Natchez History and Tourism

by Peter Rinaldi 

My first experience studying Mississippi goes back to 1972-1973, when I was in college in Maine and studied black history in Mississippi during the Civil War and Reconstruction extended into the Jim Crow era 1861-1890. I had never lived south of Connecticut when I actually moved to Natchez in 1978. What surprised me when I got here is that tourism was so successful based on an anti-historical and romanticized view of the era of the planter society pre-Civil War.

The hoopla and hoopskirts, Confederate uniforms and fancy Pilgrimage dresses seemed to satisfy the tourists. By the mid-1990s, it was obvious that tourists’ desires were changing. The bus tours had fallen away due to overregulation and competition from other Southern markets. There was a need to deal with that change, which included a realistic view of the history itself. That was not provided. It was still hoopskirts, Confederate uniforms and pageants forever! So the pageants began to fail, Fall Pilgrimage started falling apart and even Spring Pilgrimage declined.

It wasn’t until the 2000’s that Natchez decided it might throw in some black history, and that was done haphazardly, without much money and done by people who actually had practically no knowledge of our black history. But of course, while history can be separated into segments for study, such as planter society or slavery history by itself, it actually occurs in one big jumble all together at once and the different segments are interdependent and interrelated.

There are three major occurrences in travel in the 1990’s and 2000’s that affected Natchez that did not bring rewards. First, Americans got incredibly wealthy as a society, which meant there was much more travel with that growth in income. Second, Natchez replaced its outmoded and antiquated hotel facilities with new, modern hotels that were equal to competitor cities. And third, many of the old homes changed ownership. Rich outsiders came in, spent millions and millions on redoing their homes and gardens. Those properties are now in the best state they’ve ever been in. But still the tourism isn’t what it used to be. Why is that? I would suggest that Natchez had been slow to tell its real historical story to travelers, which should include the heyday of planter society, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow era and even the civil rights struggle of the 1960’s.   

People and tourists want the real deal, real history. And the historical experience should also be interactive. While much of the U.S. has developed interactive historical experiences, Natchez generally has not. There is good reason why our cemetery tour with locals acting as the costumed persons buried there is so successful and yet guided tours of fancy houses are actually seeing fewer and fewer numbers.  

Also, we have segregated the history experience. White folks generally run the whitey Pilgrimage and black folks generally run the black history offerings, with the real history often lost. That’s one thing the Natchez National Park does not do. And it’s one reason why the Park is the number one draw in town. But as you know, the locals and the National Park don’t really work together. It’s almost as if they are in separate worlds.  

As witness to our current predicament, we’ve had no visitors or welcome center operating for nearly a year. The new Depot Center is open just six days a week and there is practically no signage or online presence to announce its operation. The garden clubs, their tour agencies and Visit Natchez do not coordinate their message or activity. And the new emphasis on black history is done in such amateurish fashion to be inconsequential. And the National Park Service continues to operate in its own universe. While the fixes to these problems can be debated, the problems at the very least, are more than obvious. As a minor suggestion, I would venture that the Natchez visitor experience should be based on actual history versus fantasy and that the historical experience must be interactive not just passive.

Whatever Happens Just Happens? Natchez History and Tourism

Truth Lounge

by Peter Rinaldi

The Natchez Planning Commission will discuss Truth Lounge at its meeting this week in light of a shooting that occurred at a nearby parking lot during bar hours. The Franklin at South MLK area has become a hang out spot since the lounge opened. More than a dozen shots were fired and one person wounded recently. Law enforcement has ignored loitering, drug use, illegal drinking, trespassing, illegal parking, noise violations , blocking roadways, and the area has turned into a late night festival for weekend bad behavior. 

The city had generally taken a hands off policy since the bar owners filed suit against public officials. The Planning Commission can put restrictions on the bar’s operations and the aldermen can review, adopt or reject the Commission’s rulings. 

During the Grennell and Gibson administrations, the mayor and aldermen haven’t done that much about fighting the violent crime wave other than change police chiefs four times in eight years. General policy has been the same at Truth Lounge as in other parts of the city: Whatever happens, just happens. 

Some city residents claim that the black-owned bar with mostly black patrons has been singled out for unfair and racist treatment. But actually, the incidence of stabbings and shootings in Natchez-Adams County bars have occurred in bars that have a majority black customer base. 

Both Sheriff Patten and Police Chief Green have previously expressed their concerns about law breaking and violence at and near Truth. The sheriff and chief are both black and unlikely to discriminate against black entrepreneurs and their customers. But both their departments have scaled back their enforcement near the bar following the filing of lawsuits. 

When Judge Debra Blackwell was asked to intervene to protect public safety, she declined to do so, instead allowing the city and bar owners to work out any solution they saw fit. 

As a result of the passive attitude toward safety, crowd misbehavior has made it difficult for businesses near Truth to operate safely. And a number of residents noticed bullet holes in their vehicles and bricks or woodwork struck by bullets after the last violent outbreak. 

While many defenders of Truth say the owners are not responsible for how people misbehave outside the bar itself, there were very few incidents of law breaking in the last decade on upper Franklin and MLK toward the fire station, that is, until the bar opened and the big crowds arrived.

Prosecutorial and Judicial Improvement

Bad guys catching it

by Peter Rinaldi

There’s been a dramatic change for the good since Tim Cotton has come on as DA and Danny Barber has returned as Justice Court Judge. Tim is spearheading the indictments of scores of serious felony criminals who have been in jail or out on bond. Nearly 200 have been indicted this year so far. 

Most of these guys are repeat offenders, many charged with shootings, killings and sex crimes. The volume of work coming from the DA’s office has been magnificent, especially in comparison to his lousy predecessor. Over the course of the next year, I expect many of these indictments to be resolved in trials and convictions. 

As Justice Court Judge, Danny oversees the setting of bond for felony offenders, binding them over to the grand jury to see if the offenders should be indicted. Danny had been setting appropriate bonds and no bonds for some, based on community threat, flight risk and the arrest and conviction history of the accused. The laxity of his predecessor is history. Danny is responding to the threats caused by repeat felony offenders. 

Both men deserve credit for this dramatic shift in performance from their offices. As a result, we’re safer. The news is good.

Adams County Audit Hits Circuit Clerk and Tax Collector

Accounting problems

by Peter Rinaldi

Bridgers CPAs of Vicksburg was not able to finish the Adams County 2022 audit on time, being more than six months late, because the county did not collect its data and pass it to the CPAs in a timely fashion. Findings included as follows: 

1. The county did not always follow state purchasing rules. The county paid a few invoices without the proper documentation. In response to the error, supervisors appointed a new purchasing clerk. 

2. Purchases from the road department were authorized by persons other than the road manager. The county says it will correct this problem. 

3. Bank reconciliations were out of balance by small amounts. Circuit Clerk Eva Givens had assigned a lower level clerk to handle this, and that clerk was unable to figure out why there were discrepancies. Additionally, the fee account was not reconciled for an entire month. 

4. Circuit Clerk Givens did not deposit excess funds into the county's general fund on a timely basis. Givens failed to make her annual financial report on time. Once filed, she also claimed an expense of $16,805 that was not allowable. Unfortunately, it was a lower level clerk that made the reporting error. Additionally, there were math errors in computing retirement contributions. The CPAs said Givens should re-file the report with the appropriate corrections. Givens did not respond to the problems herself. But the unnamed clerk said she would correct the errors. The CPAs pointed out that these statute responsibilities belong to Givens herself as the elected official. 

