Ferriday's Big, Bad Mess

Ferriday is a clown car of poor accounting

by Peter Rinaldi

Town of Ferriday finances have been in a mess for years, mostly because the town's tax base is not adequate to meet the obligations of minimal government. Additionally, town management, through several mayors and clerks, has not done a very good job of bookkeeping and accounting, with many deficiencies and adverse findings. The town was again late submitting its records to its CPA to publish an annual audit for 2021.

Some of the more recent problems include: 1) Old past due and non-collectible water accounts were still on the books. 2) Financial statements were not submitted to the state on time. 3) Customer utility deposits were short $22,000. The cause could be inaccurate bookkeeping, stolen or embezzled funds, or deposits may have been used illegally to pay town bills. The CPA noted the shortage but did not conduct a review to determine the exact cause or causes. 4) The town was not in compliance with state safe drinking water standards for more than 10 years, including a failure to pay state mandated fees, which amount to more than $45,000. 5) Town bookkeeping staff did not maintain reserve accounts required by issued bonds. Ferriday should have a debt service fund, reserve fund, and depreciation and contingencies funds noted in its books and balances kept as required by the bond covenants.

Ferriday's latest audit for the year ending 6/30/21 has not been released. But Mayor Rydell Turner pledged in the last audit that the five major deficiencies noted above would be corrected. The era of bad management continues to plague this poor town. Its citizens deserve better.

Facing Our Obligation

The era of low bonds and light sentences should come to an end

by Peter Rinaldi

I have always loved writing news and working on ads for my clients. I enjoyed 35+ years of publishing Miss-Lou Magazine in print and online. In more recent years, I’ve talked to many families, mostly moms and grand moms, who have lost kids and grandkids shot to death by vicious criminals. These tearful conversations have happened far too often since 2010.

The pain and suffering of these families never ends. And they often have to struggle against a justice system that really doesn’t care whether the murderers are punished or not.

There are many things to love or dislike about our communities. But the tragedy of our young men, women and teens shot and killed (nearly all are black young people) is so troubling.

I am haunted by the pictures of these kids and their families’ pleas for justice. I find myself going back to the stories and the photos of the murdered kids and again asking God to care for these victims and their crying families.

There should be a special place in this universe reserved for the killers with plenty of extra seating set aside for the uncaring law enforcement officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges who do such harm to our victims’ families.

This is one reason why I have been so adamant about politicians facing the facts about our crime wave. The politicians are supposed to be in charge of public safety. All shooter killers should get life without parole or the death penalty.

We should continue to advocate for no bonds and no suspended or light sentences for shooter killers. No exceptions.

Justice demands that we take these crimes seriously. We can’t bring the victims back to life. We can’t end the suffering of the families. But we can do what Mississippi and Louisiana law calls for. It is our obligation to do so.

Questions Worth Asking

Natchez is trying to build an image as a safe community

by Peter Rinaldi
 
If Natchez police took 150 illegal or stolen guns off the street in just six months, just how many people were arrested as a result? I haven’t noticed even 50 arrests for such. Did those with two or more guns get arrested on trafficking charges with a more serious penalty as provide by state law?
 
Did Natchez actually solicit its safety award rather than get the award for community safety? The answer to this question is yes. Natchez submitted an application for the award category to the Miss. Municipal League. The award was not given out of the blue because officials around the state overwhelmingly recognized how Natchez was doing so well with safety. The city filled out an application highlighting its success. And the League awards committee then chose Natchez.
 
While overall incidence of crime in Natchez reached a peak in the early 90s due to the crack epidemic, the city became more violent in recent years again. In 2018, Natchez had 12 murders in the city and 6 in the county. Property crime also increased dramatically. Since then, overall crime has lessened. In 2018, Natchez was in the bottom 1% of safe communities. Today, it is in the bottom 4%.
 
