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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.

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.”