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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.

NE Miss.’s rural voters turned on Childers

November 3rd, 2010 2 comments

If there is a surprise among Mississippi’s congressional elections, it’s that Gene Taylor lost. It’s not a huge surprise, but a surprise nonetheless.

It’s not at all unexpected that state Sen. Alan Nunnelee defeated Democratic incumbent Travis Childers in the First District. What Magnolia Marketplace didn’t see coming was Nunnelee’s margin of victory, which will end up in double digits once all the certifications are done. 

Looking at how Nunnelee and Childers fared in the 24 counties that make up the First District, it quickly becomes clear that Childers lost by a big margin because the same rural voters who put him in office two years ago turned on him Tuesday.

Nunnelee, as of Wednesday morning, carried at least 17 of the 24 counties. Among those were Alcorn, Choctaw, Calhoun, Pontotoc, Monroe, Itawamba, Pontotoc, Tippah, Tishomingo, Union, Webster and Yalobusha. All of those are considered rural counties. Nunnelee winning Lee, Lowndes, Tate, DeSoto and Grenada are expected. While not exactly urban areas, they do represent the most metropolitan counties in Northeast Mississippi.

Childers kept the rural vote in his home county of Prentiss, Panola, Marshall, Chickasaw, Clay and Benton.

Northeast Mississippi is the state’s last bastion of rural Democrats. The region has kept lawmakers like Billy McCoy and Steve Holland at the Capitol for decades. The region’s Public Service commissioner is a Democrat. Its transportation commissioner, Bill Minor, was, too, until his sudden death Monday morning.

We’re pretty familiar with Northeast Mississippi, having grown up there and with relatives scattered across the region. Our family farm is still in Choctaw County. When Marty Wiseman says there are people in the First District who think there would be no electricity if not for Cousin Jamie Whitten, he’s not kidding. There are lots of them, and they’re all fine folks who have voted Democrat almost on the whole.

But their generation is getting older, and their numbers are dwindling. The replacement generation was raised on Republican Roger Wicker, and this election they made it clear the First District will stay in the hands of the GOP for the foreseeable future.

You ask us, Childers sealed his fate when he voted for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Even though he bucked his party too  many times to count — including on the healthcare bill — Childers never could run quite far enough from Pelosi, and Nunnelee and his campaign staff never gave him a chance to do so.

Barbour will set special election for MDOT post

November 1st, 2010 No comments

Mississippi’s political community got a double shot of sad news today.

Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor died suddenly of what appears to be a heart attack at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi. Minor was attending the annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Sam Waggoner, who once represented the Central District on the Transportation Commission, passed away at his home in Flowood this morning.

Minor, 68, served in the state Senate before being elected to the MDOT post in 2003.

Minor’s death leaves vacant one of three spots on the Transportation Commission. According to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Gov. Haley Barbour will have to issue a proclamation within 15 days that would set the date for a special election. The election would have to occur within 60 days of that.

Hosemann said in a press release that he would recommend to Barbour that the qualifying deadline be at least 45 days before the special election, so officials would have adequate time to prepare ballots. Barbour is not bound by Hosemann’s recommendation, but it’s very likely he would follow it.

Minor was popular with his constituents. Magnolia Marketplace’s direct interaction with him was limited to a handful of times, but he was polite, accessible and never dodged a question. His successor has big shoes to fill.

Will Ross be paid during his leave? Nobody seems to know

October 29th, 2010 1 comment

Scott Ross — College Board president, West Point mayor and practicing attorney — is taking a leave of absence from his mayor’s post, according to Columbus TV station WCBI.

Magnolia Marketplace first heard about this yesterday at Hobnob. Since yesterday around noon, multiple voicemails we left on Ross’ cell phone and messages we left at his office have gone unreturned. The messages at his office going unreturned makes sense now that we know about the leave of absence. The cell phone messages being ignored? Baffling.

So with no response from Ross, we called West Point City Hall this morning with the intention of finding out if Ross would continue to draw a check from the City of West Point while  he’s on leave, the details of which and reasons behind have not been explained by anybody.