I received info from law enforcement last year, that city crime stats had been sanitized and improved at the direction of the former police chief. If true, that would mean the violent and property crime stats submitted to the FBI DOJ could be suspect. At this point, I have no way of verifying whether the allegation or stats are true or untrue.
 
But the whole affair with seizures, the award, and crime statistics makes me somewhat wary. The mayor has already announced that new crime stats will show Natchez is much safer. Are we supposed to accept this announcement as truth or just more political bull throwing? I don’t know.

Foolish Ideas Flourish

The city wants to build a parking garage.

by Peter Rinaldi

Natchez is a place where foolish ideas are championed and get political support, much to the harm of taxpayers.

Such is the idea of a parking garage at the Fry Building. There are only 28,000 people in the entire city and county. There aren’t enough cars as a result to come into downtown to justify the expense. People will not walk from a garage several blocks during rainy and cold winter weather or blazing hot summer weather to buy goods and services. The city already has had trouble maintaining and operating its buildings, including Martin School, the Depot, the convention center, the visitor center. The parking garage would cost millions to build and hundreds of thousands a year to operate and maintain. A garage would be an open invitation to our criminal class to hit up the locals and tourists who are dumb enough to park there. The city should not be funding a multi million dollar project that would benefit primarily the Eola Hotel.

As foolish as this boondoggle would be, it has great support, of course, from city hall, which sees projects like a parking garage or a vocational center at the tire plant as progress, versus the idiocy they really are.

But it’s really not surprising that such ideas prosper at city hall. This is the leadership that believes the way to spend more money is to bring rural properties into the city limits and tax the heck out of them, while providing poor services in return. Making lower income and middle class folks poorer is essential to progress.

If you asked most city residents whether they would want tax dollars spent on a parking garage or improved police and fire protection or better streets, how would they reply?

Natchez is a town that fosters public schemes and scams. The community has a long history of spending public dollars foolishly. The garage is simply the latest incantation of this behavior. Woe to taxpayers! You’re about to be scammed again!

What’s the Truth About Jobs?

The number of jobs has increased since the pandemic shutdown.

by Peter Rinaldi

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson has said repeatedly the economy is adding jobs. And since he had been elected, that’s true. During the pandemic, many Adams County firms shut down and laid off workers. Employment dropped about 1800 persons down to 8200. Now it’s back to 9700+. So you could say, we’ve added about 1,500 jobs since his election. However, the community has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. We were averaging 10,000+ jobs per month in 2019 and early 2020. We have not regained those levels yet. Each month our city and county add jobs. They also lose jobs as businesses trim employees. It’s probably unwise to look at monthly figures only, so we should look more carefully at the annual averages and not take the peaks or valleys too seriously.

The trend for Adams-Concordia has been to lose jobs overall over the last generation. The area has not recovered from the waning of the local oil industry nor the catastrophic job losses when IP and Fidelity Tire closed.

Since 2019, we’ve lost 500+ jobs in Adams County. But since Mayor Dan was elected, the jobs picture has brightened. But it would be hard to say we’re growing, because the long term stats don’t show that. We’re recovering.

A mayor’s first job is to help run and manage city government. Consensus opinion seems to indicate most people believe Gibson is doing a much better job as mayor than his last two predecessors. The mayor of Natchez is not in control of the Adams County economy. But what he and local government do can influence the direction. And so far, his work seems to have had a positive impact.

Gun Seizures and Fines

Criminals with stolen guns deserve jail time. That's what state law calls for.

by Peter Rinaldi
 
Police have been seizing the illegal guns of criminals when they are arrested. Natchez has been allowing criminals arrested for possessing stolen guns to plead to a misdemeanor and assess a $700 fine with no jail time. Criminals buy stolen guns to help them with their drug trade and breaking into homes. A $200 stolen gun on the street can be purchased for as little as $30. The criminal will not buy a gun at a store because it can be tracked back to him. And most felons can't own guns legally, of course.
 
