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Why not attend public forums?

Natchez and Adams County have been discussing the possibility of consolidating government operations for years, and to some extent the two local governments have successfully consolidated some operations, including Emergency 911 call centers, collection of city and county taxes and the county jail, to name a few.

Still the calls for further consolidation, and in some cases complete abolishment of the City of Natchez government, continue.

The City of Natchez has decided it is time to study the issue and talk to the experts who know something about city and county government and consolidation.

Last week, the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen announced the city would host two public forums with the experts from Mississippi State University’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government at 5 p.m. May 7 and May 21 at the Natchez Convention Center.

“The purpose of this two-part series,” said Alderwoman Sarah Carter-Smith, who spearheaded the forums, “is to inform constituents of the primary elements and functions of municipal and county government, the services they provide, and the potential options addressing challenges facing the city. We want unbiased professionals to educate citizens and facilitate a conversation based on factual information.”

Natchez Mayor Grennell said he believes conducting proper research through such means as public forums before conducting further expensive studies is a great starting point to determine the best routes to take for any potential further consolidation of services.

In an interview on the topic with The Natchez Democrat, Grennell made a statement about the city’s fire department being the only municipal fire department in the state that responds to fire calls in the county.

Grennell’s statement provoked a harsh reaction from members of the Adams County Board of Supervisors, who took exception to the statement and pointed out that the county pays $700,000 per year for the city’s fire services.

All the while, the county has been proposing for years to create its own fire department and break away from the city’s fire protection, which runs counter to consolidation efforts.

It is not surprising that the governmental entities might get territorial and skittish when consolidation talks arise, lest the axe swing in their direction, and such skirmishes and debates are just part of the process.

I believe it is a step in the right direction for the City of Natchez to host a series of forums conducted by neutral representatives on the topic to explore the options.

Unfortunately, however, the general public may not feel the same way. Despite all the talk and calls for consolidation, a recent Natchez Democrat online poll seems to indicate our online voters don’t want to explore the options.

Friday’s poll asked, “Will you attend one of the forums on city county government consolidation?”

Of 121 respondents, 78 percent said no and 22 percent said yes.

The people who voted in our online poll either don’t want to explore the topic at all or they have already made up their minds and do not want to hear any evidence that might challenge their preconceived notions.

Shutting out any objective discussion or debate on a topic is not the best way to make the best decisions for our communities.

Let’s put it all on the table, get input from the Stennis Center experts who have spent lifetimes studying such topics and make informed decisions about the smartest and most efficient ways to consolidate our local government operations.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at scott.hawkins@natchezdemocrat.com or 601-445-3540.