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Drama shouldn’t overshadow critical issues

What do the Olympics and Tuesday’s meeting of the Natchez mayor and the board of aldermen have in common?

Not much you might conclude if you have ever visited the city council chambers on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month.

And yet, the seats in the city’s meeting room have been filled to capacity in recent weeks. In one meeting, constituents were spilling onto the sidewalk.

Since July 1, when the current mayor and aldermen were sworn in, much of the drama in residents’ minds has been focused on who will be the next city attorney.

The moves and counter-moves by the mayor and board of aldermen in recent weeks could be compared to Olympic fencers darting back and forth on the stage looking for an opening to attack.

Producers of the Olympics know that drama attracts audiences. Longtime Olympics announcer Jim McKay summed it up at the beginning of each ABC World of Sports broadcast, “The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, the human drama of athletic competition,” the announcer said.

The drama between the separate factions of city government surrounding the city attorney issue has definitely attracted the attention of city residents. Too bad other mundane issues cannot do the same.

Tuesday’s meeting was a sober reminder that even as the city attorney drama continued, other concerns continue to linger.

Chief among these long-term issues is the state of city finances. Despite moves to buy software, hire accountants and change the city clerk from elected position to an appointed position, controversy surrounding the city’s financial officers and record keeping persist.

Most recently, the city’s first appointed clerk was abruptly dismissed for breaking city policy. Now an interim city clerk is charged with untangling the mess.

A draft audit shows that the city overspent the 2014-2015 budget by approximately a million dollars. While the city is not facing a deficit, auditor Deanne Tanklsey told city leaders it wasn’t a good fiscal year.

Meanwhile as the end of September fast approaches, plans for the city’s tourism department and the Natchez Covention and Promotion Commission have yet to be addressed publicy.

The previous administration demanded the resignation of the commission and fired the current tourism director. They then appointed an interim director and interim commission members to work until the new mayor and board could sufficiently address the issue.

The terms of the interim positions will conclude at the end of September. What the mayor and board of aldermen are not clear. Monday, the board is set to discuss the legislation that governs the city’s tourism efforts.

Finances and tourism are two long-term issues that will not be solved with a careful, deliberate and open discussion of the issues.

Appointing a city attorney is a critical decision, one that is normally decided in the first few days of a new administration. Thankfully, the issue appears to finally be settled so the drama that has filled the council chambers in the last 30 days can make way for these and other critical issues facing our town.

 

Ben Hillyer is the news editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by email at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.