In the News: Local and Regional Stories Compiled and Edited by Our News Staff
Caption: Ferriday Police Chief Arthur Lewis
Ferriday Mayor Sherrie Jacobs suspended Police Chief Arthur Lewis again, the third time in four months. Jacobs believes Lewis is not right for the job. And the aldermen have stated they support Lewis. Alderman Glenn Henderson said he believes the mayor will continue to issue 30-day suspensions until the chief quits.
The 29th Annual Natchez Powwow will be held March 25-26 at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians. Events include a stickball game, gourd dancing and intertribal dancing. Arts, crafts, and exhibits of Native American culture will be on display. Food and refreshments will be available for purchase. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children. For more info and a schedule of events, visit natchezpowwow.com.
Natchez police seized more than 30 grams of marijuana at a Red Carpet Inn room, arresting Timothy Vanison, 46, of Natchez. Officers were called to the hotel for a disturbance involving Vanison and smelled marijuana coming from his room. He was charged with possession with intent to distribute within a school zone.
Ferriday Alderman Johnnie L. Brown, Sr. died recently at Oschner Medical Center in New Orleans. Brown had served as aldermen since 2005 and had previously served on the parish school board and had been director of Concordia Parish Recreation District No. 1. He served as a pastor and educator in the public schools. Brown was 68. An interim alderman will be appointed to fill Brown's slot and a special election will be held.
Woodville aldermen turned down a request from their street superintendent to purchase two riding mowers. Aldermen know the mowers are needed, but there is no money in the budget for the purchase. Aldermen considered renting electronic voting machines for this summer's town election. But a $7,500 rental was considered too expensive. Aldermen voted to use paper ballots.
Mississippi homeowners have through March 31 to sign up for homestead exemption at county tax assessor offices. Adams County Tax Assessor Reynolds Atkins said you don't have to sign up for the exemption if you have previously received the exemption. You should sign up if you purchased a new home, if your spouse died, if you turned 65 or have become 100% disabled. For more info, call 601-442-6732 or visit the Tax Assessor's Office at the Adams County Courthouse.
A federal lawsuit has been filed against the Adams County Sheriff's Office on the behalf of the children of the late Joey Sturdivant. Sturvidant had been an inmate of the Adams County Jail in March 2016, when he hung himself in the jail with a bed sheet. Sturdivant had been repeatedly been beaten by inmates with the connivance of an Adams County jailer. Former jail employees Victor Smith, Drasilla Rounds and Carla Dunn were also listed as defendants in the suit. Smith, as jailer, and inmates Kelcey Watson and Jerome Harris and was subsequently arrested and indicted for conspiracy and aggravated assault.
Sheriff Travis Patten offered no comment but said he would do so after the suit has been resolved.
Wilkinson County School Superintendent Kimberly Jackson told her school board that approximately 94% of students attend school each day, but that the high school's attendance rate is only 89%. Jackson wants to increase the attendance rate to 95%. The district still has a problem with teacher absenteeism, with the high school averaging 37 absences per month, which Jackson feels is too high. The state says the Wilkinson County Schools earned a grade of "F" in the previous year. The district has submitted a remedial plan to make improvements.
Three armed men robbed a Natchez Democrat worker who was emptying trash into a waste bin at the back of the newspaper's building. The robbers stole the victim's wallet and cell phone, but he was not injured.
An Alabama man was robbed of his cash on Cemetery Road in Adams County. The man had traveled to Natchez to purchase a truck advertised on Craigslist. The three thieves placed a tree across the road and when the man got out of his vehicle to remove the tree, the robbers came out of the woods and stole his money at gunpoint. Police believe the criminal are the same crew who robbed a Natchez Democrat employee.
The Catahoula Parish Police Jury held a one-hour ethics training course for its employees this month. State law requires public agencies to hold the training to prevent problems.
Vidalia's annual CPA audit showed improvements in bookkeeping but more work to be done. The Silas Simmons audit for 2015-2016 showed $17,000 in past due invoices for the new technology center were past due, even though the federal funds were on hand to pay the bills. The city failed to keep the required reserves in the hydro fund as required by ordinance. Expenditures exceeded statutory limits and aldermen did not revise the budget show the difference. And convention center and riverfront losses topped $1.3 million. The audit reviews the final year of the Copeland administration.
Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said the city will delay rebidding the depot project until a consultant designs a plan for the bluff to St. Catherine Streets.
