City leaders have duty to taxpayers

Published 11:16 pm Monday, August 21, 2017

Taxpayers should not be distracted by Blue Sky reports from Walter Tipton citing alleged economic impact of tourism on a formula published by the state. Those numbers have nothing to do with the required reporting the City is supposed to get annually, or more often, from the Natchez Convention Center (NCC) operator.

Now that Mayor Darryl Grennell, aldermen Dan Dillard, Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis and Sarah Carter-Smith have given lip service to the city’s complete failure to get 10 years of required financial reporting, note:  Mayor Grennell was briefed on this problem before his election. He cannot blame the city’s failures for the past year on the aldermen. Likewise, aldermen cannot blame city failures on Grennell, clerk and city attorney, as Dillard has lately done. All are at fault. On balance, the most egregious fault rests with the aldermen, in order of seniority, Arceneaux-Mathis, Dillard and Carter-Smith. These are quasi-legislators and money people. Each aldermen in this group have, each month, since October 2012, continued to approve monthly dockets and payments to the NCC operator without a contract. Arceneaux-Mathis moved for privatization of the NCC in 2006, after coming to the realization that the city was not competent to run the facility. She led aldermen, who approved these monthly payments for five years prior to the 2012 contract expiration, and she never got the  financial reporting required under the contract. This looks like incompetence in monitoring. These same public officials have approved fiscal year budgets and expenditures each year of their service, knowing each time that they had failed to do their jobs and get the required annual reporting. The mayor is about to approve his second fiscal year budget.  Dillard and Carter-Smith are about to approve their sixth fiscal budget.  Arceneaux-Mathis has been around for over 20 budget cycles. Our previous and current mayors and previous and current aldermen have had ample opportunity, but neither have had the interest nor the will to do their sworn duty administering the assets of this shrinking city.

Arceneaux-Mathis misses the current issue entirely. Her latest off the cuff plan is to get 10 years of financial reporting “during negotiations” with the current operator. What? This sounds like she has already decided that the status quo is fine, and the numbers are not important. Don’t worry, be happy. She has once again thumbed her nose at fundamental stewardship of limited city resources and ignored taxpayer — owners who pay the freight. She tries to side-step her complete leadership failure as the senior alderwoman to first, get the reporting for 10 years, and only then discuss whether to retain the current operator or solicit other bidders, based on the results of the examination and probing of the operator’s operations. She appears to have no real interest in analyzing the expired contract or the refunded bonds she helped initiate, which have annual escalations on debt service on the remaining $7,045,000 owed on the NCC ranging from $720,000 in 2018 to $1,990,000 in 2024. Will the city be able to pay the final NCC bond maturity of $1,990,000 in 2024?  The $980,000 owed in 2023? The $940,000 owed in 2022?

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These responses of our public officials are empty. They illustrate exactly why this community has continuing financial problems and cannot attract business investment. Our public officials simply do not show any interest, acumen or talent for basic governmental accounting, with the exception of Dillard, who at least asks bothersome questions that yield glazed over looks from this colleagues each time finances are discussed. These public officials must first get real numbers and bank records, and analyze them to know whether the current operator has discharged its duties as a fiduciary. Are the NCC operations enough to pay the bond debt service? If not, why not? Is there money elsewhere to augment the bond service? Is the monthly fee being paid too high? Too low? Where is the net income going?

Taxpayers, these public officials are sending signals that they are passing the buck and taking no personal responsibility for their failures to take care of the business of the city. At least one of them seems prepared to just “wing it” during “negotiations.” They mistakenly think that the expired agreement still has a month to go. Taxpayers should not sit back and resign themselves to the notion that our public officials are allowed to put their personal interests, preferences and relationships above their duty to the taxpayers.


Paul H. Benoist is a Louisiana attorney with an office in Natchez.