5. Tax Collector Terrence Bailey showed an overage of $526,000. The Tax Collector kept his own manual accounting system on spreadsheets, instead of using the Delta software used by county offices for many years. He did not know how to use the software, despite being in office for four years. As a result, it was not possible for the CPAs to verify his accounting procedures and tallies as necessarily accurate. The Tax Collector's Office has repeatedly not performed bank reconciliations since 2018. The audit showed he did not compare reconciled cash with booked cash. And the amounts were different. Additionally, the lack of accurate bookkeeping made it uncertain as to whether Adams County, the City of Natchez and Natchez-Adams School District got the proper amounts due. The CPAs concluded the lack of controls over cash could result in the loss or misappropriation of funds. The CPAs did not feel confident that the stated cash figures from Bailey's office were accurate or could be substantiated, so they left those figures out of their report. Bailey responded saying he has passed on all collections to the various entities required, including state and local. He arranged for Delta consultants to come and teach him about the software in Fall 2023. Whether that training was successful is unknown. And whether he has corrected the glaring bookkeeping and cash control problems is unknown.

Natchez Mall and Local Retail

Outlook assessed

by Peter Rinaldi

While quite a few folks expressed concern on my FB pages about the mall’s idea to convert the interior of the mall to a storage facility, such a sale of the property and conversion is unlikely and would be very expensive. Natchez being such a mini market, the need for such large storage is questionable. It is more likely that the mall will remain as is, with a few stores operating that have their own individual outside entrances. Tabani had been more fortunate than some malls. It has been able to lease some space, whereas many malls have closed completely.   

The retail prospects of Natchez have declined precipitously in the past generation, as we’ve lost 25 percent of our population and approximately 30 percent of our residents are living below the poverty line. The possibilities for growth of retail products and services for middle and upper income consumers here are very slim. Most entrepreneurs and chain operations want to locate in communities that are growing quickly not declining. And the near “destruction” of the mall, Tracetown and Magnolia Mall are signs that the retail market is declining. Fortunately, there are a few companies, like dollar stores, that like poor communities, since poor customers are their target consumers.   

Downtown has again become more important, as several dozen local entrepreneurs have opened in the last three years. Most will blow away in the normal 3-5 year business cycle, but quite a few of their buildings have been rehabbed and will find new business tenants when the first crop plays out.

A Year Remembered

The crime abyss

by Peter Rinaldi

Natchez-Adams County occasionally places criminal penalties of time to be served or fines to be paid for commission of misdemeanors. 

But very often, cases are dismissed, remanded to the files or suspended sentences awarded. Sometimes a small fine is assessed, but with it comes some sort of deal. The penalties actually earned are watered down. A pat on the fanny and let go. Shoplifting, drug possession, theft, simple assault. Misdemeanor offenders are filling city and justice court, with many of the same faces seen year in, year out. 

Worse, felonies are often plead down to misdemeanors. Crimes that should bring 3-10 years in jail are given the magic eraser, plead down to suspended sentences and small fines. The plea downs include serious violent offenses, sex crimes, shootings. 

If you ask why crime is bad, it’s because prosecutors and judges are played by defense attorneys. The judges and prosecutors are weak and ineffectual and perfectly willing to see crime committed at its current pace. A high rate of crime proves they are necessary and important and deserve the high and outlandish pay they make. 

As to defense attorneys, there are many who will sacrifice their integrity for a buck. They will most assuredly lie to the court about their client’s behavior, even if the perp is a killer. No one forces the defense attorney to lie and scheme for money. He does so willingly and is rewarded by the system for doing so. 

If you ask me who is causing the biggest problems, I’m not sure it’s the criminals. When judges and prosecutors handle 500 cases and make sweetheart deals on more than half their cases, who is making sure that we have repeat crime? If you don’t prosecute, convict and sentence appropriately misdemeanor offenders, you get more misdemeanors and more felonies. A sorry and incapable justice system that uses the magic eraser on felonies will most assuredly get more thugs running rampant around town. More violence and more property crimes are guaranteed. 

Nothing says incompetence like letting shooters bond out on very low bonds who have a history of felony arrests and convictions. This is insanity. And it happens all the time in Natchez-Adams County. 

Really, it’s just a few people in charge of this mess. Two justice court judges, two circuit judges, a municipal judge and prosecutors, county prosecutor, district attorney and assistant district attorneys. These officials and the defense attorneys that slug through court are going to determine how safe or unsafe Natchez-Adams County is and will be.

I wish it wasn’t this way. Watching our community slide into an abyss of crime 2010-2023 has been heartbreaking. But when incompetents are elected or appointed, this is the result. Sure as shootin’. Here’s to a 2024 that’s more resolved to convict and sentence the criminals who plague us.

Enshrined Failure

Public school kids deserve a better education

by Peter Rinaldi

In the past two years, nearly 20 states have dropped testing requirements for graduating students, including Mississippi. Why? Because the students would fail the tests if forced to take them. Mississippi has moved to a phony grading system where school districts that are failing their students can still earn a B or C. Natchez has a grade of B, but only 10-35 percent of its students are proficient in math or language arts, depending on the grade and subject. 

The real purpose of our public education system and our government schools is to reward employees with good pay, benefits and retirement not educate students. 

If you want a quality education in Natchez, especially if your kids are in elementary or middle school, choose ACCS or Cathedral. If your kids are smart enough to get into Natchez Early College at Co-Lin, they’ll get a good education. Otherwise, put your kids at ACCS or Cathedral. Don’t be foolish and believe the lies told by the Natchez School District as to quality. It has enshrined failure.

Treating the Mentally Ill

Mississippi's mental health treatment crisis

by Peter Rinaldi

Finding the mentally ill appropriate healthcare has always been a problem in Mississippi. Most of these patients lack good medical insurance or financial resources to pay for appropriate care. They need specialized care for their drug, alcohol and other mental illness problems. As a result, the underfunded in-patient care state system almost always has a waiting list. Chancery courts sometimes order the mentally ill to be housed temporarily or not so temporarily in jail, waiting for an opening at a state funded or private care facility. 

The cost for 30 days of in patient care can run $50,000-$100,000 per patient. And the support system needed to start an-inpatient center is more than $2-4 million minimum. So it’s impossible for small counties to start a new in patient mental health care facility. The only county that could actually afford a new center would be Hinds. So we’re more or less stuck with the system we have. 

The Legislature has never properly funded mental health care, either in-patient or outpatient. It never will. 

And mental health is differentiated just like other healthcare. We don’t treat cancer patients the same way we treat diabetics or those with kidney failure. Likewise, the treatment for alcohol and drug addicted persons is different than those with schizophrenia or patients suffering from what we used to call a nervous breakdown. This differentiation increases costs. 

Without proper funding from the state for facilities and programs, continuing inadequate private insurance coverage and the low to moderate incomes of most Mississippi families, it is a problem that simply won’t be fixed. 

I am reminded of the example of a family very close to me, whose mother suffered from both alcohol and drug addiction. The hospital in-patient and outpatient treatment costs out-of-pocket to help the mom regain control of her life and restore her mental and physical health was more than $200,000. 

The problems are great and the resources less so. The Legislature would need to appropriate $100 million a year to begin to tackle this problem. And insurance companies would have to pay more than 80 percent of a 30 day treatment plan less deductibles. Neither is going to occur. 

So some mentally ill patients will end up in jail.

Did the Trash Contract Include Bid Rigging?