Vidalia has appointed three men to its planning commission: Jay Hamilton, Jeff Ferguson and Dewitt Wyatt.
The Concordia Chamber of Commerce held its annual awards dinner at the Vidalia Convention Center. Heather Malone and Pat Biglane were named Concordians of the Year. Brandon Rowe was awarded Educator of the Year and Concordia Bank received Business of the Year honors.
Concordia Parish deputies responded to a burglar alarm and ending up arresting Justin McCarty, 35, of Vidalia, on burglary and drug charges. McCarty initially escaped authorities, but they tracked him down at his Stephens Road residence, finding meth, Xanax and marijuana.
Former Vidalia Police Officer Hannah Bradford was found not guilty of assault in Natchez Municipal Court. Off duty at the Under the Hill Saloon, Bradford was charged with assault after she put her hands on a patron after a disagreement. Judge Lisa Dale said video was unclear as to what happened and the level of "touching" by Bradford, did not rise to the level of assault.
Ferriday police arrested Robbi Ford, 52, of Ferriday, and charged him with molestation of an nine-year-old girl. Police said children were playing hide-and-seek in Rabb Addition, when Ford allegedly joined in the play and touch the child inappropriately several times under her clothing. She fought off her assailant and was later taken by a relative to Riverland Medical Center for treatment.
Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten and Natchez Police Chief Danny White said they have increased patrols since five convenience stores were robbed in one week. Despite an increase in property crime and violence in the city limits in recent months, Natchez aldermen have taken no action to stem the incidence of crime. Mayor Darryl Grennell formed an ad hoc committee to talk about what can be done. The committee has met, but no decisions have been made.
Candidates running for mayor of Woodville this year include Gary D'Aquilla and Keisha Ford. Both are running as independents.
Former Ferriday Police Chief Johnny M. Evans died recently. He had filled Kenneth Hedrick's post as chief when Hedrick was elected Concordia Parish Sheriff.
Attorney Paul Benoist responds to Walter Brown's Threat of Suit New Orleans Hotel Consutlants
WALTER BROWN LAW FIRM, PLLC
Re: New Orleans Hotel Consultants MS, LLC
This letter is in response to your certified letter dated March 9, 2017, received by me on March 13, 2017 with your caption, "New Orleans Hotel Consultants MS, LLC”, and threatening me with a lawsuit.
All of my public and private discourse on all things Natchez is in my individual capacity as a resident and taxpayer in Natchez and Adams County, MS. In no way am I representing anyone as an attorney, but I will say that there are thousands of persons still left in this community, many, many of whom have come to me with their concerns about the status quo here, and the failure of the City to modernize and streamline its operations. My use of my office stationery is for convenience only. All opinions expressed herein below are personal and not professional.
To repeat, I do not represent anyone or any entity on any MS matter, and certainly do not represent anyone of any concern to you.
Next, I do not have any problem with Warren Reuther or his company(ies). I appreciate his business investment and taking the huge risk of investing in a currently decaying and depopulating City. He comes here with a platform already in place. I have not seen the “MS” component of the LLC to date, other than in your letter.
I do indeed have problems with the City of Natchez and the way it administers or fails to administer its legislatively created public functions. I have a problem with its failure to adjust its size in proportion to the 40% - 50% decline in population here since 1970. This disappointment includes any missed opportunities to reorganize or re-charter the City since the handwriting was put on the wall decades ago about the direction of the City of Natchez. It looks to me like the City functions in the same ways it did during the last period of general prosperity here in the 1960s.
The City should shrink with the population; the budget should decline, not increase; surplus properties need to be shorn; the size of the council should be reduced; the very form of municipal government should be questioned, or discarded and merged with the county.
You and I have briefly discussed in the past the archaic MS constitution and tax system, and in recent times, the defects in the MS use of “commissions” and other variants of political subdivisions of the state of MS, which I understand began in the 1920s or 1930s. We have an unnecessary dual civil court system. We have optional public positions, like tax collector, that need to be collapsed and done away with.
These “commissions” seem to me to generally be very awkward attempts to depoliticize things by which paid public servants are shifting their responsibilities onto unpaid community volunteers whose efforts are then thwarted by the elected officials who should be doing the tough work. These arrangements have caused much recent grief in our community, including two bankruptcies and the disappearance of Natchez Regional Hospital, in part due to the inability of the Board of Supervisors to directly monitor hospital operations. I understand there to be similar issues at the Adams County Port Commission. There are all sorts of problems with a quasi-legislative and weak mayor form of government, another archaic relic of MS. In my opinion, free standing political subdivisions like Natchez Waterworks and Natchez Housing Authority simply compound the problems of our declining area, and add public payroll positions, when we need to be consolidating, modernizing technology and reducing the number of public sector jobs.