Allowing criminals to plead down allows the criminal to escape without real consequences, as the fine is often paid by mommy, granny or auntie when he's picked up a second time for something else.
 
State law considers possession of a stolen gun to be a serious crime, with a 5 year jail sentence available. Possessing two stolen guns or a second conviction for the illegal possession of a gun calls for 15 years.
 
All Natchez-Adams County criminals arrested for possessing a stolen gun should be bound over to the grand jury, indicted, convicted on the felony charge and receive their 5 years in jail. No suspended sentences.
 
Stop going easy on criminals.

Fly Our Friendly Skies

The Natchez-Adams airport has the facilities for commercial air service. But the area is too lightly populated to make such service viable.

by Peter Rinaldi

The last air carrier to serve Natchez was Lone Star in the 1990s. It came and went in just a few months because Natchez could not supply enough travelers.

Natchez has declined since then, closure of the major industries, continuing decline of population and commercial activity. To endorse another sure to fail air service with local and federal tax dollars is foolhardy. I still am surprised that there is a herd of local politicians ready to dump as much as $400,000 in local tax monies into such an enterprise when public works, streets, police and fire are obviously higher priorities. Natchez air travelers will continue to use the Jackson and Baton Rouge airports as convenient. They will not pay extra for the connection from Natchez, especially when it’s so easy to go to Baton Rouge.

Passenger air has never worked in Natchez. The community is too small. As you might have noticed, even carriers in Jackson have difficulty making money. The capital city has lost both air carriers and flights over the years because it is too small to support those services.

Explain to me why taxpayers should subsidize this venture. Every air carrier that included Natchez lost money, did not get the traffic and shut down its Natchez route. And that’s when the community was much bigger. Passenger air to and from Natchez would still be doomed to fail.

Special Legal Technique

Circuit Judge Debra Blackwell

by Peter Rinaldi

One means of adjudicating a case allows a guilty defendant to escape punishment for a serious felony is the court's decision to "withhold a guilty plea." Under this pre-arranged deal between the judge, prosecutor and defense attorney, the defendant essentially admits he committed the crime, but the judge puts the plea aside and then orders the defendant to complete a series of tasks which can include restitution, community service, drug testing, drug treatment, payment of a fine or court costs, good behavior, etc. The terms are up to the judge's discretion, but usually are worked out in advance by the cooperation of the prosecutor and defense attorney. The judge can harden or soften the terms of the deal if he or she chooses. It's a great way for a defendant to escape real punishment for his crime and since the guilty plea is withheld, the defendant has no record. So he can more easily get a job or vote, for example.

This month, Judge Debra Blackwell, withheld the guilty plea of Dalarrian Hardin, of AdamsCounty, who was charged with and was ready to plead guilty to possession of a stolen weapon, which would normally earn him five years in jail, according to state law. Instead, he will have no jail time, no record, and is supposed to carry out the terms of Blackwell's adjudication for a five year probation.

Knowing that criminals use stolen weapons to commit violent and property crimes, does this adjudication put AdamsCounty citizens at increased risk? Does the crime admitted deserve probation or jail time?

During the same week, Blackwell sentenced an animal abuser to a suspended sentence and probation and a burglar to a suspended sentence and probation. In the three cases, the defendants will serve no additional time, unless they mess up their probation or terms of release.

I'm not picking on Debra, just illustrating the point that the usual lighter sentences often result in criminals committing new offenses and making our community a more dangerous place to live. The sentencing patterns practiced in justice, municipal and circuit court almost guarantee criminals will continue to commit more offenses and more serious offenses. Is this what the citizens of our county want?

Solution to Ferriday's Crime Surge

Concordia Parish Sheriff David Hedrick

by Peter Rinaldi

Ferriday's upsurge in crime has been noticed by nearly everyone locally. Shootings, robberies, thefts, break-ins, much of the mayhem caused by the drug trade. Recently, Ferriday suffered a governmental shutdown because aldermen failed to pass a budget. Concordia deputies stepped in and increased patrols in the town to replace Ferriday officers who were not on duty.