Supervisors Warren Gaines Sr., Angela Hutchins and Ricky Gray

by Peter Rinaldi

Adams County supervisors wanted to award their civil engineering and trash contracts to minority contractors. Political decisions. When they did so, the cost to taxpayers rose dramatically.

It turns out that the effort by Supervisors Gaines, Hutchins and Gray to “do the good deed” and help a black contractor backfired when they chose Metro Disposal from Metairie for trash pickup, Metro did a lousy job here and in other communities they served, like Slidell and New Orleans. While other black contractors did a good job in New Orleans, Metro trucks were not maintained and broke down frequently. The company did not pick up trash as scheduled, often skipping some residences for two weeks or more. It was the same story here in Adams County. 

Eventually, service in Adams completely came to an end when Metro ran out of money, and the company filed for bankruptcy. Reorganized as United Infrastructure, the former Metro owners were given a 90 day emergency Adams County contract, but this time at more than double the normal monthly price. 

There was also the question of whether the bid was rigged by the three majority supervisors to give Metro the emergency contract. Supervisors could have offered a long term contract to attract many more potential bidders and to lower the price per month to households and the county. But they purposely offered a short term contract, so that Metro-United could be the winning bidder. 

And of course, the company is still doing a mediocre job, not running complete routes and missing pickups. 

Supervisors Middleton and Wilson have tried to point out to their fellow supervisors that the current approach to trash pickup is costing way too much, as Adams County now has the highest trash pickup rates in state plus the service issues. 

Supervisors Gaines, Hutchins and Gray haven’t dealt with budgeting the extra cost either, deferring the issue to after the elections. But the extra $600,000 has to be budgeted and paid. Trash bills to homeowners should have been more than doubled by now. But no change in billing has been made because four of the five supervisors have election opponents. 

Right now, the majority three seem perfectly content to allow both county and city residents and taxpayers to pay for this error. As of now, city residents are paying for their own trash pickup through their water bills. And city residents are also subsidizing their neighbors out in the county trash pickup through property taxes. Talk about unfair. And probably illegal. 

In past, the state and courts have ruled that utility and trash services had to be paid by the people who actually get those services. 

Please explain to me why in-city residents on Pearl or MLK Street should pay their own trash pickup and also subsidize out-in-the-county trash pickup in Cloverdale, Kingston and Cranfield. 

This whole rotten mess shows how foolish the black majority supervisors are. In an effort to bend over backwards to help a minority contractor, the three supervisors are actually harming thousands of black homeowners in Adams County by providing the most expensive and lousy trash service available. 

All three, Warren Gaines, Angela Hutchins and Ricky Gray, have made statements in the past about how difficult it is to be poor in Adams County. Well, the three are really putting it to those poor folks now. Big time.

Expect the Possible

Mayors Butch Brown, Darryl Grennell and Dan Gibson

by Reter Rinaldi

Natchez mayors and their citizens are always caught in the same trap: expecting a newly elected mayor to lead the community to the prosperity that never happens. What does happen is that by the end of the mayor’s term, many citizens become fed up with the lack of progress and the mayor loses support. This was undoubtedly true during the terms of Mayors West and Middleton as well as the more current Mayors Brown, Grennell and perhaps even Gibson. 

Here’s what occurs. The candidate wants to be elected. So he offers hope, the promise of positive change and economic revival. When the economic revival fails to arrive, the mayor tries to convince his subjects that things are in fact moving forward economically. But citizens quickly notice the mayor’s mistakes, crookedness and lies, and sooner or later, he is overwhelmed by his errors. Revival doesn’t occur and support evaporates.

The biggest error occurs right in the beginning of the campaign, when the mayoral candidate promises to turn around the course of 40 years of history that includes the decline of the wildcat oil industry, the destruction of our manufacturing base, population outflow and a demographic shift from a majority middle class white community to a majority poor black community.

None of our mayors are God or Moses. The Israelites are not being led to a land of milk and honey. 

Instead, citizens should be looking at whether the mayor does a good job running city government as an administrator. Is he wise, careful with money, hard working, honest and ethical? 

Past, current and future mayors face the same core problem. Natchez does not generate enough tax revenues to meet the basic needs of the city, including police, fire, public works, streets, lights, landscaping, tourism, seniors, transportation, facilities maintenance, city employees and community development. 

Unable to meet these needs, many mayors choose to borrow excessively and lie profusely to maintain their position. The result is always the same. The mayor is ejected from office and a new mayor chosen. The cycle begins anew. 

Perhaps Gibson will break this trend. His supporters are counting on his political skills, hard work, energy, bull throwing, butt kissing and borrowed money for big projects to change the course of events. 

To me, Gibson is the agent of change, meaning he is the mayor most likely to give us the management expertise we want to run the city bureaucracy better than it has been in the last 40 years. But I do not expect a successful economic revival led by him. 

And if he and his supporters insist on such revival, he will ultimately fail and lose his seat. 

What Natchez needs to stabilize and grow is a population that increases because there are more jobs paying higher wages than in past. That’s not going to happen. No mayor can make that happen. And actually, recent history of the last 10 years shows Natchez rapidly declining and the gap increasing between our low household incomes and the state average. 

Through the last five mayors, we’ve declined precipitously as a community. And hopes, promises, bull throwing, schemes, scams or good projects are not going to counter the path we’re on. 

So if we want to save Dan and Dan wants to save Dan, then we must adjust our unrealistic aims and concentrate on the things we can actually do with our very limited means. I’m saying we should break the cycle of failure that actually goes back to Tony Byrne’s last term, when the economy started to get shaky. 

The obvious questions are, “What should we do now and in the short term to improve city management and services without breaking the bank and borrowing huge sums? How can we, through our modest means, improve government and quality of life in town for a community that is increasingly majority black, poor and lower middle class?” 

We should break the cycle of disillusion and failure. We should change the way we think and the way city government is led.

NATCHEZ WATER WORKS:  Office Hours: Mon-Fri 8a-4p, 601-445-5521 . After Hours, Call 601-445-5521, Then Press #8. We are committed to providing safe, high quality water services to our community, while maintaining a standard of excellence in customer service and environmental conservation. 150 North Shields Lane.

Searching for the Truth

Crime numbers should be reported

by Peter Rinaldi

Incidents of crime are normally reported to the DOJ annually on a voluntary basis. Participation in crime reporting makes it more likely a city will get crime fighting grants from the feds.

Natchez PD had been tallying the numbers on violent and property crimes since the 1990s. For whatever reasons, the city stopped submitting those statistics at the end of 2020. There is no public info available from DOJ on Natchez for 2021 and 2022. And the PD has not made public any info it might be keeping privately.

I received repeated information from inside NPD that the 2019 and 2020 statistics were adjusted to make the city look safer. However, I was unable to confirm whether the stats were lies or truthful and simply decided to use the phrase “could be incomplete, subject to confirmation.”

It’s unfortunate that the city has decided to keep citizens in the dark. I use crime mapping software to mark where felonies occur and are reported. But I don’t have access to all the info the city and county have on calls and arrests. 

For 2022-2023, it appears that violent crime is increasing once again and that property crime may actually be decreasing a bit. But I’m not sure-sure and would need more police and sheriff’s data to come to a firm conclusion. 

When stats aren’t readily available, it allows law enforcement and politicians to lie about what’s happening. For example, Chief Daughtry claimed he had taken 150 guns off the street. But there was no arrest record to back up that wild claim. Fantasy and baloney. Bull. 

