Resident seeks to combine lawsuits against Lauderdale County

Tommy Williams

 

“Who is this guy? Seems he’s always talking about the courthouse or too much debt or the board’s spending. And he gets up in front of them at their meetings and criticizes them for all kinds of things. What’s his problem?” “Oh, he’s just that crazy old guy who’s always complaining about something.”

Yes, in Lauderdale County that’s an example of the way they marginalize you and your message when they don’t like your message. They stigmatize you with the impression they want citizens to get whenever you speak out. At its heart, my message is all about no growth in our area in more than 50 years and why. In a nutshell, it’s due to bad management and high power costs.

During the 1940s and ‘50s most decision making was concentrated within a small group of influential merchants, bankers, and small business operators. Having grown up here during that period, I knew by name many original members of that group. Since most of them relied upon ordinary grass roots citizens’ needs for their goods and services, their decisions tended to be in the best interests of the general populace. Conversely the general populace tended to rely upon and defer to that small group, and thereby developed a comfortable apathy in our area’s culture in that regard. It is not clear to me how a somewhat benign and helpful origination of a small controlling group has evolved over time to be the self serving, corrupt, growth restricting group of “controllers” it has been for the past 30 years or more. But it has. What is clear though is that their primary tool for controlling things has been our county board of supervisors.

A couple years ago, Joe Max Higgins, the business developer for the Golden Triangle — the Wade Jones-Bill Hannah comparable position in that Columbus-Starkville area — treated me to a three hour meeting, during which time I may have spoken for 10-15 minutes at the most. That was a first for me. He is one of the most dynamic individuals I have ever met. My request for the meeting had been to learn why he had been able to be so successful just 100 miles north of here, adding nearly 7,000 jobs in the past 12-13 years at that time, while Lauderdale County was suffering net losses. He attributed it to their area’s strongest leaders being selfless types and their having created among its general populace “a strong ethic of support for, and a general interest in what was good for the entire community.” Lauderdale County had been close to the top of his list when he was deciding where to go about 15 years ago but we got eliminated for one reason and one reason only. During his due diligence he had learned that a very small group of people here, (our current “controllers”), had virtual veto power over anything they didn’t support and he knew he could not work under those conditions. So we now have that reputation, with individuals or large business “locator” type companies looking for the best areas to locate/expand to. No wonder we can’t get any large employers to come here.

The other major inhibitor to growth has been the cost of electric power in our area. Surrounded by three much lower power costs areas, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, and even west of here in Mississippi, where Entergy’s rates are considerably lower, we are always at a disadvantage from the get-go. Brubaker Associates, a respected energy consultant does rate surveys of the 30 largest power companies covering the south and mid Atlantic areas. Mississippi Power has been close to the top in electricity costs in all their surveys through 2015. They brag that they work hard with our developers, East Mississippi Development Corporation, and potential new businesses to discount power rates, but so will the power suppliers in those other areas discount. Start out lower and you can end up lower. Space limitations prevent providing more detail on this “albatross” that has been hung around our necks for many years, but I assure you, the more details you know the less you’ll like them. Particularly the “details” with regards to the Kemper power plant.

Getting back to our controllers’ Board of Supervisors, they can also be “petty” tools as demonstrated a couple weeks ago when Stephen Wilson was voted down from being appointed the county’s public defender. Instead they hired an attorney who’s only been practicing law for nine months. Stephen has done more for the poor and defenseless in his 10 years practicing here than almost any other attorney. But because he took their $14 million bond issue decision to the state’s Supreme Court, they retaliated against him — and cost many people needing help in the future his proven experience. Stephen delayed the supervisors getting that huge slush fund for a couple of years, so they showed him and other attorneys in the area what can happen if they go against them and their powerful controllers. 

Their controllers also encourage them to borrow and spend on their wants while needs such as the courthouse go begging. They want certain ones of them to be reelected as badly as those supervisors do themselves, and usually that’s what those “wants” are for. There is no value to either of them in their taking care of the courthouse and the workers kept in harms way in there, while large bond issue borrowing benefits them all. And it’s only taxpayer money that pays it back anyway.

Growth may or may not elude Lauderdale County forever but for certain it will as long as this cancerous system continues.

Tommy Williams is a resident of Marion.

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