As a civilian trained lawyer in a legal system that is based on cohesive, interlocking constitution, codes and statutory legislation, it seems that most MS laws are ad hoc, and have been passed with the thought of pre-designed failure, are anti-public involvement, anti-public transparency, anti-public records, and anti- modern governmental practices–practices that are quite successful elsewhere, in communities, unlike Natchez, that are growing and thriving in the 2000s.
As I understand it, you have worked very closely with the City of Natchez and many of these local boards and commissions for many, many years, including the approximate 30 years I left Natchez, before returning in 2001. It is my understanding that you have represented many of them. If this is correct, the current state of local government affairs represents part of your personal work legacy. For me, I remain hopeful of radical changes made here before the City simply implodes - like Flint, Detroit, Port Gibson, Fayette, Tallulah, Lake Providence, and Silverton, CO. I think the question is going to be whether we will ever again be a healthy, vibrant, relevant community, or just a whistle stop for day tourists killing idle time.
Now, to the specifics addressed in your letter. You know that I practice Louisiana law exclusively and that I do not have a Mississippi practice. You know this because you have been in my office more than once, have seen the sign in the lobby which specifically states that I have a Louisiana practice only, and you have picked up my business cards, which also indicate that we practice in Louisiana only. All of this has been cleared by both the MS Bar and the LSBA.
You also know, because I have told you, that I associate Mississippi counsel when a Mississippi legal issue presents with my Louisiana clients and those who contact me for representation in matters for which I cannot handle. You can confirm this with Bill McGehee, Bruce Kuehnle, Scott Slover, Eileen Maher and many others. You also know that Natchez is my hometown, and that I have some family, many friends and associates here. You further know, because I have told you, that I have Louisiana and other out-of-state business clients, associates, family and friends who have been interested in investing in Natchez, but for the reputation Natchez has developed for being a closed, rigged system, with duplicate and unnecessary overlapping local government in Natchez and Adams County. These potential investors are concerned that they will get hosed down if they come to Natchez. They continue to watch. And, you know that I am a member of Natchez NOW/Inc., and support financially our privately led industrial recruiting efforts.
In fact, you will recall telling me that “if we had it to do over again, we would not do it this way”, in speaking of local governmental organization. You will also recall my expressed interest, since around 2009, in working towards a consolidated government, such as enjoyed in West Feliciana and East Baton Rouge parishes, both thriving, not dying, an hour away, with top rated school systems. Apparently, I am not alone--these same deep interests and opinions of mine regarding consolidation were recently expressed by former mayors Tony Byrne of Natchez and Charles Evers of Fayette at a recent presentation for the Natchez Historical Society at The Hotel Vue.
I have also expressed to you my concern about our huge public debt, largely due to grandiose, overbuilt buildings, voted in by City and County despite a declining population. Again, we have had a 40-50% population exodus within the City limits since the 1970s. The City appears from my research to date to continue to approach local governance using the system in place during our most recent period of general prosperity, the 1960s. In short, in our times, the City has markedly changed– but the City government has not. It is time for it to be changed out.
In my opinion, the City needs to make large, significant and radical changes, if it wishes to retain any semblance of relevance. We are very close, in my opinion, to the tipping point from which we will never recover. I call this critical mass. One example is that I have to explain to judges all over the state of Louisiana that we do not have the facilities nor the people to do neurosurgery in this area. They routinely are surprised, because that think of Natchez as a larger City than its current 13,000 or so residents.
A friend of 40 years from the Delta with a family involved heavily in MS state politics for decades tells me that Natchez has never formed the legislative alliances it needs to be effective in the legislature, and it has always been an outlier. So, we rely on heroic efforts of some in Jackson, but at the end of the day, we have been marginalized, and this is known statewide.
In my opinion, after some years of study, the City, its operations and methods of conducting public business, is one of the primary contributors to the decline of this area, coupled with an anti-business climate by historic preservationists that has shuttered approximately 30-40 downtown businesses that would otherwise be collecting sales taxes. The best example of this in recent times is Roux 61, which gave up trying to locate within the City and went into the county, where, as I understand it, all sales taxes then leave the area, with none coming back here.