Since citizens pay for their government with taxes, they have a right to know what’s going on. Keeping accurate crime stats, participating in DOJ reporting is normal and necessary for cities of our size and larger. We should know precisely where we stand. 

Of course, if crime is getting worse or much worse, then it’s in the interest of law enforcement and the politicians to hide the facts, so they can keep their cushy jobs and mislead the peons. But it’s not in the community interest to obscure or fail to disclose the truth.

Stolen Firearms and Cute Judge Tricks

Judges should wise up

by Peter Rinaldi

One of the aspects of our local crime problem is that guns are stolen from homes and vehicles during break-ins are then sold to juveniles and young adults for prices of $35-$100. Stolen guns aren’t often traceable to the offender but often traceable to the original owner of the gun, who has usually purchased the firearm legally through a store backed by paperwork. 

Unless the perp leaves good fingerprints on the stolen gun and has a felony record, the stolen gun is the perfect tool to use in a crime, shooting, a drug deal, confrontation with an enemy or another break-in. 

Mississippi Legislators know gun trafficking and illegal possession of guns contribute to an explosion in crime. So the law says selling or transferring a stolen gun or possessing a stolen gun can earn the perp up to five years in jail. And any crime in which a gun is used can carry a five year enhancement or five year additional penalty. 

What are Natchez-Adams County judges doing? Repeatedly, they are letting those who possess stolen guns go free, no jail time, sometimes a suspended sentence, sometimes a small or moderate fine. So do the perps learn their lesson? No, what they learn is the court is weak, the judge is a fool and the felon gets away with the illegal possession. The criminal is saved from justice to commit crime at a future date. 

Another cute trick pulled by a Natchez judge occurred this week. The 18-year-old before the court did indeed possess a stolen gun. Instead of finding him guilty or binding the accused over to the grand jury, the judge retired the case to the file for one year. At the end of a year, if the young man keeps his record clean, then the case will be dismissed. 

This kind of judicial malfeasance if repeated many times over has the same result as a suspended sentence or small fine. It guarantees the criminal knows he has played the game and won and escaped justice. 

We acknowledge that repeat felony offenders are the primary cause of the death and destruction, the violent and property crime scourge destroying Natchez-Adams County. But we also admit that our judges are contributing to the continuation of our crime wave due to light sentencing. 

Those convicted of transferring or possessing stolen guns should always get jail time of up to five years as the law provides and the circumstances of the offense dictate. 

Every person who is convicted of a felony gun crime has earned jail not hugs and kisses or a stern warning from the court.

Where Are We Heading?

Natchez remains in crisis

by Peter Rinaldi

I have a great love for Natchez. But the incredible ignorance of its citizens always alarms me. The lack of good education, lack of skills and widespread drug and alcohol dependency help determine our future, and especially when you consider our lack of capital for growth and our isolated location. The growth of crime is a direct result of these negative characteristics. 

We’ve spent millions extra on our local public schools, but overwhelmingly 25-50 percent of Natchez students fail to meet grade level expectations. And 21 percent of our adults have not even graduated from high schools. Household incomes are 40 percent below state averages. We are poorer now as a community than we have been since the 1960’s. And poverty and ignorance work hand in hand. 

Thinking and analytical skills are not our strong suit, especially among our so called leaders. Our citizens elect officials who are incompetent and themselves poorly skilled and educated. You can’t expect dumb people to lead you out of a mess. They will only make it worse. 

The school system is spinning out of control. The number of jobs has declined 15 percent in a decade. And the population continues to flow outward. As almost a symbol of these manifest problems is our warped view of politics. Right now, we have only three realistic presidential candidates. And similar to 2020, who would Natchez Adams County vote for? Biden, of course. 

This love-worship of liberalism is reflected in local politics as well. The voters love big spenders and bull throwers. The politicians use reassessment of properties to move their city, county and school budgets above $130 million. Spend and take on debt. And while government gets bigger, the community gets smaller and poorer. 

Despite this sad assessment, I like you, hope for and wish for great gains and achievements that are always on the horizon but never seem to arrive. 

For me, my only recourse is to continue to write the local news and comment when things are going well or poorly. And when you are lied to or misled by the politicians for their own personal gain, those actions must be pointed out as well. 

While I respect The Democrat’s role as cheerleader for the community and a recorder of all things good and positive, I would not ever feel comfortable in the role of a pom-pom girl. I’m a conservative social, political and economic reformer. Unfortunately, I can’t change. So I remain a pain in the butt for some. But if you read my FB and website posts, you will know more about our community even if you disagree with my conclusions. 

My love and affection for Natchez-Adams County demands that I point out and analyze problems, make suggestions for improvement and be a taxpayers’ advocate. 

I invite you to follow my news and writings on FB and Weigh in when the mood or issue strikes you. I always welcome comments and opinions that differ from mine. 

When I started this “news journey” more than 40 years ago, I expected our community to make significant progress. That has not happened. But I am unwilling to give up. As long as I can breathe and type, I must write what is both informative and entertaining for Natchez-Adams as well as Vidalia- Ferriday-Concordia. I’m stuck like hamster on its wheel. But it’s a good stuck. 

Your input is always appreciated.

Natchez Taxpayer's Hero Remembered

Janet and Dan Dillard

by Peter Rinaldi

It's been a shock to many of us that Alderman Dan Dillard passed away unexpectedly this week. He was a good man.

Natchez city government is always beset by the fuzzy thinking and goofy ideas of its leaders. Several times in recent memory, city government has tried to spend its way into some utopia, like it's doing now.

For more than 16 years, Dan Dillard brought reason and common sense to the Board of Aldermen, challenging collective thought and a plethora of financial miscues. Dan routinely fought theft, misappropriation, alarming overspending and borrowing. He was often the first and the only aldermen to raise these issues. He was ultimately concerned that Natchez citizens get good government. Dan was an early advocate of rehabilitating the police department, city-led tourism, city clerk's office and for fair play and balance between city aldermen and county supervisors. He played a major role in budgeting and oversight management of many city departments. 

In the many years he served, he had a couple of good mayors and some good aldermen. He also had a bunch of stinkers, low-lifes and corrupt jerks to work with, too, which made his job as a conscientious aldermen much more difficult. 

I've been following the aldermen since 1978, when I moved here. I would say without hesitation that Dan was the best alderman we had. A few other notables come to mind, Al Graning, Tom Middleton, Lou Salvo Jordan, but Dan was the best of the best. 

He was like the little Dutch Boy of legend, putting his finger in the dyke, saving the community and government from being awash in a flood of red ink and haplessness. You could count on Dan to be honest, work hard and follow through. 

What a tremendous loss for his family and our city! I should have said this to him when he was alive. "Dan, you did a spectacular job. Thanks so much for your leadership and hard work to make Natchez the city it should be." 

In recent years, he suffered a great tragedy, the loss of his good wife, Janet. He recouped from her death somewhat, and resumed a normal work schedule. But the burden, loss and grief and were ever-present. He loved her so.

I would ask you to remember Dan and Janet and their kids in your prayers, as well as their extended families. God care for Dan and Janet. We miss them both. 

Dan Dillard was 67.

Three Amigos: Bias Plays Role in Waste Contract

by Peter Rinaldi

Adams County Supervisors have once again bungled their waste collection contract. Although county leaders Warren Gaines, Ricky Gray and Angela Hutchins quickly gave an OK to United Infrastructure, both Kevin Wilson and Wes Middleton objected to the high price that would saddle Adams County with the highest trash pickup rates in the state plus a guarantee of a 4.6 percent cost increase annually. That means supervisors will most likely double the trash pickup bills of residents after the election. 

