Aldermen refocus on city tourism

Published 1:11 am Saturday, January 14, 2017


NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez extended the contract of its interim tourism director Friday and will have a meeting next week to determine how to move forward with its search for a permanent director.

The board voted to extend the contract of Interim Tourism Director Jennifer Ogden Combs until Jan. 31 until a new director can be hired.

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Combs also serves as tricentennial director, the contract for which is also up at the end of the month.

The mayor and aldermen interviewed two candidates in late December for the position, but the chosen candidate declined the city’s offer.

Combs said she is planning a “state of tourism summit” for the city’s tourism staff, tourism partners, the Tourism Marketing Advisory Council and the Convention and Promotion Commission.

Out of respect for a new director, Combs said, a 2017 marketing plan and campaign has not been created. The city is at a point, however, that those plans need to be initiated, Combs said.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith requested the mayor’s office set up a special meeting to discuss how to move forward with the director’s search and marketing plans.

Smith said she would like to see the city discuss the process it recently went through and what needed to be improved.

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard also said he thought there should be discussion about how to improve the process.

While he admitted he was likely the only alderman to think so, Dillard said he thinks the city could hire two directors, one to report to the CPC and one to serve as the city’s tourism director.

“So I do look forward to having those discussions,” he said.

The meeting to discuss the tourism matters is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Natchez City Council Chambers.

The director position was left vacant after former director Kevin Kirby was terminated in April 2016 following ongoing personnel issues at the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau. The board of aldermen also asked for the resignations of the members of the commission.

In other news from the meeting:

-Police Chief Daniel White requested permission to hire three officers to fill vacant positions at the Natchez Police Department.

Mayor Darryl Grennell said Magnolia Bluffs Casino officials have told him the city can expect more than $400,000 more in gaming tax revenue this year.

The aldermen voiced concerns and questions about funding the positions.

When asked by Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, City Clerk Melissa Hawk said the three additional officers are not in the city’s budget, and she did not anticipate the city having the money to cover the costs.

Arceneaux-Mathis said the city should not fund recurring expenses — such as salaries — with money that may not always be available.

Arceneaux-Mathis said the city should consider raising taxes to fund police and fire operations and earmark the money to only be used for those purposes.

At Arceneaux-Mathis’ request, the board deferred action on White’s request until the questions involving the budget could be answered.

-Arceneaux-Mathis and Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier expressed disappointment in a recent column written by Peter Rinaldi and published in Rinaldi’s free publication Miss-Lou Magazine.

The column noted the recent three deadly shootings in Natchez and Adams County. Rinaldi made what he later suggested was a tongue-in-cheek reference to Natchez hosting a “Gangbangers’ Rodeo,” “where black youths who may be involved in gang activity get their guns and murder each other until there are none left standing.”

The column also suggests that, “As the population becomes more demographically poor, uneducated, unskilled and dominantly African-American, the number of shootings have gone through the roof.”

Frazier said he has received numerous calls about the “very disturbing article.”

“You just don’t blame it on one group of people,” he said. “This happens all over America.”

Arceneaux-Mathis accused Rinaldi of “race-baiting.”

“I do understand there is freedom of press,” she said. “Rather than race-bait, we need to try to bring ourselves together so that people realize that the whole community is important. We have to improve the quality of life in the whole community.”

Arceneaux-Mathis suggested the city host a summit for residents on how to fight crime.

Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Irving asked Community Development Director James Johnston to explore possible grants to fund programs to educate residents on curbing violence.

-The aldermen deferred action on an interlocal agreement with Adams County to consolidate E911 dispatch services.

Aldermen said the new agreement was recently given to them, and they wanted time to review the agreement with City Attorney Bob Latham.