In this ongoing mismanagement of our City in the face of a declining population, the Historic Natchez Foundation, National Park Service and garden clubs have also played a significant role. Don’t get me wrong–we have lots of hard working people doing something they believe in, and they have mission statements to follow. But at the end of the day, there has to a person or persons who can take the local positives and negatives and forge them into a cohesive public sector leadership. Our City is currently overrun with non-profits paying no taxes, riding on the backs of the ever declining and shrinking number of taxpayers. A recent example of this is the return of Brumfield School to the City by the state of MS and the subsequent transfer of it by the City to a non-profit tied to a local church. So today, Brumfield sits, out of commerce, paying no taxes, falling to the ground. Like the convention center, it is of no apparent financial benefit to the City or the good of its citizens. The same can be said of the Ritz Theater and the old First Baptist Church. The old General Hospital and Margaret Martin are more of the same. Same for the Feltus house occupied by VFW. And, let’s not forget the empty eyesore of the former Waste Management yard on Wall.
The focus here to save and hold old buildings until they go to ground has so far gotten us nowhere, since 1973, except arguably preserving the bones of a long ago important city. Who are we preserving these buildings for? The young have left and are still leaving in droves. Old families on fixed incomes cannot keep up the repairs. Building an oversized welcome center and a convention center whose debt has not been properly serviced in the midst of a 40 -50% decline in population is to me, very poor management and an indefensible use of public funds and trust.
It also appears to me that many, if not most of the decisions made by our elected City officials are made with no strategic aforethought or study of consequences. If the surplus properties held by the City were only to be put back into commerce with deed restrictions that they must remain in the taxable private sector, it would be an immediate improvement, and the City coffers would at least get something out of them. More importantly, the pressure of paying taxes would force the private owners into action to make some commercial use of the properties.
In the face of all of this, the City Aldermen are now talking about delivering the coup de grace to a wounded City – raising taxes on the handful of us here who pay taxes. Our small and getting smaller every year group is sandwiched in between the 31 - 33% poverty rate, the age qualified homestead exempt, and the non-taxpaying churches and non-profits who have run successful businesses out of the City, like Roux 61, further reducing the taxpaying portion of the populace. Meanwhile, I detect no sense of urgency by any elected officials to address those problems. The City continues to duplicate public safety functions the county can better handle. We are doomed to total failure if this is not radically corrected, and corrected soon.
As to my contacts with Messrs. Reuther and Tipton, perhaps Mr. Reuther has not told you, but it was Mr. Reuther on multiple occasions who invited the public at large to contact him for information. Mr. Reuther also telephoned and left a message for me to call him, which I have not, for the specific reason that I have said what I have to say, which is that the public officials have the duty and obligation to insist on contractual compliance by the Reuther company(ies). I had never heard of Mr. Reuther until about 18 months ago, and to my knowledge, I have never been introduced to him nor had the pleasure of speaking with him. We do not travel in the same circles. Thus, any categorizations of Mr. Reuther otherwise are of your own making.
As to Mr. Tipton, Walter and I grew up together and played sports and graduated in the same year. We also share membership in First Presbyterian Church, along with Butch Brown. Perhaps Mr. Tipton has not told you that, out of the blue last year, he contacted me for lunch to solicit my support for expansion of the convention center—a meeting which I enjoyed, but in which I had no interest, except as to the public/taxpayer effect on this community and reigning in what looks like out of control public spending, poor bond refinancing practices and possible sale of the convention center to his employer. While I am not in the tourism business, I am educated in public finance, budgets and accountability, and have a significant investment in Natchez real estate to protect.
As to your client, Mr. Reuther, you will not find a single person who can truthfully say that I have ever said anything but that Mr. Reuther's investment in our community is appreciated, that Mr. Reuther is doing what all business people naturally do, and our public officials have failed in doing their duty to monitor and require Mr. Reuther's company to provide the contracted reporting for the management of public facilities. I do not know, but assume that you drafted the contract signed by Mr. Reuther’s company back in 2006. I have seen in the City’s minute books that you indicated that the contract was revised 12 times prior to execution in December 2006, so it seems you were involved at some level in that transaction. That agreement says that Mr. Reuther’s company is a fiduciary to the City, the highest standard of trust afforded under the law, as far as I know. The reports I have seen since October 2016 due to my public records requests still do not go to the depth called for in the plain terms of the contract. One need not be a lawyer to read a contract.