The first person from City Hall we got on the phone was Rod Bobo, West Point’s Ward 1 selectman.

“I have no idea,” he responded when we asked him if Ross would be paid while he takes leave.

The next person we talked to was a very nice lady from the city clerk’s office. She didn’t know either. She did put us in touch with Orlando Richmond, an attorney who represents the city. Richmond was also very nice.

“I have not explored that issue,” Richmond answered when we asked him the pay question. “There are obviously a number of questions surrounding (Ross taking leave), and that’s one of them.”

Richmond hopes to have the pay issue resolved next week.

“There will be times when the mayor is unavailable,” Richmond said. “His absence for periods of time does not affect the function of city government. Leave for any official is not unusual. Because we don’t have a time frame (for how long Ross’ leave will last), I’m not at all suggesting that there would be any lapse in pay.”

So here’s what we know: Ross is taking a leave of absence from one of his two day jobs.

Here’s what we don’t know: Why is he taking leave? How long will he take it? Will West Point pay him while he takes it? And how is this going to affect his work for the College Board?

Ross needs to answer those questions.

Barbour to miss Hobnob

October 22nd, 2010 No comments

The Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob is next Thursday. Hundreds of business leaders and politicians will be there.

Gov. Haley Barbour will not.

According to Dan Turner, Barbour’s press secretary, the governor will spend that day in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania campaigning for GOP candidates before Nov. 2’s midterm elections. Barbour will be one part of a large contingent of Republican leadership who will embark on a last-minute blitz that starts Tuesday and ends Saturday.

“He’s not real excited about missing it,” Turner said of Barbour’s absence. “That’s his element.”

Scott Waller, senior VP for public affairs at the MEC, said this is the second Hobnob Barbour will miss, the first coming in 2005 in the aftermath of Katrina, when Barbour was in Washington and addressed the crowd via satellite uplink.

There’s a good reason Barbour has been at all the others. It’s the largest gathering of the business and political community of the year. Lots of people with lots of money who give that money to political campaigns of every stripe are always there. If you run for office at any level in Mississippi, it’s a can’t-miss.

Granted, Barbour isn’t running for office, at least not officially and at least not one in which only Mississippi voters can participate. And his position as chairman of the Republican Governors Association requires him to campaign nationally (though he would probably do that anyway) and we doubt anybody is all that offended that he won’t be there next Thursday. He will address the crowd via video.

But Barbour is still the governor of Mississippi. Helping our state recover from Katrina is a perfectly good reason for missing Hobnob. Pitching voters in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania is not. Barbour should have made time.

Barbour toots job-creation horn

October 14th, 2010 No comments

Most of the press releases that come out of Gov. Haley Barbour’s office have something to do with an event.

The governor’s holding a press conference. The governor’s filling an empty seat on a judicial bench. He’s making an appointment to a state agency. He’s setting the date for a special election.

If they aren’t announcing something, they usually contain a statement relevant to a recent event. Here lately, most of his comments have taken on a national tone, hitting on broad political themes.

But we’ve never seen one quite like the one that landed in Magnolia Marketplace’s inbox a few minutes ago. For one, at more than 900 words, it’s a lot longer than most. Second, it’s not really announcing anything. What it is doing is pointing out some of Barbour’s year-to-date economic development wins.

According to the release, more than 5,000 new jobs were created in the first three quarters of 2010 by state-assisted economic development projects. Mentioned are Will.Schulz GMBH — the German company that hopes to manufacture at its Tunica facility pipes for the natural gas industry — Lane Furniture’s expansion in Lee County and Southern Motion’s 200 new jobs in Pontotoc, among many others.

The 5,000 new jobs created with the state’s help in the first nine months of this year, says the release, are more than what were created in all of 2009. It also mentions, but does not give a figure, that job-creation has been spurred by projects that did not seek state assistance, financial or otherwise.

Every project listed in the release is old news. No ground is being broken, just re-tilled.

So what’s the point? Well, wouldn’t job-creation within his own state be a leg of any platform Barbour might use in a presidential campaign? Sure would. And it’s our guess that this won’t be the last press release of its kind that Barbour puts forth.

