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.”