As a property owner in downtown Natchez, I have also been very vocal, and have stated my belief that the public officials have an obligation to hold public hearings that include input from the local residents, business owners who collect the tourism taxes, who have invested in downtown in hopes of capturing tourism business that was represented to them would be open and available to all of them when they voted for a public convention center. I read your recent letter to take a very different view–that secrecy, bullying, threatening lawsuits and hiding public business is the proper approach, and on that we will never agree. Those people, like Mr. Reuther, also have a stake in the community. Those people are complaining to me, very loudly. The general complaint is that since the transfer of the convention center to your client, they no longer receive RFPs or opportunities to bid on catering jobs and have been shut out of convention center business. There is another group of taxpayers who are incensed that they cannot use the convention center for high school reunions and are forced to use the caterer selected by Mr. Tipton. The contract says that the City approves caterers– the reports I get are that many of the caterers have been run off and no report has been made to the City. If this is what is going on, or is only perceived to be going on, these are items of public interest on account of the public nature of the convention center, and it is an issue the NCPC and City should be investigating. Finally on this topic, you will also find that I have been vocal that the letting of all lodging and food and beverage business associated with the convention center should be transparent and open with a fair opportunity for participation in the business, or the City should divest itself of ownership and the debt, and find a buyer for the convention center.
Of course, I also have a First Amendment right to express all of those concerns, along with other Natchezians. Still further, despite MS’s underdeveloped law on public records, I have a right to view and copy the public record. Public officials everywhere in these United States have an obligation to preserve the public record and to make the public record available to the public.
This is fundamental in a democratic republic.
Former City Clerk Melissa Hawk made a diligent search of the public record and confirmed to me that there had been no disposal of any public records in 15 years, and therefore her search was exhaustive. Mr. Tipton then volunteered to me that I should view the public record—specifically the Board of Aldermen minutes—for the reporting to the City during the contract period. After viewing the public record (review not yet complete), with the assistance of Mrs. Hawk and Temple Hendricks, and in communication with the current City Attorney, there is so far no evidence that there was or has been the requisite annual reporting made by New Orleans Hotel Consultants. In recent times, there have been some cursory reports and some summary reports submitted late that I have paid for, but no detailed reports that are set out in the 2006 contract. I have given you about 15 points in the contract that seem to be deficient to date. In my mind, those detailed reports are essential for public officials to evaluate the performance of the lessee/obligor and without them, no informed public decision can be made on the way forward, whether by NCPC, as I read the legislation, or the City. I have asked when that reporting will be made, and I assume that my question has in part prompted your letter threatening to sue me.
So, I again pose that question: When will the requisite detailed reporting be made? And again, I fault your former client, the City of Natchez, and the current NCPC, for not doing their job under that expired contract, not your current client, the Reuther interests, although I naturally asked myself – why would the Reuther interests not fully comply with a contract, if business is good enough that it has announced acquisition of another building to be converted into a luxury hotel?
As to your reference to the MS Code of Professional Responsibility, which do not apply to me as a resident, taxpayer and public critic only, you should recall your legal advice via e-mail dated September 10, 2012 to former Mayor Butch Brown, copied to former City Attorney Hyde Carby, at the time you were apparently also providing legal representation to Mr. Reuther’s company. The e-mail outlined the steps required for Mr. Reuther’s company to have a contract beyond the 2012 expiration date—all the while also describing resulting audit problems for the Natchez Convention Promotion Commission (NCPC) that continued to transfer monies to the City under expired agreements. I have attached that public email for your reference.
Perhaps I do not fully understand the context of that e-mail, but in it, you appear to be giving legal advice to Mayor Brown, while at the same time representing a private concern that would or could be in conflict with the interests of the City.
I have not yet reviewed the public record to determine how many commissioners served on the NCPC from May 1, 2012 until April 4, 2016. It is, however, public information that the commission that resigned on April 4, 2016, discontinued transfer of monthly monies to the City when it was finally able to obtain copies of its records it had requested for over one year for the first time in mid-March 2016. The former NCPC was operating in the dark, and agents of the City refused to turn over the commission’s own records to it, all while you, the former mayor and former city attorney knew that there was a contract compliance issue. The former NCPC then sought Mississippi legal advice to confirm your same conclusion in the September 10, 2012 e-mail--specifically, that the facilities management contract had expired in 2012, and no contract was in place that even allowed the NCPC to expend funds. All of this was hidden from the former NCPC.
