Responding to The Meridian Star’s front page article and editorial on Aug. 15 about our developed sites and industrial parks:

No, they probably won’t come — not while the corrupt, non-transparent mismanagement of our city-and county continues. To paraphrase the famous political war-cry, “It’s the economy, stupid.” “It’s our reputation, you geniuses” — our terrible reputation after 40 to 50 years of mismanagement.

More recently, in the late ‘90s, or early 2000s, some of the county supervisors and their contributor friends had bought options from local landowners on some of the 500 acres of that Kewanee megasite. It was based on their inside information that a foreign car maker was interested in locating a manufacturing plant there. They had expectations of exercising the options and “flipping” the land when the deal was firmed up. But the deal fell through and The Meridian Star reporter Buddy Bynum reported the reason the deal fell through was that the interested company considered the ownership of the land to be “squishy.”

Expansion and relocation specialists do research and develop information on areas all over the country. That, along with their own research is used by large companies with lots of jobs to bring to an area, to help them decide where to go. Unfortunately, information on Meridian and Lauderdale County has been being accumulated for many years.

More recently, our county’s supervisors have been borrowing so much money on a long term bonded basis — mostly for recurring operating expenses — that they haven’t been able to build a new courthouse. Business operators who have to pay back loans with their own money are only able to get those type long term loans if they are using them for structures that could last 20 to 50 years or more — like a courthouse. Our superintendents are used to getting those loans by giving the lenders your property as collateral.

Tommy Williams

Tommy Williams

Since 2008 our supervisors have borrowed $64 million in 15-year and 20-year bond issues with nothing of any consequence still around to show for it. Maybe some culverts and a small bridge here and there last longer, but most of the paving done only lasts five to eight years, before needing do-overs or something more than just “maintenance.” Whereas this year’s president, Kyle Rutledge, said they need to try to get away from bond borrowing, Josh Todd said that there has always been a bond borrowed during every four-year term. That “assawaywealwaysdunnit” explanation is all you need to know about how he thinks.

Meanwhile, courthouse workers and citizens visiting as grand jurors, registering to vote, paying taxes, etc., dutifully show up and continue to be at risk, due to the many hazards that have been found inside there. The $1.5 million investment in the new handicap accessible entrance and the absence of an announcement of any specific plan involving a new courthouse, tells us citizens that we can probably expect the existing courthouse to be used for at least the next four to five years. One thing we know for sure from the superintendents previous behavior, they will tell us what they’re going TO DO when THEY are damn good and ready and without any input from us citizens.

Their $82,000 study about five years ago by Belinda Stewart, the state’s only courthouse architect specialist, told us more about courthouse plans and options, than anything they’ve told us since then. That’s probably the reason it was quickly put out of sight and never even mentioned again. If she had been chosen courthouse architect, as she should have been, we would know a lot more about what’s going on — and I promise you, her fees would be less.

But not to be outdone by the county, Mayor Percy Bland just got the city council to approve a $12 million bond issue, ostensibly for paving. And the bond issue probably wasn’t even needed at all. Councilman Weston Lindemann had shown other council members for several weeks, that $4 million-$5 million budgeted in the general fund this year, would be unspent based on the financial reports through the first eight-nine months. In fact, there was possibly as much as $10 million-$11 million over budgeted when looking at the report on “all funds” for those first eight-nine months. Council members Kim Houston, George Thomas and Fannie Johnson had been hearing about and, presumably, seeing the same financial documents he was referring them to, but rushed to vote for it anyway.

What made it even more absurd was that they were just beginning the first fiscal year 2021 budget planning ON THE SAME EXACT DAY that they voted to pass the bond issue. For the next 45 days they would be CLOSELY analyzing reports and the city’s financial status. And Hugh Smith, public works director, had already stated that nothing on paving could be started before October, the same month, newly budgeted money could be available for the paving. So what was the rush? What convinced Houston, Thomas and Johnson they should give up the council’s oversight authority, whereby the mayor could spend $12 million anyway he chooses, about 45 days before they would know for sure if it was really needed? Humm.

Those are only a few of the more recent examples of our mismanagement that large company relocators see when looking at our area. So, no, they probably won’t come. Not any with lots of jobs anyway. Until we change the leadership that gives us this kind of incredibly faulty governance, they won’t even give us a second look — pandemic or no pandemic.

Tommy Williams is a resident of Marion. He is acting director of Lauderdale County Citizens For Responsible Governance. Call him at 601-453-0828 or email lccfrg@gmail.com.

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