Gaines, Gray and Hutchins are anxious to award the final contract to United, a New Orleans area based minority contractor, that formerly went bankrupt as Metro Services. Metro failed to pickup the trash for several weeks and did a terrible job before that, as its cash flow worsened. The Three Amigos of Trash, Gaines, Gray and Hutchins, believe they will get more brownie points with the folks if they award the final contract to a black owned firm, regardless of the price or quality of service. 

Wilson and Middleton both believe the price and service are most important and it doesn’t matter what ethnic group, black, white, or whatever gets the contract. Wilson and Middleton were in the Metro camp at first, because the company offered good service at a low price. But they soured on Metro when the company wouldn’t and couldn’t perform. 

The Amigos did the exact same thing when they dumped Jordan, Kaiser and selected a black-owned engineering firm that charges a higher price and gives much worse service than Jordan, Kaiser. 

It seems The Amigos believe many issues concerning “green” money can be solved by going “black," when the real issue is the “red” ink that the county will face as a result of their stupid decisions. 

The choice should be made based on price and service. Trying to award trash or engineering services or any other contracts based on equity, reparations or race bias is ridiculous and against the interests of ALL the people of Adams County. Especially if citizens end up paying more than double the price for garbage pickup.

Solving the Crime Problem

Downtown Burlington, Vermont

by Peter Rinaldi

Burlington is Vermont’s largest city, with 44,700 residents. It is the home of the University of Vermont, generally high income, next to Lake Champlain, pretty and probably the most liberal town in America. Socialists are welcome here. While just 4.4 percent of its citizens are black, it is the state’s most black city. 

 What Burlington has in common with Natchez and other cities across the US is growing violence, shootings committed by black males. Three in the last week alone. Doing the research on recent shootings, I found a similar pattern to what has happened in Natchez. Perps who commit felonies are given suspended and light sentences, only to come back soon to shoot up the neighborhoods and wound or kill their enemies. For Burlington, this is a new circumstance, a shock to the fiber of the community. 

For us old hands in Natchez, we’re used to black teens and young adults shooting the heck out of each other. So in Burlington, they’re talking about new social programs to curb black violence because they can’t blame the economy or poverty for a cause. Merchants are talking about hiring armed security. To Burlington’s credit, shooters are not given bond. But like Natchez, most folks don’t know why the violence is out of control. 

Of course, Natchez’s solution to the wave of black violence is easy: no bond for felony offenders who have been convicted of felonies before; no bond ever for shooters. 5 years extra sentence for use of a firearm in a crime, as provided for by law; maximum penalty for shooters and second time felony offenders; maximum penalty for possession of a stolen weapon. 

You can clean your streets and keep your community safe by putting all the thugs in jail for a long time. Or you can opt for new social programs like Burlington or say it’s just bad everywhere and put up with it like Natchez. Or you maybe accuse The Democrat of insensitive news coverage that highlights crime too much or call me a racist for pointing out the obvious truth.   Whatever option you choose and no matter how you spin the facts and theories, if you don’t put the thugs in jail for a long time, they will come back to do more and worse. And of course, the criminals will destroy your community, just like they have done in little Natchez.

Natchez Renewal

City overspending is self-destructive

by Peter Rinaldi

Part of a Natchez renewal should include a dedication to careful spending of tax dollars, proper management of city employees, a lowering of the tax burden on our generally poor population and proficient supervision of accounting and bookkeeping practices. Of course, we have seen little of the aforementioned practices in recent years. What we have witnessed is joyful and exuberant spending and excessive borrowing, surely requiring an increase in taxes now and in the future, when the grants end and the city is stuck with higher operational costs it can’t fund. 

Some proof of this error-filled approach can be seen by just a casual review of the city budget, which had long remained in the $25-37 million range. Now aldermen will spend $51.2 million this year on $49.3 million in revenues. As homes and businesses have their assessed values massively increased, the city bleeds those residents and business people for more taxes. Local government ensures that families have less money to pay their monthly bills. Government does better, much better. But families and businesses are doing worse, unless they completely sell off their property assets. This is not progress. 

Realistically, there has been no growth in the local economy but continued deterioration since 2016. Already the post pandemic recovery has ebbed, with a drop in the number of jobs and taxable retail sales up only 2 percent, far less than inflation. 

Free for all spending will not make the city better in the long term. The mayor and aldermen have taken the posture that liberal Democratic government is just what we need, that crime and poor quality education can be ignored and that a blizzard of spending will cure most evils. 

There is no escape from such philosophical foolishness, only self- destruction. Living within your means and providing sound and practical management are not just lofty ideals but extremely necessary in light of our diminishing stature in the state’s economy.

Win-Win or Lose-Lose?

Eola Hotel

by Peter Rinaldi 

Natchez aldermen have discussed in private meetings their planned roles in financing the reconstruction of the Eola Hotel project. Virginia immigration attorney Robert Lubin still owns the hotel and is working with Mississippi developer Hayes Dent and Wisconsin developer Randall Roth. Who will own what portion of the stock is unclear, as is whether ownership stakes in the hotel will be sold to foreign investors. Foreigners who invest in blighted communities can get easy access to U.S. visas. 

What is certain is that the city is moving forward on the idea of using TIF bonds to help the developer-owners. Additionally, the investment proposal would direct the Eola's sales and property taxes (except school taxes) toward repayment of the development bond. That means Natchez-Adams County taxpayers would subsidize both the construction and operation of the rebuilt hotel. While the total cost of renovating the hotel could be as much as $32 million, when finished, the hotel might only be worth $18 million, calling into question whether the investment could stand on its own feet without taxpayer subsidy and foreign investor dollars.

While Mayor Dan Gibson and the aldermen haven't discussed publicly the risks of another failed Eola project as a possibility, they have touted the scheme as a way to make the hotel a centerpiece for development downtown Natchez. No owner of the hotel has made money on its operation since the 1970's, and so far, no evidence has been presented that the new owners will make money either. Whether the Hotel would generate enough revenues to pay off its bond plus its operating expenses cannot be realistically determined, putting local taxpayers at some risk. 

Conceivably, the primary U.S. partner-developers could make money through developer, management and consulting fees, either paid in cash or as stock options, while the foreign investors would not see a return on investment and face hefty losses, while still getting their prized U.S. visas.

Mayor Gibson has been pushing and leading the discussion about the Eola within the aldermanic meetings. Alderwoman Valencia Hall has said, the project is a "win-win" for Natchez, though she did not say specifically what she meant in this case. Neither Hall nor Gibson nor the rest of the aldermen have any experience in hotel redevelopment projects. But they all understand that even an unsuccessful project could still have re-election benefits, even if the investment is a financial catastrophe. The reopening of the hotel could be touted as a political success to voters, prettying up the Natchez skyline, even if the numbers don't work. 

Aldermen voted 5-1 to begin the process of participation in the project, committing an initial $4 million. The city may also provide additional funds later on through a TIF bond.  

The mayor and aldermen are not required by law to discuss real estate projects publicly and can keep their negotiations secret, until it's time to formally commit Natchez taxpayers to the financing plan. At that time, a series of public notices would be required and open meetings for public input would be held. But by that late date, the project would be a done deal and little could be added to change the course of the city's involvement or mitigate its risk. 