CPSO made more than 20 arrests in just a few days. Some of those arrests were for serious felonies. Sheriff David Hedrick noted the increase in arrest activity. He then went before the Ferriday Town Council and said he'd like to give the aldermen a program for improved public safety shortly. While the sheriff did not mention specifics, town leaders were open to the idea.

While Vidalia is known for having a safe community, Ferriday and Natchez are not. If the sheriff and the Ferriday Council could adopt a program that would decrease crime in the short term, it would be a true blessing for our area, We hope Ferriday will listen closely to Hedrick's ideas.

Ferriday being so small and the number of criminals likewise small, CPSO, with its larger available resources and staffing, could be of benefit to the town. Our idea would be to end the Ferriday Police Department altogether, bring its staff under the CPSO umbrella, and let the deputies use the Ferriday police station as satellite HQ. Ferriday leaders would then allocate its police department funding to CPSO to cover costs.

We don't know what Hedrick's plan is at all. However, the problem of fighting crime in Ferriday is much less than the problem in Natchez, CPSO has done a good job over the years. A more intensive law enforcement effort would be supported by the community.

It's certainly worth a try for a three to five year basis, subject to review and termination of the arrangement at the end of the initial period, if things don't work out.

Thanks to Sheriff Hedrick for opening this discussion. Ferriday needs more help.

Is Natchez Winning with Dan?

Dan Gibson is mayor of Natchez

by Peter Rinaldi

It’s right to conclude Mayor Dan Gibson has done a very good to excellent job as leader of Natchez in his first year and a half in office. He is not Moses leading us to the Promised Land, but his zeal and energy are proof that one good man can make a difference. There have been and continue to be a host of governmental initiatives spearheaded by Dan. His strength and direction have overcome the evident weakness on the Board of Aldermen.

I am also glad that Dan and the aldermen have finally awakened to the threat on ongoing violence and property crime. Previous administrations said the problem didn’t exist or just ignored the reality. Projects like the Eola rehab and the Under the Hill docks and road improvements will be of major impact. The recent announcement of Commerce St. Improvements will begin the process of bringing a very blighted block back to life. The new recreation improvements are also a big deal. While I am still very concerned about the city’s response to violence and whether the actions taken will be of good effect, city leaders, including Dan, grudgingly acknowledge crime is not under control.

Dan is, of course, full of happy talk. But there is good reason for voters to be happier with the results of this administration than those than of the recent past.

Crime Dominates the News

Natchez crime is out of control. Shootings are rampant.

by Peter Rinaldi

Mayor Dan Gibson lashed out against The Democrat, saying news coverage of crime scares away tourists Unfortunately, Natchez is in the bottom 5 percent of safe cities in the US because of the prevalence of violent and property crime. City government has ignored crime and let the police department fall apart over the last four administrations. Criminals, judges, prosecutors, police, MDOC and city leaders have all played a role in this self destruction. Actually, I’m surprised The Democrat has not reported the crime wave more often. I’ve written dozens of stories and editorials on the growth of crime in the last 16 years. I’m glad officials are finally waking up to the impact of crime. Because before they’ve been in total denial.

Finally, after four administrations, the Rip Van Winkles at Natchez City Hall have woken up to our devastating crime wave and how it is destroying our community. Changes in policing, prosecution, bonding and sentencing are required. The thugs have us by the throat. Now it’s time to turn it around.

Mayor Dan Gibson said he, the aldermen and the police chief are taking the violent crime wave seriously. They’ve hired 16 police officers in the last few months, started a new SWAT unit and a second unit to stop and seize the flow and use of illegal weapons. Those few improvements are welcome. But it will take much more to batter the crime wave and put the thugs on the defensive.

