Meridian Star


March 23, 2014

Collaboration key to moving area forward

MERIDIAN — Mike McGrevey, the city of Meridian's new chief administrative officer, has said he wants to develop a good working relationship with Lauderdale County officials.

    We wish him well.

    We have often heard that one of the obstacles to Meridian and Lauderdale County's economic growth is a lack of cooperation between local officials.

    We don't know if that is a fair assessment or not. What we do know is it is easier to entice outside industries to an area, or lobby state and federal officials who allocate tax dollars, if all local officials are pulling in the same direction. That takes planning and communication.

    If Meridian and Lauderdale County are to thrive, the Meridian City Council and Mayor Percy Bland need to work closely to formulate long range plans for the city and find common ground on how they will move the city in that direction.

    Members of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors need to look beyond their individual districts to develop a strategy for optimizing the area's assets, which include major north/south transportation arteries and air and rail service, and reduce infrastructure deficiencies.

    City and county officials need to work closely with local community colleges and universities to train residents in skills needed to attract new industry.

    The Lauderdale County Sheriff's Office and Meridian Police Department need to coordinate crime fighting efforts.

    The East Mississippi Business Development Corporation should partner with its counterparts in surrounding counties in Mississippi and Alabama to foster a regional approach to economic development.

    And while we are sure there are areas in which local officials are coordinating their efforts, we don't have to look hard to find other areas where they are not.

    An inter-local agreement has been in place since 2001 between the city and the county whereby the two agencies share animal control responsibilities. The city owns the animal control shelter but the county maintains it.

    The agreement states that each entity will provide three animal control officers but the city has had only one officer, while the county has two.

    Both agencies have said they intend to bring their respective animal control officers up to full staff but officials at the city and county have questioned if they shouldn't go their separate ways and operate their animal control departments independently.

    It is troubling that the two government bodies cannot reach an agreement over something as basic as animal control.

    There is also tension between Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie and Meridian Police Department Chief James Lee. In October 2013, Lee announced the city was withdrawing from the East Mississippi Drug Task Force, ending a partnership between the city and county law enforcement agencies that had been in place for 21 years.    

    Since that time, Sollie has openly expressed his dislike for Lee, who has stated his intention of housing some misdemeanor inmates in police holding cells to help defray the $38 per inmate daily cost the city pays the county for housing those arrested by city police.

    We would hope that the two agencies would work closely to address crime and safety issues that are paramount to city and county residents alike.

    Then there is the proposed construction of a $4 million 32,000-square-foot facility at Highland Park to house indoor sports, such as basketball, volleyball and indoor soccer.

    The county has proposed building the recreation facility in the city-owned park with funding from a controversial $14 million bond issue that has been challenged and is being held up by the state Supreme Court.

    The Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors included the project in the bond issue without first approaching members of the Meridian City Council to ask if they wanted the facility built, where they would like it located or if the county or city would provide maintenance if it is constructed.

    Where is the communication?

    You have to look no further than the agreement between the city and county to remove dilapidated houses in Meridian for evidence that the two agencies can work together.

    Under the agreement the city goes through the process of condemning a house, tests for and removes asbestos, while the county tears it down and hauls the debris to the landfill. The city pays the landfill fees.

    We would like to see more collaborative efforts such as this.

    We don't expect everyone to agree on every issue. That would be troubling if they did.

    Politics is adversarial by its very nature and when all officials agree on all things, then there are some in the community who are not being served.

    What we would like to see is an open dialogue between our local elected officials on areas of shared interest about what is working and what needs improving.

    We all live here. It wouldn't hurt if we all rowed in the same direction for a change and see where that takes us.

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