Dombrowski: Coast cities, not state, own harbors

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — A challenger in the race for Mississippi secretary of state says he is unhappy with the way first-term incumbent Delbert Hosemann is handling leases of public lands.

Gulfport City Council member Ricky Dombrowski, 51, faces Hosemann, 64, in the Aug. 2 Republican primary. No Democrat is running for secretary of state. A Reform Party candidate is expected to be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Dombrowski says he is running because he disagrees with Hosemann’s assertion that the state owns coastal harbors. The councilman claims that cities own the harbors.

Hosemann, who’s an attorney, cites a 1989 state law to back up his position, while Dombrowski, a businessman, cites a law from 1935.

Dombrowski tells the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal that Hosemann also has exerted too much control over 16th Section lands, which are publicly owned and generate revenue for schools in much of the state.

Hosemann, elected in 2007, says his office renegotiated leases to bring in more money for education.

“I started rejecting 8 to 10 percent of them because they weren’t fair,” Hosemann said of the leases. “Now it’s a 5 percent rejection rate. It has resulted in a 60-70 percent jump in revenue.”

Several cities already have signed harbor leases with Hosemann’s office, but Gulfport balked. The case now is going to court.

“There are two critical components,” Hosemann said. “The harbors must be public, and all gaming revenues go to the tideland funds. When I went to Gulfport, they had condos projected to sell on the harbor. I told the mayor that was public land, and that was a non-public purpose.”

Hosemann said the state doesn’t charge for the leases. They’re simply a matter of protocol and give the secretary of state oversight to protect against violations of the law, such as privatizing public lands.

“It’s our harbor in Tupelo as much as it is in Pass Christian,” Hosemann said. “You need the ability to have access to it. To restrict it by the decision of the City Council of Gulfport and exclude everyone else” isn’t right.

Dombrowski said he supports light development of harbor condos because anyone could choose to rent or own a unit, thereby making it public. He also disputed Hosemann’s claim that leases would cost the cities nothing. Dombrowski said the secretary initially wanted money for the transaction and even proposed a 30 percent tax on all revenues collected by cities from harbor business leases. That proposal since has faded.

“He wants complete authority over what we have in our harbors,” said Dombrowski, who entered the secretary of state’s race on the March 1 qualifying deadline.

Dombrowski also criticized Hosemann’s campaign ads that show the secretary of state sitting on a park bench with older women who mess up his first name by calling him Philbert, Herbert and Englebert.

“He thinks he’s holier than thou because he’s sitting on a park bench with a couple of old ladies,” Dombrowski. But what “you come to find is a trail of abuse; the abuse of his position to circumvent the power whenever he can.”

Source: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

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