Wanted: Tough Judges and Prosecutors

Adams County justice is easy on criminals

by Peter Rinaldi

If you ask me why Adams County judges are so lenient, I believe they set low bonds and give out light and suspended sentences to get the votes of defendants’ families. As good and practicing liberal Democrats, they embrace the philosophy that criminals are victims of society. They don’t understand that some people and many criminals want to steal, rob, attack or shoot because they are truly evil and have no respect for the law or the Ten Commandments. The result is anarchy is promoted from the bench. And that’s just what we have here in Adams County.

Natchez-Adams County suffers from what I call the Dub Syndrome. Judges and prosecutors believe that deep down, many of our drug dealers, shooters and sex predators have a heart of gold. That’s why low bonds, light sentences and plea bargains are just. The thugs have hearts of gold. Sure they do.

I have heard just one critical comment from a Natchez-Adams supervisor or alderman about all the plea bargains, low bonds and light sentences awarded to our criminals who commit violent and property crimes. Our officials are legally tasked with protecting for and funding public safety, but they won’t lift a finger or speak a sentence about some of the reasons we are so plagued by criminals and repeat offenders.

The criminals are primarily responsible for our crime wave. But prosecutors and judges are also responsible for their soft response.

No more hugs and teddy bears for criminals. No more slaps on the wrist.

Adams County Supervisor Kevin Wilson criticized DA Shameca Collins when she failed to file a prompt bond revocation for Michael "Traedo" Thomas. Thomas had been serving a five year sentence for aggravated assault and was released early by MDOC. He was arrested again in Dec. 2021 for being a felon in possession of a weapon and again released on bond, this time by city court, Then Thomas allegedly shot and killed a man near Holiday Apartments in late December. Collins said she filed for bond revocation as early as possible. Thomas had pledged to kill people who crossed him in his music videos that were posted on YouTube.

When Collins ran for District Attorney, she was endorsed by and accepted money from the Color of Change PAC, which its website says is a 'defund the police' lobbying group and says jury selection is rigged in favor of white supremacy. George Soros has helped fund the PAC with a $1 million donation. Color of Change said it sent out 9,000 texts to black voters in the Natchez area to encourage them to vote for Collins.

Change is needed.

Satire: For Whom the Bills Toll

A downtown toll both?

by Peter Rinaldi

Is a temporary toll both on Franklin at Commerce St. a good idea? Walkers $1. Cars $2. Tourists on foot or in cars $3.

Ward 7 Alderman Thaddeus Poindexter said having a toll booth downtown will bring in so much revenue the city will not have to annex county properties and raise people’s taxes. Poindexter said, “The city has to grow, meaning we need to get more taxes since the population and jobs have declined.”

He said that Mayors Byrne and West have endorsed the toll booth plan. When I countered and said voters threw Byrne and West out of office because they had lost touch with voters and taxpayers, he smiled. “That was then and this is now. Even if their ideas were bad then, we need the money now. We should support progress,” Poindexter concluded.

A federal DOT grant will pay for the toll booth if the city staffs it with transgender workers.

Equal Treatment of Politicians

Equality of treatment is fundamental to good government

by Peter Rinaldi

The essence of equality is that you treat people based on their behavior regardless of a person’s race. For decades, I’ve critiqued the sometimes stupid and corrupt behavior of white politicians, not because they were white, but because their actions were not in the public interest. Today, now that black politicians are more numerous in Adams, Jefferson and Wilkinson counties, I give them the same treatment, if they deserve it. To do otherwise, to defer and stay quiet, would be racist. We’ve got to recognize that’s it’s ok for black citizens to criticize the actions and policies of white and black officials. And likewise white citizens can criticize the actions of white and black officials as well. To criticize those corrupt, ineffective and stupid actions is not racist but necessary and a civic duty.

When politicians in Natchez-Adams County lie about progress, there is acceptance. It’s not that you hear another lie. It’s more like the jelly in a jelly donut. You know it’s going to be there no matter what, and you eat it because it tastes good.

