Don’t shoot bad news messenger
There was a brief exchange during the Friday, Jan. 26, meeting of the Crenshaw mayor and aldermen during which Crenshaw Mayor Sylvester Reed told our reporter that our newspaper’s coverage of the operations of his town’s government were "destroying" the town.
Our reporter replied that there were many in Crenshaw who thought that he is the one who is destroying the town. Indeed, it was such concern expressed last spring by Crenshaw citizens that brought us to the monthly meetings of that town’s government.
The Jan. 26 exchange with our reporter was not the first time Mayor Reed has called our coverage of events there into question.
When Atmos Energy last spring made a decision to abandon its office building in Crenshaw, company officials attempted to implement policy whereby the building would have been sold or even donated in a sweetheart deal to the town or some not-for-profit entity in Crenshaw. We reported that Reed apparently withheld the information from aldermen for a couple of months while he tried to negotiate purchase of the building for himself – on the same sweetheart terms as Atmos had offered it to the town.
"For some reason there seems to be allegations of all this that have no value," the mayor replied in a special meeting called by aldermen on August 8 to confront Reed about the allegations. "There is a bunch of stuff made up," Reed said, referring to our news coverage and commentary.
Yet when we filed an open records request with the Town of Crenshaw asking for copies of any information about the Atmos building negotiations, we received two telling documents. The first was a copy of a record of a phone request on June 22 from an Atmos Energy representative requesting the mayor’s full name, his wife’s full name, his address, county and social security number. The second was a copy of a fax and cover sheet sent in response the following day from the mayor to the Atmos spokesman providing the information requested – information required for a deed in the mayor’s name but not the city’s name.
Stuff made up, indeed.
The exchange late last month involved another special called meeting where Michael Purdy attempted to inform the mayor and aldermen about the problems that he had found with the town’s water system and also a Mississippi Department of Health water system inspection report completed Jan. 25, 2007. Purdy, a certified water operator, had been hired as a private contractor to conduct tests of the town’s municipal supply.
The mayor squelched, over an alderman’s objection, Purdy’s attempt to discuss the health department report. Granted, board attorney Mary Brown backed the mayor, stating that the meeting’s agenda consisted only of discussing Purdy’s contract with the town, but the decision again left Crenshaw aldermen and citizens in the dark because the health department’s inspection documents the town’s latest infrastructure failure.
- The town struggled late last year with sewerage problems aggravated by a lack of experienced personnel and proper chemical treatment. Long-time maintenance employee Jimmy Frazier, who was also the town’s last certified water operator, resigned in July out of frustration with the mayor’s micromanagement of supply purchases, maintenance policies and pay. Since then, no one has been able to keep the town’s machinery operating – even with the mayor’s micromanagement;
- The town’s volunteer firemen have complained continually about lack of equipment. Requisitions submitted for equipment don’t result in purchases, even though money is available in funds set aside for the fire department. One fire truck sits idle with four flat tires. The fire department submitted a requisition for new tires on Dec. 8.
- Last month, heat to the fire house was cut off and not restored for a week because the gas bill was unpaid.
- The town’s police department is chronically short of personnel, partly due to a disagreement between aldermen and the mayor about whether the aldermen should be able to review all of the applications submitted to the town. The mayor’s position is that he should review all the applications and bring his recommendations to the board.
- Efforts to clean up abandoned property and overgrown lots in Crenshaw have made little progress in spite of widespread citizen support. The mayor who is so versed in his administrative powers with regard to personnel matters and chairing board meetings becomes reluctant when exercising them to clean up the town.
- Water, sewer, fire and police protection and cleanup – the main functions of of a municipal government – have become dysfunctional in Crenshaw. And that’s not because of whatever has been published in the newspaper.