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Butch Brown: Hard to fathom “callousness” behind ouster

February 8th, 2011 1 comment

The Mississippi Transportation Commission voted 2-1 to fire MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown in a meeting this morning.

Magnolia Marketplace was able to reach Brown, who is in Houston, Texas, undergoing cancer treatment at M.D. Anderson, on his cell phone just after noon.

“I’m shocked,” said Brown, who has served in the post about a decade. “It’s hard to fathom the callousness behind a move like this.”

Brown had surgery related to prostate cancer, his third bout with the disease, on Jan. 21. He has remained at M.D. Anderson since, and has additional procedures scheduled over the next few days. Before Tuesday’s vote, he said he expected to return to his office “within the next few weeks.”

Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall and new Northern District Commissioner Mike Tagert voted to terminate Brown. Southern District Commissioner Wayne Brown voted to retain him until June 30, when Butch Brown had previously announced he planned to retire.

“I’m disgusted,” Wayne Brown said shortly after the meeting. “I thought there would be more compassion and more understanding. This is heartless. The man’s already been thrown under the bus, and we just backed the ambulance over him.”

Hall said the decision was “performance-based.”

“If you want somebody gone, you don’t let them hang around for five or six months,” said Hall, who has had a long-running feud with Butch Brown. “That’s not the way you run a business. I truly feel sorry for him. I’m a cancer survivor myself, but that didn’t factor into the equation.”

Under the terms of the vote, Butch Brown has until the close of business Wednesday to resign. He told us he had already submitted his resignation.

“This leaves me in a vulnerable, uninsurable position,” Butch Brown said. “M.D. Anderson is not a cheap place to get treatment. It’s a pretty callous way to treat a man.”

We still haven’t gotten up with Tagert. When we do, we’ll post what he says.

Transportation commission getting total makeover — almost

January 10th, 2011 No comments

Lots of news on a snowy/icy morning, so let’s lace up our boots and get after it.

MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown has announced he will step down in June, at the end of the fiscal year. That comes as no big surprise. Brown is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, after it returned for the third time late last year.

Politically, there are immediate ramifications: The most obvious is it will remove a major campaign theme. Each of the candidates would have had to address Brown’s leadership style and his out-of-office activities. Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall would have seen to it.

Sen. Tom King, R-Petal, who chairs the Transportation Committee, revealed today that he will seek to replace the retiring Wayne Brown (no relation to Butch) for the Southern District Post. He’s probably the favorite right now, and had been considered such once it became clear a few weeks ago would he would seek the post.

Speaking of elections, the special election to replace Bill Minor, who represented MDOT’s Northern District until his death late least  year, is still scheduled for tomorrow, but that could change.

Gov. Haley Barbour, his spokesman Dan Turner told us just a minute ago, will make that decision some time this morning. Theoretically, Turner said, the Coast could go ahead with its election to replace Steven Palazzo, and North Mississippi could wait until maybe Wednesday to hold a vote for Minor’s old seat and to fill Alan Nunnelee’s post.

“But I really doubt one would go forward without the other,” Turner said. “Right now if the pattern holds, and this is your typical Mississippi ice storm that’s here one day and gone the next, they’ll go on as normal.”

At the Capitol, the Senate is still set to gavel in at 3 p.m.; the House will follow at 4 p.m. We have a feeling there’ll be a few snow stories swapped.

Anti-Brown forces need to be careful

November 9th, 2010 No comments

On Tuesday, other statewide media picked up the latest Butch Brown story Magnolia Marketplace first reported last Thursday and Friday.

But we’re not here to pat ourselves on the back.

And Brown’s political enemies should be careful not to do the same.

Anybody with a working knowledge of Mississippi politics knows that Brown’s leadership and his missteps will be the major issue in the race to succeed Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor, who died suddenly last week.

Candidates who align themselves with Brown, like Minor did, have lots of things to mention as examples of what has gone right under MDOT’s executive director — the sparkling new bridge in Greenville and the lightning-fast rebuilding of major bridges on the Coast post-Katrina come immediately to mind.

Likewise, those who align with Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, Brown’s biggest political enemy, have plenty of ammunition, too. There was Brown’s arrest for public intoxication at the Beau Rivage in July, and now there’s this latest incident, in which Brown made inappropriate remarks about U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and got an admonishing letter from Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez afterward.

While the anti-Brown camp has plenty of reasons to build a campaign around ousting him, they had better tread lightly.

Brown told Magnolia Marketplace that his cancer is back for the third time since he was initially diagnosed a few years ago. Anybody who’s lost a loved one to cancer knows this is bad news all the way around. If he’s not already there, Brown is on his way to M.D. Anderson cancer treatment center in Houston, Texas.

North Mississippi voters, especially the country folks, won’t stand for somebody beating up on a sick man. Those sensitivities are no doubt heightened in the light of Minor’s untimely death. Politics is nasty enough without Brown having to defend himself from a hospital bed.

There are other issues a candidate could build a campaign around, and he or she should focus on those.

