Loudest voices do not need to control future

Published 12:22 am Sunday, October 22, 2017

Natchez lives and dies, unfortunately, by the powerful voices of the mighty few.

The Pareto Principle, often simplified as the 80/20 rule, suggests that 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes.

That’s often turned into 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. But it’s also true that 20 percent of the voices dominate the discussion in our community.

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On Monday, Natchez aldermen will discuss plans to donate a large portion of property in the area known as the bean field to the Natchez-Adams School District as a site of a new high school.

Sadly, the merits of that decision are being pushed by 20 percent of people. By estimation, approximately 10 percent believe, like school board member Phillip West, that anyone opposed to the move or to any of the district’s building plans are racists.

Another 10 percent believe the school board is being reckless with public money at a time when the economy is suffering and the voters clearly rejected supporting a new school in a May bond issue referendum. Some included in that camp also are dismayed that the community’s plans for a new recreation complex to be built on the bean field potentially are being cast aside after decades of planning and discussion.

In the middle sits 80 percent of the rest. Let’s call them the silent majority who have never stood up and yelled at a public meeting or threatened to harm someone for having a different view.

Those people logically realize the world is not perfect, but it’s also not the racist 1960s and not every decision must be fought with sharp accusations thrown in anger.

The 80-percenters also can clearly see the school district’s buildings are in bad shape and need attention.

Those people can understand the need to make a plan to address building renovation and replacement across the district.

The people between the two 10-percent groups also understand everyone cannot always get what they want and that compromise, not confrontation, is the adult way to work out differences.

The problem comes when the conversation is controlled by the 20 percent on the fringes.

Two people who appeared to me to be intelligent members of the middle ground mentioned to me an idea for how the two sides of the bean field debate may work together.

Interestingly, one of those people is a successful, upper-middle class black man, the other a successful, hard-working white man who has a blue-collar job.

Both men had effectively the same thought: Could the school district work together with the recreation commission to help build a recreation complex that would work in conjunction with the school’s needs?

One man suggested if the two groups designed the two projects to work well with one another, costs would likely be reduced.

For example, the other man asked, “Could the parking lot be shared?”

Could the infrastructure such as drainage and even recreation complex bathroom facilities be built to work well for school district needs as well?

Those are reasonable questions to me.

And perhaps they’ve been discussed already, but I fear they’ve not. Instead, we’ve just been yelling and fussing instead of following the simple practice of seeking to understand the other’s position, then seeking to explain yours and working to find common ground.

If we all work together, it may be amazing to figure out what may be accomplished. While the city and county have balked for years at finding approximately $6 million for a recreation complex, the school district has a reserve fund of $27 million. Working together and sharing the vision, the planning and the expense could be good for all.

If you find yourself feeling more aligned with the 80 percent group, please attend the 4 p.m. public hearing on the bean field land issue and share your feelings and avoid letting the loudest voices steer our community’s future.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.