You can read the release in its entirety here.

Is the moratorium really over?

October 12th, 2010 No comments

Earlier today, the White House lifted the ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The moratorium, which was issued after the Deepwater Horizon’s Macondo Well started gushing April 21 in the Gulf of Mexico, was originally set to expire Nov. 30.

Two observations:

1. The Obama Administration was likely tired of the moratorium being an albatross around the neck of Democrats in the heat of midterm campaigns.

2. It likely will remain there.

Democrats and Republicans alike have already said the additional layer of safety rules and regulations attached to any new deepwater drilling are cumbersome. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, who has been holding up an Obama appointee in protest of the original ban, just issued a press release saying she will continue to do so while she monitors the speed with which drilling resumes.

Mississippi’s Third District Cong. Gregg Harper, R-Pearl, said in his own statement that the “Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) does not presently have adequate resources to allow for the resumption of offshore drilling. The federal government must provide these resources to ensure an efficient approval process for companies wishing to resume operations. Unless these new regulations are diligently implemented, we still have a de facto moratorium putting more jobs at risk.”

Gov. Haley Barbour said he looked forward “to receiving the details” of the lifted ban.

There’s likely a political devil or two in them.

Engelbert kicks off voter ed campaign

October 11th, 2010 No comments

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann had one of the most memorable — and effective — political advertisements in recent Mississippi memory three years ago.

Hosemann sat on a park bench with a little old lady, who laid out his message, and called Hosemann Gilbert, Wilbert, Engbert, Philbert, and Engelbert, but never Delbert. It was one of the best political spots we’ve ever seen.

A lot of people think the commercial is more responsible than anything else for Hosemann’s victory. They’re probably right.

Dorothy, the little old lady in ad, is back. This time, she’s helping with Hosemann’s voter education campaign in advance of the Nov. 2 elections. Radio and television spots will soon begin airing statewide, and Dorothy’s celebrity will begin anew.

This Friday is also the first “Voter Fact Friday,” in which Hosemann will release tidbits related to common voter questions, such as absentee voting guidelines and precinct location issues.

Categories: Delbert Hosemann, Elections, News, Politics Tags:

Gov. candidates of one mind on eminent domain (Update)

October 6th, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace is not finding much disagreement among the 2011 candidates for governor on the issue of employing eminent domain for private economic development.

Two of the three Republicans who are running support Farm Bureau’s efforts to put the issue on the ballot.

So do the two Democrats who hope to reach the Governor’s Mansion.

“As a businessman I strongly encourage economic development, but using eminent domain as a device to take privately owned land to transfer to developers is improper,” Bill Luckett, a Clarksdale attorney, said in a statement emailed to Magnolia Marketplace.

“Mississippians should be able to count on preserving their individual and personal rights against overbearing big government. (Farm Bureau’s) initiative protects private citizens from governmental abuse. Passing this initiative will greatly discourage government entities from taking one’s property for the sole purpose of making money.

“Unless property is taken truly for the good of the public, I do not believe in using confiscatory endeavors as a means of economic development.”

Luckett joins Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Gulfport businessman Dave Dennis in supporting the Farm Bureau petition.

“I tend to agree with them,” Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree, a Democrat who will oppose Luckett in the primary, said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “It it is used for public use, I certainly support that.”

The other Republican in the race, Pearl River County Supervisor Hudson Holliday, has not returned a voicemail we left on his cell phone Tuesday afternoon. If and when he does, we’ll let you know his stance.

UPDATE : We just heard back from Holliday. He said he understands the principles behind employing eminent domain for private economic development. That doesn’t mean he agrees with them.

“It’s a slippery slope and something that can easily be abused,” Holliday said. Holliday added that he signed Farm Bureau’s petition. That makes two gubernatorial candidates — Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is the other — who have confirmed that they signed it.

So if you’re scoring at home, every candidate who has either unofficially or officially started pursuing the governor’s seat is in favor of restricting the use of eminent domain to projects that serve a direct public use — like roads, bridges and utilities — and eliminating the government’s power to take private property and give it to a private entity for development.