OneBoard supporters speak with their votes

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Voters and taxpayers should know that OneBoard’s requested ballot referendum will not appear on the Nov. 5 ballot. Contact your supervisor to ask why. OneBoard will next ask the current Board of Supervisors for placement of the referendum on the federal ballot for the Presidential Primaries set on March 10, 2020. If the County fails to respond, OneBoard will then ask the city to place the initiative on its primary ballot.

OneBoard met face-to-face with four of five supervisors in late March 2019, and had a lengthy telephone conference with the fifth. Four supervisors privately stated they supported the OneBoard concept. Some supported the consolidation concept with no reservations.

Some supervisors wanted to study the concept further, but never asked for more information. One supervisor remained undecided and has consistently expressed a desire to work collaboratively with the city, despite the repeated failures of virtually all joint ventures, interlocal agreements and other shared responsibilities between the city and county, including fire protection, 911-dispatch, storm shelter operations, recreation and too many others.

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There were problems with the city jail shutdown, but Chief Walter Armstrong is to be commended for ridding the city of an unsustainable city operation. The same financial issues attend the City Court, but nothing has been done to date to shut down this redundant and unneeded judgeship. Less is needed, rather than more.

Beginning May 2019, OneBoard appeared before the county’s Board of Supervisors three times to have the non-binding ballot initiative placed on next week’s general election ballot. Each request was rebuffed without a single motion ever being made by any supervisor, who consistently claimed that they needed to further study and discuss the proposal. There is no evidence they ever studied or discussed the proposal. Then, in the August primaries, two of five supervisors were turned out of office. Three supervisors remain in play on Nov. 5 – only Lee Blanton in District 5 actively supports OneBoard.

Based on petition signers and precinct records tracked and kept, OneBoard believes that OneBoard had something to do with two incumbents turned out of office in August. This should not be surprising. When public bodies stifle public discussion, inquiry and information exchange, the owners (taxpayers) rightfully react. This involves our collective First Amendment rights to petition our government enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, for which much blood was spilled.

Our current local elected officials range from unqualified, to clueless to wrong-headed to self-serving. Some of them have begun to pay the price for resisting needed change.

Make sure you exercise your right to vote next Tuesday.

The continuing failures of the City of Natchez are staggering. The biggest financial issue is the remaining debt of the Natchez Convention Center, operating unlawfully without a written management agreement. Imagine financing your home for 25 years, and having 3/4s of the debt still owed after 20 years, with major deferred maintenance and complete systems in need of replacement, and no discernible means to pay off the debt by 2024, when the final installment of  $1,990,000 come due. The 2019 payment of $755,000 was due July 1, 2019. 2020 calls for a payment of $780,000, which then increases dramatically each year until the final payment of $1,990,000.

Natchez Convention Promotion Commission revenues are down, and the recently released figures indicate that it is only chipping in $398,000 towards the NCC debt, while aldermen think the money comes from the casino fund.

So, exactly how do city officials propose to pay off this debt, while taxpayer money is being given away for neighborhood block parties, fireworks, monuments and foreign car shows?

The city has eviscerated its institutional knowledge, likely to try and further hide its transgressions. Terminated employee lawsuits continue, with more in the works, according to OneBoard’s many sources. Remaining employees are hunkered down. If interim Clerk appointees are included, we will shortly welcome our 8th City Clerk since July 2016.

The issue is obvious — there is no one in city government managing the enterprise. Not only is the form of government — a double weak mayor system — archaic, but the skill set of elected officials lacks the background and experience needed to salvage the city as an entity.

For this reason, changing out our elected officials will not cure the problem, unless those with financial expertise, such as bankers and accountants and conservative business owners, realtors and engineers take back the city.

Even then, a city manager is needed. The going rate is around $125,000 per year to pay a hard nose that will get the job done. How to pay for this? Simply reduce the part-time mayoral and aldermen salaries in line with state averages ($30,000 and $6,000) and use the savings to hire Mr. or Ms. No.

Even better, eliminate the eight elected positions and let all city operations fall to the county by operation of law — the OneBoard proposal.

Paul Benoist is a Natchez native and Louisiana attorney. He is active with the group OneBoardNatchezAdams.