to do.”
Jacobs was elected on April 9, and since then she has asked current Vidalia Police Chief Arthur Lewis to be serve in that role in Ferriday and former Ferriday Fire Chief Joe Sontoyo to return to his post. Lewis lost to former Louisiana Wildlife agent Joey Merrill for the Vidalia police chief election.
While she has not met with Gene Allen or his staff, Copeland and former Ferriday mayor Glenn McGlothin recently took her to Baton Rouge to meet people at the capital.
“They introduced me to people they know, people who can help the town,” Jacobs said. “It was an awesome day! Our representative Andy Anders (D-Vidalia) is a very popular guy down there.”
Jacobs said she’s been meeting with potential employees, visiting city property, meeting with business leaders and getting familiar with the town’s projects.
She also attended a Louisiana Municipal Association district meeting in Pineville Wednesday.
“I met some people and made a lot of good contacts,” Jacobs said. “That’s kind of what I’ve been doing since being elected — having a lot of meetings.”
Grennell said the most important issue right now is getting Natchez’s financial house in order. Grennell said he’d start off by getting the aldermen to approve an audit so everyone could get up to date on where the city stands.
“I think the audit will let us know what we are walking into,” he said. “The finances, as it relates to the city, are one of the issues most important to me, the new aldermen and even the aldermen who are already on the board.”
Currently, interim directors lead a few city departments, such as in city planning.
Grennell said he thought it was important to move those to permanent positions.
“We need to get these departments organized and create an organizational chart,” he said. “There are other things I’ve noticed that need to be tweaked, as it relates to payroll and finances.”
Cleaning up the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau board and the city clerk’s office also will be priorities. Following that, he said the city needed to think about downtown Natchez.
“We need a plan for Natchez, especially downtown,” he said. “It can be a real magnet for our area. We’ve got to continue raising money for it so we can move forward with that process.”
Craft said he ran on finances, and like Grennell, he’s going to want an audit started on the city as soon as he gets sworn in.
“We need to get a true handle on where we stand financially as a town — our debt and cash positives,” he said. “No one really knows,”
The town needs more than an audit to clean up its finances, Craft said.
“The biggest thing is setting up the financial controls,” Craft said. “There are some financial things that were not handled correctly.”
Craft also believes that Vidalia could be a cleaner town.
“We need to improve our streets, right of ways and our green areas,” he said. “Our town could be a lot more attractive than it is now.
“That way when we have any kind of industrial prospects looking at our town, we can tour them around and they can see that this is a place where they can live, work and play.”
Having Lewis come in and clean up the Ferriday Police Department is going to be one key, Jacobs said.
“Once my police chief gets his people in place, they can begin enforcing the laws we have on our books,” she said. “That way people will once again be safe.”
Ferriday also needs to have a massive cleanup effort involving the sidewalks, streets and the area’s abandoned houses, Jacobs said.
“We need to make our town gorgeous,” she said. “We also need to get more community involvement, specifically on First Street near Haney’s Big House — where we have the plaza and eventually the community center will be there.
“I’d like to see more festivals, farmer’s markets, music, children’s activities and parades.”
Focusing on the youth this summer is also a key goal, the mayor-elect said.
“There is nothing for them to do — we really need to get on top of recreation this summer,” Jacobs said. “They are just out there on the streets.”
Be the change
Grennell said he heard many different ideas from the people on the campaign trail, but all had one common thread.
“I truly believe the people of Natchez are ready to take Natchez to another level,” he said. “We want to move forward and try to do some good things here to get the community excited and bring on economic growth.”
Grennell said he takes putting a stop to doing things the “Natchez way” seriously.
“We need to get some prosperity in here again and improve the town’s economic situation,” he said. “It is my mission to take charge of what the people have given me to move the city forward and take Natchez to the next level.”
Craft said he believes his election was a result of the town’s poorly run finances and issues such as the Square on Carter, which proposed the city could buy 65 acres of land to develop and try to sell to other developers. The project would have required borrowing up to $7 million.
“There were just a host of issues where Vidalia really needed change,” he said. “I think that is why people stepped up for change because of the mismanagement of the finances.”
Craft said he takes the vote of confidence the people have entrusted in him very seriously.
“I think people will see, as my administration starts, that we will stay true to the platform I campaigned on and make the people believe in me,” he said. “Also, I want to encourage a spirit of community and industrial growth and take our town forward.”
Jacobs said Ferriday’s voters were dissatisfied with the direction the town was going in.
“I believe they wanted to go in a different direction,” she said. “I believe I am just the instrument God is using to provide that.”
And the charge for change voters the voters are demanding is something Jacobs said was close to her heart.
“Ferriday is my home town,” she said. “I grew up here, my family is from here, and I raised my children there.
“I want all of the (Ferriday’s) children to have the same kind of great memories that I have, and we are going to provide that.”
Jacobs said she loves Ferriday and she believes it’s time for the town to improve.
“We are a small, loving community, and we need to be acting like that,” she said. “And we will. I am really, really looking forward to July 1st.
“Great things are about to bubble.”