By its very description and nature, the public record is meant to be viewed, copied and shared, and all public officials holding office, including commissions, are clearly within the scope of persons who would most likely be contemplated as persons entitled to view and work with the public record, to say nothing of private taxpayers like me.
In conclusion, I represent no one but myself as a taxpayer and resident owning property that, like property owned here by everyone else, is declining in value. It is declining in value, in my opinion, in large part due to mismanagement of our City by our public officials, our elected stewards and trustees, for many years, with poor decisions made over and over again while the population has shrunk 40 -50% since the 1970s, and with little to any effort to conduct public business in the view of the public. This is where you and I will never agree. I want all of the public business on the table and out in the open and fully transparent and standing room only crowds at public meetings and a vigorous debate on all matters of public concern. I want City officials to be looking at the budget daily, like some of their county supervisor counterparts, not just coming to meetings unprepared and ill informed.
The last time I checked, we had 630 houses and small businesses and lots for sale in Natchez and Vidalia. If you assume a household of four, that means around 2400 people are looking to leave the area; if only three, then 1800. I have the right to question and criticize everything of public interest in Natchez, and the people who are working in it or for the City. All of the issues outlined in your letter of March 9, 2017, and this letter are of public interest, because your private clients have contracted and are using public property owned not by your client(s), but at this time by the City of Natchez. Personally, since
I see absolutely no public benefit whatsoever to the City at this time under the private management of the convention center by your client, I would have no objection to and in fact would support transfer of the convention center to your client in exchange for ridding the City and the taxpayer’s of the near $8,000,000 debt still owed on the bonds. The City also needs to rid itself of the 28,000 square foot Visitor’s Center, Margaret Martin and the other properties mentioned herein, and more. If a property is transferred to the private sector and required to stay in the private sector with deed restrictions, something will happen, due to economics. Other states have enacted statutes to take away non-profit status if a non-profit takes and then sits on property. They have even done this in New Orleans. Other states have used payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to get some contribution from the non-profits.
None of my letters or e-mails concern any current legal case or controversy. Your letter to me is completely off target on Rules of Professional Responsibility as if we are in litigation. I will not agree not to communicate with anyone I think has an interest of needs to know about these public issues.
I am not writing any of these letters, e-mails or other communications as a lawyer, only as a very concerned resident and taxpayer who has watched the City of Natchez steadily deteriorate and depopulate since the 1970s. I ask you to respect my rights and to respect the public's right to know all things about all public business—including your public legal advice to public officials while you were representing private business client(s) with the possible effect of foisting additional taxes on taxpayers. There is almost no valid reason for secrecy in working with public sector clients, and the public can smell it when public work is secreted.
We are going to have a very hard time attracting industry to this City if we do not fix both the perception and reality of our local government and how it functions to show the outside world that Natchez is once again serious about business, is transparent, and is not about saving decrepit buildings owned by non-profits that are dragging all of us down the tube, while celebrating creation of a few $9.00 per hour jobs. At the core of this is cleaning up decades of doing business the so-called Natchez Way. It begins at City Hall.
With kind personal regards, I am
Paul H. Benoist
Rinaldi Report: Real Crime-Fighting by Peter Rinaldi
Following the outrage over our most recent Miss-Lou Magazine editorial concerning crime in Natchez, it's good that Mayor Darryl Grennell responded to citizens' complaints at a recent aldermen's meeting and agreed to form a community committee to try to deal with the growing crime problem.
The crime crisis is really nothing new. Our papers have been documenting the growth of property crime that makes Natchez one of the most dangerous cities in the state and the nation (bottom 2% of safe cities according to FBI stats.)
Then there's the outbreak of violent crime, which has been escalating in recent years, most notably three killings and six shootings since the New Year.
We haven't seen any real action from our political leaders yet. So far, it's been just a lot of talk. But I was pleased that Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis responded to my complaint about violent crime by calling me a racist. That means she and others like-minded are at least paying attention. My poor attempt at satire may have had some intended good results.
So what should be done specifically to change what is happening in Natchez?
First, the city must establish and keep and juvenile curfew seven days a week, for kids aged 17 and younger. Curfew should be 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and midnight on Friday and Saturday. Work and medical emergencies exceptions would be OK, subject to verification. Sorry, you must be home from prom by midnight or you and your parents get a summons to court.
