County takes no action on referendum request

Published 12:33 am Friday, September 8, 2017

NATCHEZ — One supervisor stood up and walked away as the board president asked Thursday if supervisors would consider polling residents on the November ballot about government consolidation.

Prior to the meeting, local attorney Paul Benoist had come up with several non-binding ballot questions to get a feel for what locals think about merging the city and county governments.

At the end of a special called joint meeting between city and county leaders, Board President Mike Lazarus said Benoist had asked about putting the questions on the Nov. 7 ballot.

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As he said it, District 4 Supervisor Ricky Gray stood up to walk away and District 5 Supervisor Calvin Butler motioned to recess the meeting, with Gray walking back to second the motion. The supervisors approved recessing without taking action on putting the questions on the ballot.

After the meeting, Gray said no local government in Mississippi has consolidated before.

“We don’t operate like that,” Gray said. “We are not going to be a guinea pig. We are not going to do it.”

Further, Gray said the model for the local government is not broken — it works all over the state.

“The people in the government are what’s messed up, not the government itself,” Gray said.

Butler said after the meeting he did not believe the county could take it up anyway because it was a specially called meeting and was not placed on the city’s agenda.

The city met with the county to discuss two separate matters a grant application and an E911 agreement.

Butler also said adding these items last minute could end up confusing residents.

“Imagine an old lady coming in to vote for judge and seeing all these questions,” Butler said. “It wouldn’t be fair to the candidates to have confusion in the voting booths.”

District 3 Supervisor Angela Hutchins said her concerns were about the rushed time frame and not having time to review the questions.

Lazarus said after the meeting he would have preferred the matter come up beforehand and for fewer questions to be on the ballot — 11 questions were on it. Lazarus said he was in favor of polling the residents about consolidation, and Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell had previously said he was for it.

Lazarus said he brought it up last-minute because the matter would have to be approved by today to appear on the Nov. 7 ballot, as qualifying for the local elected positions ends today.

District 2 Supervisor David Carter was not present at the meeting.

Benoist could not be reached for comment.