For more information, go to

Hosemann's War Against Adams County 

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann

by Peter Rinaldi

With redistricting led by Delbert Hosemann, Melanie Sojourner was purposely cut out of her state senate seat, put in a Democratic district she could not win. 

The result means Adams County no longer has a senator or representative that actually resides in Adams. Robert Johnson actually lives in Hinds County and rarely comes to Natchez. That's why you never see or hear from him.

Not only does this make our political efforts in Jackson more difficult, I cannot understand why Mayor Dan Gibson continues to praise Hosemann publicly, telling him how wonderful Delbert is as a leader and how Natchez loves and respects him, when Delbert was obviously trying to hurt our community by destroying Melanie's district. 

It's good to be courteous to any political enemy of Adams County, especially a Lt. Gov., but to publicly fawn all over him is a waste of time. He will give you only the minimum of attention, a minimum of money, because he has shown you already what he thinks of your community. You are poo-poo to him and throwing Adams into the Port Gibson based district of a Democratic senate non-entity proves that he thinks you belong in Siberia, without power, money, influence or improvement.

Delbert thinks you are nothing, worthy of nothing, so butt kissing won't do you any good. As a matter of pride and honesty, you should politely, kindly and directly tell him you know perfectly what he did to hurt us. And you don't like it or respect that behavior. And in return, you promise to be a loyal Adams County resident and Mississippian and can only support the re-election of those who actually support us, versus those who try to hurt us. The door remains open to future conversation, but the underlying principal must be that we expect state government and the Lt Gov. to help Adams County and not harm our community.


Note: When I posted this little commentary without the stirring headline on Del's FB page that invites public input, it was immediately deleted by his staff. Shows you, doesn't it?

Battling Crime in Natchez 

by Peter Rinaldi

Why would the mayor and aldermen believe that by simply changing police chiefs violent and property crime will decrease? Unless you change the way you police and the way you manage the department, you will get the same failure over and over again. There are many towns and cities across the US that have effective policing. And a lot of communities are very safe. But Natchez is not. 

We all know that the increase in crime and violent offenders is complex in nature, having to do with home life, immorality, evil, even wayward judges and prosecutors. But the job of police is simply to arrest perps. They’re not educators, social workers or ministers to the soul. Their job is simply to deter crime by having a large enough presence on the street, to use pre-emptive investigations to keep the criminals huddled down and afraid, and to arrest every felon who commits a serious crime. A big task. But some communities do this very successfully. 

If your mayor and aldermen do not have a solution to the police and crime management problem, then new officials are needed. If we don’t change the current situation, Natchez will have a future but a future worse than it is now. 

It’s pretty obvious that gangs, drugs, violent and property crime are out of control in Natchez and law enforcement and the politicians are unable or unwilling to deter this crime. Is it time for armed citizens to patrol their own neighborhoods? I think so. To be effective, neighborhoods would have to form their own security districts, equip and pay armed security, an expensive proposition. But if law enforcement won’t do the job, you have only two choices: armed protection or surrender to the criminals.

The Change

by Peter Rinaldi

In 2022, I noticed a significant change in the direction of the Natchez-Adams County School Board and its management. In past, the district tried to highlight its successes, while acknowledging its need to do better, especially in things like test scores and the state’s evaluation. This past year, school leaders changed direction and overblew modest improvements post Covid, trumpeting somewhat dishonest A/B/C evaluations and ignoring that only 15-35 percent of students performed at or above grade level in various subjects such as math, language arts and reading.

This change marks a reinforcement of the earlier dishonest policy when the district built a new high school when voters specifically told the bosses they didn’t want one. There remains a strong constituency within Natchez-Adams County for the repair and upgrade of our local schools, including improving the quality of teaching and student performance.

It’s strange that our nearby school districts in Catahoula and Wilkinson are engaged in lengthy discussions on how to improve their schools, discussions that include board members, administrators and the public. Weaknesses are openly discussed and hotly debated. Those districts, with far less money and resources than Natchez Adams, are dealing with these problems. They’re not lying to the public.

While Natchez-Adams supervisors and aldermen dropped the issue of an elected school board because of Philip West’s opposition, it’s now pretty obvious that he is the obstruction to change and should be removed and a new honest superintendent chosen.

In the end, the lack of positive outcomes for learning in the Natchez public schools harms the students and impairs the economic future of the community. The schools are a reflection of the community they serve. And the downhill slide of both over the last 30 years is obvious to all except the blind and corrupt insiders.

You cannot reverse outward migration of the population and a decrease in economic activity by continued poor schools, lots of crime, low-paying jobs, dilapidated housing and inferior community aesthetics. However, lying, misleading the public and failing to follow public mandates only make a bad situation much worse.

It’s sad that some black political leaders say they want our black schools to do better. But their actions reveal the truth. They want the power and money for themselves and their friends and the black kids can go to hell, if changes threaten who is at the top.

These leaders are not the champions for racial justice but the purveyors of racial injustice. So the rich and upper middle class black kids and white kids and their parents flee the Natchez public schools for AC or Cathedral or play ‘the where does the parent/kid live? game,’ and try to slip the child into the Vidalia or Franklin County schools. The failure of Natchez public schools will drive a parent manic and/or broke to save his or her kid.

Like all of us, I have more questions than answers, and solutions are easier to spout than actually enact. But I know the schools will never, ever get anywhere and succeed with dishonest leadership in charge. They will always fail and miserably so. That is inevitable.

Short Story: A Kiss from 1992

by Peter Rinaldi   

My wife and I decided to give a New Year's Eve party back in 1992, when we lived in Village Green in Natchez. 

I've never liked parties much. And whether I'm the host or a guest, I get so nervous, I can't enjoy myself. But we lived in the Village Green neighborhood for more than a decade by then, so I succumbed to my wife's request-command that we sponsor a drop-in party from 6-9 p.m. and invited neighbors and their kids and told them to bring a dish or snack or whatever.

We still had the Christmas tree up, of course. I went to Piggly Wiggly and loaded up on snacks, cheese, sandwich meats, cookies, beer and Dr. Pepper and Coke. I called Domino's and asked them to deliver four cheese pizzas at 6:30 p.m., figuring people would be just a bit late in arriving. And I stopped at the liquor store to pick up two one-gallon bottles of Gallo wine. As my wife stated and against my better judgment, it's Natchez, and alcohol is a mandatory party favor.

The party went well. Lots of families came. I had a roaring fire in the fireplace. It got so hot inside the house, I had to turn on the a/c. The kids were having fun. My older son sat at the kitchen table enjoying a card game of Uno with his friends. My younger son and his friend playfully argued over a Chinese checkers game in front of the fireplace. More kids were in the TV room in the back playing the video game Tetris. The adults were milling around, drinking very little but eating a lot and talking a lot. I had a Dave Brubeck jazz cassette playing softly on the stereo. Perfect. My anxiety lessened. About 8 p.m., I noticed our neighbors Pam and Frank sitting on the couch together. They were both in their mid 70's, and many years before, they had been married to each other and had kids, though they had been divorced at least 20 years by 1992. They still lived in the area. Pam lived on Sun Court and had remarried a guy who was a semi-professional gambler, which meant they were always broke. Frank had moved over to North Temple and married fishing. No spouse. Just he, the dog and fishing. 

