Wise words for leaders going into 2019

Published 12:21 am Sunday, December 30, 2018

With a new year almost upon us, most of us look with optimism to the year ahead.

So what is in the cards for the City of Natchez in the coming year?

Of course, no one has a crystal ball, but a man who dedicated more than 20 years of his life in public service to the city has a few suggestions on what he wishes the city could accomplish in the next 12 months.

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“Harmony on the board of aldermen would settle a lot of the problems right there,” former Natchez mayor Tony Byrne said.

“If aldermen and the mayor would just work with each other and not have their turf wars, things would be much better,” he said. “That seems to be a major problem and creates the most problems in the city government.”

Byrne, like many outside observers, said he gets frustrated by the city missing chances to improve its operations and quality of life for residents by failing to pull in the same direction.

“(Aldermen) are not letting the mayor do the job I know he can do,” Byrne said.

The long-time mayor said somewhere along the line aldermen have begun to worry more about their own agendas and own desire to win any disagreement rather than focusing on what’s best for the greater city.

“You don’t have to agree,” he said. “You may not agree on something, but you say, ‘I’m going to need you next time.’”

Byrne said the willingness to compromise or acquiesce and then move forward is almost non-existent today.

That’s far different, he said, than when he was in the mayor’s office.

“Some of my good friends on the board voted against me sometimes,” Byrne said. “But it’s like a ball game, you move on to the next play.”

Byrne said finding a unifying spirit on the board of aldermen could truly pave the way to making big — and necessary — changes in the city.

Prime among those, Byrne said, is finding a way to consolidate more services with the county and ultimately combine the two government entities under one umbrella.

“I don’t see how people can continue to pay city, county, federal and state taxes,” Byrne said. “You have four government entities coming after you if you live in the city.”

Interestingly, Byrne believes adding taxing to some county residents may ultimately spur the necessary public uproar needed to get consolidation truly moving.

“The city needs a tremendous boost in sales tax,” Byrne said, adding that annexation would provide a short-term tax boost for the city, but also provide the impetus for citizens to get motivated to shrink the community’s government.

“Try to drive through Beau Pre at night; it’s dangerous,” Byrne said of the affluent neighborhood outside the city limits in the south part of the county. “There are no street lights, and they have speed bumps now.”

Annexation would be costly to the city, but would ultimately spur on government downsizing to better match the community’s shrinking population, he said.

“Once you get more people inside the city and they realize they’re paying for two police departments, two public works departments, etc., they’ll want to consolidate more things,” Byrne said.

Consolidating services and ultimately city and county government just makes sense, Byrne said.

“You certainly don’t need all the sheriff’s office deputies and police department officers with a shrinking population, so in that department alone, you’d see some savings,” he said.

But all of that starts with getting the city’s elected officials all rowing in the same direction.

“They’re not going to do it until you agree that we’re not going to fuss and fight,” Byrne said.

Hopefully aldermen will listen to the wisdom of Byrne’s years and the common sense of his suggestions.

If they do, Natchez could have a great year ahead in 2019.

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