Butch Brown: Frustration led to outburst

November 5th, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace just wrapped up about a 20-minute phone conversation with MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown.

Brown told us a combination of things led him Monday night to offer some critical words about U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who Brown said was scheduled to appear at the AASHTO Board of Directors Dinner before canceling. Two different deputies under LaHood’s supervision were subsequently scheduled to appear before both canceling.

Brown was frustrated with that, and has long been frustrated with LaHood’s push for high-speed rail and mass transit programs that are virtually useless in rural states, and with the fact that there still hasn’t been a highway reauthorization bill, which is the funding source for every state’s department of transportation, cleared by Congress. Here is Brown’s side of what happened Monday night.

“I was probably a little strong on the secretary,” said Brown, who would not tell Magnolia Marketplace exactly what he said. “The secretary, on many occasions, has not appeared at AASHTO events. AASHTO is known nationally and internationally as the voice of transportation. Mr. LaHood has said on many occasions that our system of highway transportation is built out. His emphasis has been on high-speed rail and mass transit programs. Our system is not built out. Our position nationally, and certainly here in Mississippi, is that we need more highways. We need more capacity. Truck traffic, for example, is expected to double by the year 2025. That’s right around the bend.

“It’s clear to us that we need more capacity, and that the system isn’t built out,” Brown continued. “I’ve differed with the secretary throughout my year as president of AASHTO. I chose hard words when I made my comments last Monday night.

“That being said, Monday morning, my chairman and one of my best friends in the world named Bill Minor died. I was there with him. I was the first man to him after I was alerted to go to his room. I was there when the paramedics arrived. Bill Minor was a good friend, and I’ve never watched someone die before. So I had that on my mind.

“I’d also been notified that my cancer is back for the third time – the third time — and I had to get immediately to M.D. Anderson (cancer center in Houston, Texas) as soon as they could take me. And, I was somewhat angered and frustrated because the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary had canceled. His deputy was supposed to come, he canceled. And a third-level person was supposed to come, and he canceled. So I was a little annoyed that we didn’t have representation from the organization that we work with on a daily basis, and I said so.

“Butch Brown is from the river town of Natchez, Miss. I’m a very outspoken person. I’m too old to change, I’m going on 68. I lost a good friend. I was annoyed that the secretary and his staff had canceled, and I was fearful of what’s lying ahead for me. I opened my mouth and I said things in a very undiplomatic way. I could have been diplomatic and had no consequences and no letter from Victor Mendez. Victor Mendez is my friend.

“I think my friend Victor Mendez felt like he could chastise me and say what he wanted to say. I’ve been critical of his boss before, and Victor and I have talked about it. I think perhaps the setting (Monday night) made him uncomfortable. I think he perhaps felt like he had to say something. We’ve talked and emailed and had conversations and apologies since. I agree with him. I told him I agreed it was distasteful.

“It was a group of words that were very critical of a man (LaHood) who doesn’t share the vision of me and most of my colleagues. I’m not mad at Ray LaHood. I’m disappointed with the fact that we don’t have the money to plan our program adequately and I disagree with his philosophy on the use of that money when we get it. It’s water under the bridge as far as I’m concerned. I hope it is with Victor and Ray.”

While Magnolia Marketplace was on the phone with Brown, a spokesperson for Mendez said in a voicemail that the Federal Highway Administrator would not comment on the letter.

“We really don’t have anything to say,” said Cathy St. Denis. “The letter is what it is.”

 

 

Categories: Butch Brown, MDOT, News, Politics Tags:

Wayne Brown: Mendez, B. Brown could have handled situation better

November 5th, 2010 No comments

As Magnolia Marketplace reported yesterday, Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez wrote a letter to MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown excoriating him over remarks and behavior Mendez deemed “offensive and inappropriate.”

We’re still waiting to hear from Mendez. We’ve left a handful of messages with his assistants  yesterday and this morning. We’ve also gotten word that Brown is traveling to Houston, Texas. We’ve left messages on his cell phone.

We did manage to reach Southern District Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown (no relation to Butch) on his cell phone a few minutes ago.

Here’s what he told us: Brown was addressing the crowd at AASHTO’s Board of Directors dinner Monday night at the Imperial Palace, and he had some less than flattering remarks about Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and LaHood’s obsession with high-speed rail transit, an obsession that has irked Brown and transportation officials in other rural states, where high-speed rail is neither needed nor in demand.

“Butch expressed his frustration with that,” Wayne Brown said. 

Wayne Brown could not remember exactly what Butch Brown said that drew Mendez’ ire, but did say there was a profanity involved that “rhymes with AASHTO.”

“He made some remarks, but I thought they were more in jest, but he was getting his point across about the direction that the federal department of transportation is going in.”

What made Mendez’ letter so surprising, Wayne Brown said, was the praise Mendez heaped on Butch Brown during an AASHTO meeting event on Sunday.

“Mendez had some wonderful things to say about Butch, how he provided the leadership he provided, and how he handled the hurricane (Katrina) recovery. So I heard that and then to get the letter that we got, it’s certainly a yin and yang. I thought the letter was going to be complimentary. I think Victor was a little too sensitive. We have a right to express our opinion in these rural states about the direction transportation’s going in. Did Butch do it with the best taste in the world? No, he did not.”