I heard parts of their conversation that New Year's Eve. Pam was doing most of the talking and Frank was mostly listening. Pam was talking about her cake business, who she was making cakes for, what kind of cakes, the kind of icing and the decorations she put on the cakes. Back in those days, she was known for her made-from-scratch cakes. She had a little bakery in the Morgantown Plaza for a few years, where UMB is now, When they tore down the shopping center and built the bank, she moved her cake business to the house and never missed a lick, if you'll pardon the joke.

Pam was in the middle of her cake dissertation to Frank, when Frank gently reached for her hand and leaned over to Pam and kissed her on the lips, passionately and romantically. Pam started kissing him back enthusiastically. Then they hugged and kissed just a bit more. Frank then stopped and just held her hand. And I could tell she was getting emotional, and she started tearing up. They didn't talk. They just sat there on the couch, and Frank held her hand. 

No one noticed the couple kissing, other than my wife and me. All the adults and kids at the party were talking, eating and playing and didn't notice the couple at all. 

The party broke up about an hour later. People had a good time and everyone wished each other Happy New Year and went home. Pam and Frank went their separate ways to their respective homes. 

After the party, I asked my wife what she thought. "Do you think they still love each other?" I asked. "I don't know," my wife replied and added, "It was a beautiful kiss, a beautiful moment." 

Many New Year's Eves have come and gone since 1992. As the years went by, I never heard of Pam and Frank reconnecting. Pam stayed married to the gambler and Frank stayed married to fishing. Sadly, they have both passed on. Pam's husband did eventually gave up gambling. Pam did cakes until her early 90's, And Frank actually died of a heart attack while fishing at Lake St. John. A good way to go. 

I think about Pam and Frank often. I think of that party, how nervous I was in advance of the party, and how they were so affectionate with each other. Almost every New Year's Eve, the memories return. I can remember their conversation, how they looked on the couch. It seems like just a few years ago not three decades. 

There were two things I learned from that New Year's Eve party in 1992. First, Domino's cheese pizza is always popular and appreciated at a party. And second, no matter how old you are, you need love, caring and emotion in your life. The touch of a hand and a kiss can be so very important.

Top Stories of 2022

by Peter Rinaldi

Crime: Violent and property crimes continue to plague Natchez-Adams CountyConcordia Sheriff's Office arrests several dozen cyber perps and sex offendersFerriday rebuilds police department with Chief Sam KingNatchez hires Commander Cal Green as its police chiefVidalia daycare workers get long terms in jail for child abuse; Adams prosecutors and judges criticized for plea bargains, low bonds and light sentences Economic development: Miss-Lou employment rebounds from pandemic lows; Syrah Technologies announces major expansion; Vidalia pays utility customers 50% rebate, pays off entire city debt; Jordan Carriers to build new HQ; Magnolia Bluffs Casino and The Markets get new owners; Residents still moving away to get better jobs, population drops since 2020Eola Hotel rehab project stalls Infrastructure and facilities: Adams supervisors and Natchez aldermen borrow more than $12 million to fix roadsMorgantown Road repair funded though not started; Adams supervisors-sheriff struggle over jail plans without resolution; Natchez aldermen repair parks and will update convention center, auditorium; Natchez-Adams County to issue bonds for major recreation improvements; Ridgecrest ties into Ferriday water system; Natchez-Adams politicians drop the ball on E911 relocation Culture: Balloon festival one of the more successful in its history; Natchez becomes solid new venue for live concerts; Natchez aldermen will spend $1 million on Civil War troops statue Top 2 Stories: Jessica Aldridge finally gets sentenced to 20 years for shooting and killing boyfriend Joey Cupit; Accused killer Semaj Jackson indicted for shooting Jamesia Brown and Cameron Jones

Short Story: The Christmas Mailbox

by Peter Rinaldi

Mabel and Howard Smith of Franklin County gave birth to a healthy baby boy on Christmas Eve, 1951. They named their only child, Howard Jr., but everyone in the family called him “Beau.” He was simply one of the prettiest, cutest babies anybody ever saw. The Smiths live just off Hwy. 33, down one of those dirt roads in a little white frame house. Howard worked cutting timber and Mabel stayed home taking care of little Beau.        

As Beau grew, he became an avid reader. He would look at the picture books and pronounce words, asking for his mother’s approval each time he got a word right. His mother would smile and say, “You’re my smart boy!” And Beau would beam with pride. His dad would spend evenings reading the newspaper to his son, telling him truths about the world, why it’s important to be hard-working and to be good to your neighbors. 

When Beau was just shy of his sixth birthday, he said, “Momma, I want to send a letter to Santa and put it at the mailbox.” So Beau and his Mom sat down at the kitchen table and wrote a short letter. The boy asked for a baseball glove for himself, a work shirt for his dad, and a sweater for his mom. Mabel put the letter in a white envelope and wrote on the front, “To Santa – North Pole.”             

Beau and his Mom walked out to the roadside and the pipe iron mailbox to send off the letter. The boy cried, “Momma, Santa won’t see it in the mailbox. Put it on the outside between the box and the red flag.” So Mabel did as her son requested, and they walked back to the house, talking about what they could do to surprise Dad on Christmas. Mabel shared the story of the ‘letter to Santa’ with the aunts, uncles, and cousins at the Christmas dinner table.             

When Beau was almost 19, he and his mom sat at the kitchen table and remembered the time when they wrote the letter and placed it on the side of the mailbox instead of in it. They both laughed. But it was a somber Christmas that year for the Smiths, as Beau had just enlisted and was scheduled to enter the army the first week in January. “It’s my duty. Whether I end up in Vietnam or not, I’ve got to do what’s right,” Beau said quietly. He could have gone to college, gotten a deferment, but chose to serve his country instead. And both his parents were worried.             

It was early in September 1971; a rocket attack hit just north of Saigon. Beau was sitting on the edge of his jeep, talking with a buddy. In a second, it was over. Beau was killed. There wasn’t much to send home to bury, according to his platoon sergeant.

After Beau’s death, the family never seemed right again. Howard Sr. began drinking and was injured on the job. Mabel suffered from a deep depression over the loss of her son and her husband’s problems. Eventually, the couple moved away from Franklin County and the little frame house fell into disrepair. No one ever lived there again. The dad died of a heart attack in Dallas in 1980. Mabel died in nursing home in 1992.            

If you ride down Hwy. 33 and look off that dirt road where the Smiths lived, you’ll still see the mailbox standing. The house is pretty much gone. But that old rusty mailbox is still there. And every year on Christmas Eve, you can see a fresh, white envelope stuck between the red flag and the mailbox itself. Neighbors aren’t sure who tucks the envelope there, but figure it could be a relative or someone close to the family who knows the story.   

If you happen to see that person this Christmas Eve, please stop and thank him for remembering the Smith Family and Beau, even though so many years have gone by. The family has passed on, but there are still more than a few folks around who remember them, the good times they had, and the love they shared.             

This short story originally appeared in Miss-Lou Magazine in 1996.

Tracetown Shopping Center Has Seen Better Days

by Peter Rinaldi 

The decline of Tracetown is not a new thing.

When I moved our Miss-Lou Magazine offices there in 1995, the center was already in decline, as Sears had closed and about 20% of the shops were vacant. When I moved out in 2017, there were about a half dozen tenants and today maybe three or four. 

With its Winn Dixie and Sears anchors gone and excessive vacancies, the center was hugely unprofitable, with insurance, minimal maintenance and property taxes much greater than annual revenues. There was little hope of a turn around. 