But when you hear so many lies, it’s like eating too many jelly donuts. You get sick to your stomach from all that sugar. Calling out the lies and truth-telling is the job of all citizens.  Let the politicians know you know what's really going on.

Remembering a Natchez Hero

Dr. and Mrs. J.R. Todd Jr.

by Peter Rinaldi

I was thinking of the late Dr. J. R. Todd Jr. today. He and I were friends for more than 30 years. I got to know him through local Democratic politics in the late 1970s. He operated a family practice, medical clinic and pharmacy on MLK Street near Cathedral School. Dr. Todd's clinic helped thousands of people over the years with very low cost care. You may or may not know that some poor people are not on Medicaid and use cash to pay for their care. Whether you were poor or rich, Dr. Todd's clinic helped so many families. People needed his professional help.

One advantage of the clinic in those long ago days was that you could charge some of your services. If you owed $60, you could pay $30 cash or check now and $30 cash or check later, a billing system that has gone the way of the dinosaur.

I was sitting in Todd's office one day, around 1980. We were talking about politics when his pharmacy clerk called him on the phone, He was sitting at his desk.

Clerk: Mrs. Brown is here to pick up her prescription. She paid her clinic bill. But she doesn't have the $18 for her medicine.

Todd: Then charge her $11.

Clerk: All she has is $5.

Todd: I'm not going to take her last $5. Just let her charge $5 and she can pay us the next time she comes back. (pause) And don't tell my wife about this.

Then he starts laughing his famous Dr. Todd chuckle. He knew he would in trouble with his wife, Fredericka, with his little extra charity.

His wife often served as financial manager of the clinic and she was much better at managing the clinic's money than Doc. Dr. Todd was always donating, discounting, helping people in need and funding local projects. Mrs. Todd, also kind-hearted, was always a little more concerned about her husband's free spending and lackadaisical money management. She realized more than her husband that the clinic needed to continue to make money so husband and wife could continue to pay bills and help use some of their profits to champion local projects, programs and charities. Doc didn't worry about the details. That was Fredericka's job.

Dr. Todd was well known for his friendly and outgoing personality. He was a smart and positive person with a great sense of humor, who laughed easily and often. He believed it was part of his mission to help the people of our community and make Natchez-AdamsCounty a better place to live. He was appreciated and well-loved for his dedication.

Many years later, I drove past the clinic on MLK and noticed it was closed. It was the end of an era. I didn't know why it closed. I knew Doc's health and weight were troubling at times and affected his ability to work and get around. The closure was very sad for me. I had spent a lot of time with him over the decades. A chapter in life was gone forever.

Dr. and Mrs. J.R. Todd Jr. did so much for the people of Natchez, mostly quietly and behind the scenes. But you could always count on Dr. Todd to help fund local projects.

I miss him greatly. I've known many good men in Natchez and a few great men. Dr. Todd was one of the few great men, for sure.

Fredericka Todd passed in 2016 and Doc in 2019. Please say a prayer for them.

Memories of Trinity School

The closure of Trinity was a major loss for Natchez.

by Peter Rinaldi

There are always big changes in life and in the life of a town. One of those was the closure of Trinity Episcopal School in Natchez. I had the privilege of coaching football under Jack Benson and John Echols’ leadership in the early 80s. I was impressed with the school. Good students. Good teachers. Good parents. The school was able to provide an excellent foundation for so many kids for more than 45 years. And while the school eventually closed due to the declining economics and change in demographics, Trinity School and its supporters remain close to my heart. There is sadness when you drive past the campus now, because of good times past. But there is also contentment knowing that the Trinity Family did such a good job educating children for so many years.

Starting in 1971, the school had at its peak of more than 400 sudents in its glory years. Closing in 2018, enrollment and support had dwindled. But happy and now bittersweet memories remain. 

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Publisher: Peter Rinaldi    

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