If your house was crumbling, would you send 11 people to Washington, D.C. to fix it?
Lauderdale County taxpayers did that in February at a cost of more than $15,500.
Lauderdale County supervisors say the trip provided them face time with U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and other representatives to discuss the possible purchase of the federal building on 9th Street, which could be used as part of the solution to repair or replace the decaying 1905 county courthouse, and other economic issues.
The 11-person Lauderdale County contingent to Washington included four county supervisors, the county administrator, two board attorneys, a representative from Yates Construction, two representatives of LPK Architects and the CEO and president of East Mississippi Business Development Corporation.
County leaders who responded to reporter Whitney Downard’s questions about the trip said the personal contact with representatives and the pressing courthouse issue motivated them to make the trip.
The return on the investment is unknown. The county first expressed interest in purchasing the federal building, which houses the post office, in September, 2012.
Despite the obviously interested buyer, the seller is in no apparent hurry to close a deal. Lauderdale County Courthouse workers and visitors, meanwhile, remain in an unsafe building, 40 years after the need for repair was first identified.
We don’t begrudge an occasional lobbying trip to Washington for county representatives. We don’t suggest any wrong doing on their part during the trip. Although, we do wonder how they managed to avoid any violation of the state’s open meeting laws more than 800 miles from their constituents.
We do question the wisdom of sending 11 people on this trip and spending more than $15,500 when they have insisted previously they are good stewards of the taxpayers’ money – delaying the move of workers out of the courthouse to prove it.
Couldn’t two or three people represent the county just as well in Washington? Didn’t we already elect people to represent us in Washington?
Businesses and organizations have used modern technology these days to meet remotely. If you want face time, for example, there are FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, TeamViewer, Join.me and a number of other options.
Better, if county leaders want to demonstrate the urgent need of a courthouse solution, wouldn’t it be better to invite representatives – or even their staff -- into the courthouse? Why, during election season you can barely make it through the state with the SEC’s best offensive line in front of you without bumping into a Senate or House candidate.
We’re sure our current and interested representatives would be happy to visit East Mississippi this election year for an occasion that doesn’t require a giant ribbon and scissors.
In the scheme of things, $15,522.10 for a trip to Washington in a $58.6 million budget doesn’t amount to much.
In a county with a 23 percent poverty rate where many residents would consider a trip to Jackson a luxury, however, it does matter.
We ask the supervisors to consider that before booking their next regular trip to D.C.
We also advise the supervisors, as we have repeatedly done over the last 16 months, to move county courthouse workers out of an unsafe building before someone is injured or becomes ill.
Since December 2016, the county has paid $85,000 to Belinda Stewart Architects, close to $100,000 to W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Company and LPK Architects, P.A. and now $15,500 for a trip to Washington – more than $200,000 in all – for advice.
That would have purchased a fair amount of rental space for temporary offices and courtrooms.
We have a final thought should the supervisors deem a future trip necessary.
While we appreciate the convenience of a direct flight to Washington, D.C. from Jackson, we believe the optics and price would be better if they chose to “Fly Meridian Fly Home.”
We’ve been able to fly roundtrip from Meridian Regional Airport at substantially less than the average of $883 per ticket paid by the Lauderdale County group -- and saved on the mileage and parking to boot.