The city needs a zero tolerance approach to crime-fighting. Police must stop and frisk suspicious people when they have displayed the signs of causing and or being in trouble. Criminologists George Kelling and James Wilson authored articles which say even low level disorder leads to blight and crime. The "Broken Window" theory says that even a broken window will lead to bigger things if ignored.
So everyone that gets caught stealing at Walmart, Belk or store X gets 30 days jail time even on the first misdemeanor offense. After about a year of tougher sentencing, the thieves would get the message. If you steal in Natchez, you go to jail in Natchez.
Police need to do aggressive patrolling with roadblocks. Force all the traffic on MLK on a certain Friday night down Pilgrim Boulevard and then stop every car. Then the roadblocks move to downtown, Highway 61 South or North or other locations, every week, every night. The crooks come out late at night. So you don't have to start the roadblocks until juvenile curfew starts at 11 or 12 at night. Yes, we're all going to hate to be stopped when we are trying to get somewhere, because 95% of us have done nothing wrong. But the cops will catch criminals, people without licenses or insurance, nab guns and drugs. Do this for two years and keep surprising people where the roadblocks will be at midnight, 2 a.m., 4 a.m. and multiple roadblocks on the same night. The roadblocks will have a dramatic, curbing effect. We want the criminals to think that the cops will catch them, because, if the thugs travel by car, they will get caught.
Unlike major cities where cops in tandem can walk a beat to catch criminals, in Natchez crime is mobile. Thugs get in their cars and drive around. So if you want to catch criminals, you've got to stop cars.
Of course, when you arrest someone, if he or she is on probation or parole already, there's no bond for the crime. He does not get out of jail. All the bad boys running through justice court with reduced bonds just go out and commit more crimes. They don't pay fines. They don't follow the law.
No more. They get arrested. If they get convicted, they go to jail and stay for six months, a year or what is appropriate for the sentence. That means the arraignment procedure has to consider two questions. Will the accused show up for trial? And does the accused have a history of criminal activity? If the answer is he has a history of criminal activity recently or of long-standing, he is not a candidate for bonding out. He has proved that he will commit crime if given the chance.
The intensified approach to preventing crime includes the police, sheriff's office, justice court, city court, circuit court and the district attorney's office.
While Judge Al Johnson's sentences are usually tough when the crime is serous, Judges Lillie Blackmon Sanders and Patricia Dunmore have a well-earned reputation for going soft on criminals, including repeat offenders. This has got to stop. There also has to be fewer plea bargains, taking felonies and reducing them to misdemeanors and letting the criminals go free.
While it's still to early to tell whether City Judge Lisa Dale will be tough on crime in municipal court, it's time for her to stop letting shoplifters go with a fine and a ban on entering a store.
And before I get called a racist one more time, let me remind you that other than Al Johnson, little has been done by our whitey-white leaders, mayors and aldermen of recent years, to do anything positive on the this subject. Crime has been ignored by both white and black leaders and allowed to grow out of control.
While the sheriff's office has been doing a good job of arresting people on felony charges during the Mayfield-Patten eras, it's pretty obvious the city police are not doing a good job of fighting crime. Surely, they do get sidelined by traffic response, accidents, domestic calls, funerals, wayward dogs, etc. But the battle to fight crime in Natchez-Adams County is a battle that will be fought primarily in the city limits. So it's up to the city police to get it done. And obviously, right now Natchez is losing that battle.
I've just mentioned a few items that should be addressed. In future articles, I will write about how to change the police department to be more effective.
We should commend Mayor Grennell for at least opening the conversation about crime, when his three predecessors were in denial, their political positions being that crime in Natchez wasn't that bad. You know differently and so do I. Crime is wrecking our wonderful city. And it will take more than a yak-yak committee to turn things around. It will take specific action.
Otherwise, instead of calling Natchez "The Bluff City," we might as well call our home "Little Jackson."
On reflection, I probably should have written this commentary instead of the "rodeo" one. But like all of us, I have a lot to learn and sometimes make mistakes.
But one mistake Natchez has made was to let its property and violent crime problem grow, nearly unimpeded, which is much more important than what I place on a given page in a certain issue.
Grants, hugs, parenting programs and after-school intervention are not going to fix this. The proper law enforcement, prosecution and sentencing will provide the necessary remedy.
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