Change will come from outside City Hall, not inside

Published 10:55 pm Saturday, August 18, 2018

Local attorney Paul Benoist’s efforts to dissolve the City of Natchez’s government is an excellent wake-up call for our community.

But only if we take the call and realize it’s not viable on its surface, but apply a lesson from the often-quoted self-help writer Dale Carnegie.

He challenged people facing uncertainty and problems to consider and accept the absolute worst possible outcome. With that mental picture accepted as a possibility, Carnegie then urged his readers to calmly work on improving the outcome.

Carnegie’s approach is greatly needed in Natchez now because we — as Benoist points out in rallying support for the nuclear option of simply destroying city government — face serious problems ahead.

Taking a wrecking ball to the city does not appear wise or prudent.

Doing something, however, is critical since the city’s current path is unsustainable.

Benoist should be commended, however, for challenging us all to think about the problems and the “what ifs.”

He’s thrown down the gauntlet, challenging us all to become involved and become better citizens. Playing city quarterback from the La-Z-Boy chair is easy; it’s tougher standing on the field. The question is will enough of us pick up the gauntlet, accept the challenge, come together and make a plan for improvement?

Further, Benoist’s effort to raise citizen signatures on a petition is also apropos. If the city is going to improve change will not come from those who are already on the “inside” of the forest of problems.

We must be careful here to realize and acknowledge that the city’s leadership is not inherently evil or untrustworthy. In most cases, all believe they’re doing what’s best for the city, or at least the constituency they represent. But due to their inside positions, they are incapable of seeing clear solutions and paths to progress and cooperation.

Most citizens — in the city or outside the city — don’t truly care if we have one government entity or two, or even three for that matter.

What they seek is an efficient system and one that they can trust, one operated by representatives who have the best interests of all at heart.

Rather than taking a municipal detonator to the City of Natchez, we need to first make a plan to build a path to improvement.

The city isn’t a Play-Doh animal that we’ve created. We cannot just flatten it and start over because we don’t like the shape of the head.

The city is far more complicated and its tentacles reach far deeper than on the surface. Careful consideration is needed before drastic changes are made or even seriously considered.

Rather than leveled structures, we need level heads coming together.

We need a group of business people to step up and form a task force to look at making common sense recommendations to city and county leaders.

The same process was used several years ago when the former economic development entity grew bloated and ineffective. Citizens and business leaders rose up, researched and found a public-private partnership structure.

Because community members led the effort, the city and county were dragged along to create Natchez Inc. That structure, while not perfect, has worked well. It works because citizens and business people woke up, got involved and demanded change.

The same could happen here.

We need to form a task force — led not by public officials, but perhaps by local business leaders.

The group needs a single person from the city and county government to serve as a resource to answer questions on how city and county services currently work — or don’t work. These should not be elected leaders, but perhaps include county administrator Joe Murray and interim city clerk James Johnston, both of whom have probably forgotten more about government than most elected leaders will ever know.

We desperately need to look first at how to get the city and county to work together on mutual needs such as fire protection, law enforcement, public works and administrative functions. The same group could explore whether or not the city should consider a change in its form of government as well.

All of that just makes sense, if you’re on the outside looking in. But we’ve got to get past the fiefdoms that exist in the minds of some elected leaders. That’s why Benoist is correct that change must come from an uprising of citizens who collectively say, “We can do better, and we will.”

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.