Sunflower County’s top challenge in 2019

By BRYAN DAVIS EDITOR,

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Indianola Rotary Club.

It was truly an honor to be able to talk about The E-T and our community to the club, and to add a little flare to the discourse, I read off an editorial that had not been published before.

After the program had ended, a few people encouraged me to print the editorial in the paper.

Since I do believe strongly in what I wrote and its importance to Sunflower County – not to mention a severe case of writer’s block that has overcome me – I thought I would include it in this week’s column.

 

When asked what challenges communities face – particularly communities within the Mississippi Delta – you often hear a familiar list.

Education is almost always number one. Failing schools, workforce readiness, college readiness. These are issues that most communities in the Delta face.

The second would probably be infrastructure. Crumbling roads, shuttered bridges and failing water and sewer systems plague just about every town in the heart of the Delta.

Third would probably be crime.

To reemphasize, everybody has education problems, and everybody is dealing with failing roads and bridges. Everybody has crime. These are not Sunflower County issues. These are not Delta issues. These are not Mississippi issues.

These are national issues, and they are problems that Republicans, Democrats, leftists, right wingers, moderates and all sorts of political types have failed to solve.

And yet, communities every day in America find themselves on the short lists of site selectors and large companies, and many of those communities find themselves winning these jobs, in spite of their poor education and their failing roads and bridges and high crime rates.

Sunflower County isn’t that much different than its neighbor to the west that recently landed NuFarm, a $20 million investment that will create 68 jobs.

We aren’t much different than our neighbors to the east who added 300 new jobs at Milwaukee Tool last year.

I contend there is a much bigger problem in Sunflower County. A larger barrier to economic development than education, crime and infrastructure, and at the end of the day, you might make an argument that they are somewhat intertwined.

Again, this problem is not unique to Sunflower County, but if we begin addressing it in a serious way in 2019, it could position us better in the economic development game moving forward.  The problem, in my humble opinion, is fractured government.

The relationship between the county and its multiple municipalities is crucial when it comes to economic development.

This is what I call bunting and fielding. If you can’t get this one right, you really don’t stand a chance at playing in the Majors.

Over the last year, The E-T has covered numerous stories that highlight the disconnect between the county government and its towns and cities, particularly its most vital resource in Indianola.

We covered at length the issue of municipal police departments housing prisoners in neighboring county jails.

For the county, this issue was about money. Police chiefs were spending money in Washington, Bolivar and Leflore Counties instead of Sunflower County.

But this also highlights why it is so important for the county and municipalities to be on the same page about everything. No one would have even known about this had the sheriff not casually mentioned it in a board meeting, and come to find out, they were all doing it.

Then the city of Indianola showed up to the next board meeting to clarify its position and a shouting match ensued.

These simple and legally required agreements were in place in most cases, but they were being ignored, and it turned into a public spectacle.

These are the front page stories that are turning site selectors and corporate  executives off. It’s not the petit theft in Cops & Robbers. It’s not the failing school district. It’s not beat up county roads.

How do I know this?

Because nine times out of 10, whoever beats us out for a project will probably have low-performing schools, crime and bad roads.

Counties that win tend to have strong relationships between local governments and agencies.

During 2018, we covered stories about rifts between the Indianola Fire Department and the Volunteer Fire Department. We covered a rift between the Sheriff and the Indianola Police Chief.

Our county government voted to put a moratorium on tax incentives, and they couldn’t meet fast enough afterward to reverse that decision.

The whole rub there had to do with the county and the City of Indianola not having regular communication about the tax incentives that are doled out by the city and the method in which they do so. 

Agree with tax incentives or disagree with them.

If a company wants to land in Sunflower County, rest assured, they are going to ask for a tax break, and if they’re reading – and rest assured they are reading – that the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing when it comes to such matters, we don’t stand a chance.

No one wants to work with a fractured government.

Big public fights between the city and county and squabbles between our board members and mayors sell papers, but they also sell an image that is tough to shake.

The infighting has got to stop. It has to stop between members of these boards, and it has to stop between our multiple governments in the county.

As long as it continues, I’m going to report on it, because it’s my job.

But like the armed robberies, the F schools and beat up roads, I hope there is a day that comes when I never have to report on it again.

 

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