Tracetown also suffers from antiquated construction design, a rolling hills parking lot and would require at least $3 million for the parking lot, lighting, a/c and roof repairs. So nothing will be done to change this. Realistically, the center has practically no market value, other than for its few rentals. Post office, rehab, nail salon...maybe $200,000-300,000 in value tops, less considering the maintenance and operational problems.

Add to that, flat and leaking roofs and overhangs, antiquated ac systems and the general decline in the Natchez economy, the center just hemorrhaged money. Many of the units are so severely damaged because of the catastrophic roof leaks. The Mobile, AL owners had also sold off their frontage lots to the bank, McDonald's and Ruby Tuesday's to get some operating cash. But selling off the front doomed the Sears property. The former Sears location had no parking left. And the building itself was in such poor shape, no smart tenant would rent it. the owners then tore down the Sears building, After thieves stole all the copper and wiring out of the theater, that building was demolished, too. 

 The Lazarus Arts-Dr. Kumi complex is separately owned and not part of Tracetown. 

The owners gave away their shopping center in Ferriday to the town to get rid of that property and operational costs. And I expect, sooner or later, the owners will approach Natchez about the same kind of deal, like the Fry Building. Politicians would tell you what a great deal it is to get a donated center or building. What they don't tell you is that the donation takes the property off the tax rolls, relieves the owner of the high maintenance costs, transfers those to taxpayers and nets the politicians some tidy campaign donations during the next election cycle.

Good Garden Clubs

by Peter Rinaldi 

One of the puzzling things about our community is how the Pilgrimage Garden Club, Natchez Garden Club and Auburn Garden Club get a bad rap on occasion. 

Most of the members of these clubs are very interested in the economic vitality of Natchez Adams. They understand that history preserved can mean more tourist dollars, more conventions, more hotel stays, more restaurant visits and more jobs. Well maintained historic properties not only bring tourists but have brought a new generation of well to do out-of-towners who have spent millions of dollars upgrading their antebellum and Victorian homes. And that investment has paid off in many jobs for people of all economic groups and all races. 

There was a time in Natchez, when some connected to the clubs used their platform to try to cement their social position above others, but the time of the so called landed gentry is long gone. I’ve often heard how the garden clubs killed off IP and Armstrong. In fact, the those closures had nothing to do with the clubs. The factories were losing so much money and had serious union problems that meant making a profit unlikely. So the factories closed and the jobs were lost. And many garden club members mourned that economic downturn like the rest of us. 

Remember that some of the old homes are not owned by garden club members. Some are also owned by men. And many of the new generation of old home owners continue to run their properties at an economic loss and do so because they have the extra money to do so and/or are committed to a better Natchez even if it costs them mega cash. Whether you’re a garden club member from downtown, Morgantown or Kingston, all share the same goal: a better city and county with more prosperity for all. Also, you’d might be surprised to know that many garden club members are actually very middle class and some less so. But regardless of wealth, the members share an interest in exterior and interior design, flowers, gardens, architecture, history and historic preservation. 

We should be proud of their contributions to our community. Some also own businesses that have little to do with history. But they understand that successful maintenance of homes and gardens and the marketing of that history and beauty to the outside world is a necessary and important task, even more so because of the decline of our industrial base over the last 35 years. 

Thank you, ladies of the Pilgrimage Garden Club, the Natchez Garden Club and the Auburn Garden Club. When you think of the garden clubs, think of the economic contributions of their members which is so vital to our present and future.

Mayor Fibs About 2021 Audit

by Peter Rinaldi

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson recently said the city CPA audit for 2021 showed much improvement for 2021 compared to 2020. He did not tell the truth, as the CPA's negative findings for 2021 continue to show that the city was not following acceptable accounting and bookkeeping practices. Of course, the failure to follow such good standards led to the theft of $36,000+ in funds by two city clerks. 2021 was the Gibson administration's first full year in office. You can't blame former Mayor Grennell for these errors. The responsibility lies with the city clerk and staff, the current mayor and aldermen. They are supposed to follow accepted accounting and bookkeeping principles and regulations. They did not. 

Of the 2021 City of Natchez audit, CPA Silas Simmons said: Bank Reconciliations: Bank Reconciliations were not being properly reconciled to the general ledger or in a timely manner. Accounting Records and Financial Statement: Preparation transactions were not being recorded to the city's general ledger in a timely manner. Interfund Transfers: Due To/From, and Advances lnterfund transactions were not being recorded timely or accurately. Segregation of Duties: During the process of obtaining an understanding of internal control in planning the audit, assessing control risk, and assessing fraud risk, a lack of segregation of duties was noted. Documentation of Adjusting Journal Entries: Adjusting journal entries posted to the general ledger lacked proper and adequate documentation. Single Audit The City's Single Audit was not filed with the Federal Audit Clearinghouse in a timely manner. CPA Silas Simmons then when into detailed analysis and recommendations as to how these re-occurring problems from both 2020 and 2021 should be remedied. 

Several pages of details on what to do were enumerated. If you doubt the truth as presented by both the CPA or myself, you can read the audit findings and make your own judgment. I am used to politicians lying and bull throwing. From a news point of view, I should try to verify the mayor's future claims on all subjects, as those assertions may or may not be truthful. 
See pages 85-92.

Stinking City 2020 Audit

by Peter Rinaldi

When completed, the City of Natchez 2020 audit showed that the city did not meet its legal obligation to provide sound and professional accounting of revenues earned and expenditures made. The audit findings reflect the gross incompetence of the city clerk's office under Servia Fortenberry and the lack of care Mayor Grennell and the aldermen showed for their legal responsibilities. That lack of care and oversight allowed Fortenberry and another clerk to steal more than $36,000 in funds during the Gibson administration, according to the state indictment of two clerks. Aldermen discussed this lack of competence during both the Grennell and Gibson administrations but took no action to remedy the illegalities. 

Gibson says the 2021 audit is much better and should be posted online soon. I will report on the 2021 audit as soon as its posted. The 2020 audit reflects activity during the Grennell administration through July 2020 and the Gibson administration from July-September 2020. While the onus falls on Fortenberry, Grennell and the aldermen mostly, the audit did not show any improvements made during the first three months of the Gibson administration. 

2020 Financial Statement Submission to State Auditor: The City's audited financials were not submitted to the Mississippi State Auditor's office by the statutory date required. Bank Reconciliations: Bank reconciliations were not being properly reconciled to the general ledger or in a timely manner. Accounting Records and Financial Statement Preparation: Transactions were not being recorded to the City's general ledger in a timely manner. Interfund Transfers, Due To/From, and Advances: Interfund transactions were not being recorded timely or accurately. Segregation of Duties: During the process of obtaining an understanding of internal control in planning the audit, assessing control risk, and assessing fraud risk, a lack of segregation of duties was noted. General Fund Expenditures Over Budget: The City's General Fund expenditures exceeded its budgeted amount by $1,015,773. Casino Annual Lease Fund Expenditures Over Budget: The City's Casino Annual Lease Fund expenditures exceeded its budgeted amount by $350,490. Compliance with Reporting Requirements of OMB - Single Audit: The City's Single Audit was not filed with the Federal Audit Clearinghouse in a timely manner.

Ferriday's Big, Bad Mess

 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

 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

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?  

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%. 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.

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. 


Contact Us 

News for Southwest Mississippi and East Central Louisiana, including Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and Wilkinson counties and Concordia and Catahoula parishes.

15044 Blue Marlin Terrace, Bonita Springs. FL 34135

Peter Rinaldi, publisher
Clarisse Washington, editor emeritus