Wayne Brown has been an ally of Butch Brown for many years, and he said this latest incident does nothing to change that. Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall has often clashed with both Browns. A spokesman for Hall said Friday morning that Hall did not attend the AASHTO Board of Directors dinner.

“Mendez had a right to say what he said in his letter; Butch had a right to say what he said,” said Wayne Brown. “Both of them could have done it with a little more sensitivity.”

Highway administrator: Brown “offensive, inappropriate”

November 4th, 2010 7 comments

Back in July, Mississippi Department of Transportation Executive Director Butch Brown attended the meeting of an economic development group at the Beau Rivage on a Thursday night, and got arrested early the next morning for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. 

The Beau Rivage, where Brown was arrested, quickly dismissed the disorderly conduct charge. Brown will answer to the public intoxication charge — which was filed by the Biloxi Police Department, after its police report said Brown was combative and uncooperative with officers on the scene — later in November at his trial.

A whole lot of people thought the Beau Rivage dropped the disorderly conduct charge so quickly because Brown is the president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, whose annual meeting was at — you guessed it — the Beau Rivage. More than 1,000 people were scheduled to attend. At the time, a Beau Rivage spokesperson adamantly denied Brown’s position as AASHTO president had anything to do with the dropped charge.

The annual meeting ended Monday. And Brown’s behavior is an issue again.

Early this afternoon, Magnolia Marketplace obtained a letter Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez wrote to Brown and copied several others on. It’s only two sentences long, but it packs quite a punch.

The full text of the letter, which was dated Nov. 3 and addressed to Brown: “Your remarks as a public official were highly offensive, inappropriate and unprofessional. Your behavior was shameful and brings discredit to your department (the Mississippi Department of Transportation), the citizens of the great State of Mississippi and your peers at AASHTO.”

Wow.

Mendez was referring to Brown’s behavior during AASHTO’s Board of Directors dinner, which was listed on the letter’s subject line, on Nov. 1. According to the AASHTO meeting agenda, the dinner took place at the Imperial Palace, was invitation only and started at 6 p.m. Here’s the interesting thing about that: Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor died the morning of Nov. 1. He was attending the AASHTO meeting.

So whatever Brown did that night, hours after his friend and colleague’s sudden death, was deemed so “offensive, inappropriate and unprofessional” by Mendez, he fired off a letter and copied the other two members of the Transportation Commission (Dick Hall and Wayne Brown), AASHTO’s executive director, AASHTO’s incoming president, and the deputy director of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

We have left a message with Mendez’s assistant, in an effort to find out exactly what Brown did and said. Brown and other MDOT officials are attending Minor’s funeral in North Mississippi this afternoon, so getting any of them on the phone will be impossible. But we’ll start first thing Friday morning.

For a refresher, here’s video of Brown in July discussing his arrest.

PR 101: Confront the truth, no matter how ugly it is

July 26th, 2010 No comments

One of Magnolia Marketplace’s favorite movies is “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” the ’80s flick that makes rebelling against authority look like a whole lot of fun.

In the middle of it, Ferris’s principal, Mr. Rooney, finds himself in an arcade in his search for Ferris and his buddies. Toward the end of the scene, Mr. Rooney is standing in front of a television showing a Cubs game. The second he looks away, Ferris is shown catching a foul ball, coming perilously close to getting busted for playing hooky.

Mr. Rooney didn’t spot Ferris in the stands at Wrigley Field, but what if he had? What if Mr. Rooney’s hunch that Ferris was a school-skipping ne’er do well was proven correct when he saw Ferris, Sloan and Cameron on TV? All three of them would be cooked. Pictures don’t lie.

We were reminded of that classic sequence Friday afternoon while we were working up the story of MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown being arrested early Friday morning at the Beau Rivage and being charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct. (The charges have since been dropped).

When we reached Brown on his cell phone, he confirmed that he had “just left” the Beau Rivage. In one of the weirdest interviews we’ve ever done, Brown flatly denied that he had been arrested and charged with anything. This despite the fact that his mugshot was sitting on my computer screen while I was on the phone with him. Brown was polite. The tone of the interview never got confrontational, but he insisted he hadn’t been arrested. The whole thing was odd.

Fast forward about an hour, after the story had taken up the top spot on msbusiness.com, and other media across the state had picked it up. Brown apparently decided to abandon his denial strategy and start referring questions about the incident to the Beau Rivage.

Why didn’t he do that from the beginning? Did he think that, just because he denied the whole thing, we would just drop the story all together? Especially when we had his mugshot?

If the first rule of public relations is don’t put yourself in bad situations, the second rule is to aggressively confront the truth when you do, no matter how badly you may not want to. Brown broke both of those rules Friday. Pictures don’t lie. People do.

Ferris Bueller, Brown ain’t.

Categories: Butch Brown, MDOT, News, Politics Tags: