Vicksburg Post. April 23, 2021.
Editorial: The process of getting state and federal help to fix roads takes too long
The scope and scale of the damage caused by historic rains in the early part of 2020 cannot be overstated.
In the early months of last year, Warren County was bombarded with one heavy rain after another, leading to historic rain totals, flooding and damage to streets and roads throughout the city and county that in many places remains today.
In recent weeks, city and county leaders have agreed to leverage general obligation bonds to pay for the millions of dollars in repairs needed.
And, while much of the projects will eventually be paid for through reimbursements from state and federal outlets, the work must be done long before the funds are recouped.
In both cases, the city and county have taken a painstaking approach to study and document every potential site of damage, identify every penny that can and will be reimbursed and made sure each “T” is crossed and every “I” dotted.
But the process is slow, far too slow, and that is through no fault of our local officials who have made every call and turned over every leaf.
In one meeting, District 1 Supervisor Ed Herring, colorfully expressing his frustration in the approval processes that are required by state and federal agencies before a project can begin to fix a damaged roadway, “I have been diagnosed with cancer, treated for cancer and cured of cancer in the time it has taken us to get these approvals,” he said.
Just last month, Herring completed his treatment for Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was diagnosed with cancer in September of 2020.
The city and county have amazing engineering partners who know and understand the system. They also know how frustratingly slow that system can be.
And the damage was not limited to just county and city roads and streets. The Vicksburg National Military Park continues to show the scars from mudslides and collapsed roads brought about by those heavy rains. Their process of getting those historic areas repaired and reopened to the public has been a harder road — the pun was intended — than city and county officials.
As county engineer Keith O’Keefe said in an attempt to abate understandable frustrations, he constantly reminds those who will listen that these are state and federal dollars that are coming to help and that we must work within the system they have to get those dollars approved.
Agreed, but the system is flawed if we are still 14 months removed from the disasters themselves and many of the projects remain in the approval process with damage repaired by temporary fixes.
Our state and federal leaders need to look at the processes in place and find ways to not only trim the red tape but to remove it altogether. Our city and county leaders have proven very adept at navigating the system, and have great relationships across the board.
If they are unable to get through the quagmire of bureaucratic sludge better than they have, then what hope do those cities and counties who do not have as good of leadership as we do have?
In short, the system needs to be fixed. Let’s just hope they don’t use the same steps they require others to take in fixing themselves or it may never be done.
(McComb) Enterprise-Journal. April 24, 2021.
Editorial: Emergency oversight
Legislators from different political parties don’t agree on much. But there is one area in which they are in bipartisan lockstep: zealously guarding their power.
A recent Associated Press article detailed how this tendency is playing out at statehouses around the country, where lawmakers are questioning protracted Covid-19 restrictions that have been imposed by governors and other members of the executive branch.
Frustrated by being cut out of the loop on the extent and duration of most of these executive orders, lawmakers have been fighting back now that the worst of the crisis appears to have waned.
Citing the count of the National Council of State Legislatures, the AP reported that lawmakers in 45 states have proposed more than 300 measures this year related to legislative oversight of executive actions not just during the pandemic but also during less rare emergencies.
This is occurring not only in states where the legislative majorities and the governor are of different parties. It’s also happening where they are under the same political banner.
The thrust of these reforms is to impose time limits on how long governors can declare a state of emergency before they have to seek the approval of their legislature to extend it. At least two such bills were filed in the recently completely legislative session in Mississippi, although neither survived.
Both sides in this debate make reasonable arguments.
Governors say it’s their responsibility and that of their appointees to manage crises. And it’s true that the executive branch can act more nimbly than the legislative one to manage the correct response to a emergency, whether it be a once-in-a-century pandemic or a more common natural disaster.
For example, during the Covid-19 crisis, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves made decisions, sometimes on a daily basis, as to where commerce would be curtailed, where masks would be mandated, where social gatherings would be restricted and where vaccines would be distributed. There’s no way a legislative body, with so many diverse opinions, could reach a quick decision on these types of time-sensitive matters.
When given this kind of overreaching power, however, there is a tendency by governors to abuse their discretion.
For example, Republican lawmakers in New Hampshire are irritated that Gov. Chris Sununu, a fellow Republican, has for the past year been renewing his emergency declaration every 21 days as a way to retain sole power over that authority.
There should be some middle ground. As a matter of practicality, governors should have the sole authority for a short-term emergency declaration. But when a crisis drags on indefinitely, as with the pandemic, lawmakers should have some input into whether circumstances dictate that the measures ordered by a governor be extended, relaxed or even possibly strengthened.
At what point such concurrence should be triggered is also arguable. Requiring legislative consent within a month or less is too soon. Three to six months sounds more like it.
If a governor foresees a state of emergency being necessary for longer than that, it should be incumbent on the chief executive not only to explain to the state’s citizens why this is the case — and also to get the citizens’ elected representatives to sign off on the extension.
From its very founding, this nation has been distrustful of unilateral decision-making. The Constitution puts a high priority on ruling by consensus, or at least by majority. Exceptions to this should be extraordinary and of as short a duration as is practicable.
(Columbus) The Dispatch. April 23, 2021.
Editorial: Tackling tough problems takes communities working together
When communities are suddenly gripped with intense or emotional issues, especially if it’s an outbreak of violent crime, the natural response often is for citizens and community leaders to gather for some type of town hall meeting as a first step toward tackling the problem.
Unfortunately, sometimes fear and anger — justified as they may be — take over those forums and they descend into a visceral airing of grievances where few solutions are presented or heard.
In Starkville on Thursday night, less than 48 hours after a shooting at the McKee Park basketball court, city leaders met at the park’s pavilion with more than 100 citizens to discuss how to make the area safer. What ensued was honest, measured dialogue and a model for what a community meeting should be. Though, one thing it could have used was a mic system so the speakers could be better heard — something those in attendance noted to city leaders several times.
This was no singing circle meeting either. Everyone who came wanted answers, and some leveled pointed criticisms at the mayor and other city officials.
Among the most prominent were questions of why these concerns haven’t already been addressed. Tuesday night’s shooting, which happened while youth league baseball games were being played on fields a few hundred yards away, was the second shooting incident at McKee Park since 2019. Park regulars complained of late-night crowds and drug use around the basketball court. The shooting, according to police, spawned from gambling at the court.
As one youth league baseball coach put it, the problem didn’t start Tuesday night.
City leaders came with proposed solutions in hand, ranging from utilizing the police department’s burgeoning reserve division for increased patrols at the park to adding surveillance cameras capable of reading license plates and using gates to bar road access to the property after 10 p.m.
For now, the basketball and tennis courts will be closed when rec league games are being played, a measure the parks and recreation department implemented Wednesday.
People may have left the meeting still angry or dissatisfied with those solutions, but everyone who wanted to speak had their chance, and the event was mutually respectful.
That’s what it takes to bring positive change to a bad situation. Another recent example we’ve seen was in Columbus, where Southside residents approached the police chief in a public forum asking for, among other things, more transparency, including broader access to crime data. The police department is working diligently to provide that information, which will be a great service to the entire community.
It’s refreshing to see examples in our area where citizens and leaders seem to be working together earnestly to deal with tough issues, rather than ignoring them or blaming each other for them.