Online Edition                                              Natchez, Mississippi                                   

The Rinaldi Report

       by Peter Rinaldi


Guilty as sin

         Oscar Wilde was a 19th century Irish writer and poet, known for his cynical and sarcastic comments, his outlandish dress, carousing and unorthodox behavior. One of his better known quips was, “True friends stab you in the front.”

            This could be the new motto of Adams County Supervisors. For several years, they doted on their appointed trustees to Natchez Regional Medical Center, saying trustees and their administrators were outstanding leaders. “Good job,” supervisors said. “Thank you for turning finances around.” That was the blather.  It was total bull.

            Now supervisors are ready to ‘stab their friends in the front,’ as Wilde would say. Our county leaders are talking openly in public meeting and privately to individual voters that trustees should now be sued for their bad management, monies collected from the trustees’ respective bonds and the proceeds used to pay off the mounting and remaining debt of Natchez Regional (which the county will owe and has agreed to pay).

    You could see the supervisors’ change of tune beginning last year. As the red ink got redder, the trustees and consultants lied even more, and supervisors started crying, “We don’t have the numbers. They’re keeping us in the dark! We don’t know what’s going on.”

         Fact was Adams County Supervisors were getting an annual budget and financial reports (usually March and September) and could have requested more reports and more  data but did not ask solicit any for years and years. When they received cursory summaries of Regional’s finances, they didn’t ask for specifics.

           See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil.

        You can’t help but draw a bit of a comparison between the old-fashioned westerns we used to watch on TV and the current Regional hold-up. The trustees, their consultants and supervisors are the bad guys in the black hats. They’ve robbed the stagecoach of the town’s payroll, taking all the loot (in this case, the money, power, VIP status, etc.). Later, when it’s time to divide the loot, the bad guys start shooting each other.

            Supervisors have begun to worry that the Regional fall-out might tarnish their reputations and re-election chances. They shouldn’t worry about their reputations. With the IP-Rentech purchase and the Regional blow-up, their reputations are in the toilet anyway.

         To lose their perches in high and mighty office, they still have to be challenged by quality candidates. And those opponents have to win, not an easy task. Is Darryl Grennell in trouble? Don’t think so. He’s the original Teflon don of Adams County politics.

         Are Angela Gibson and Calvin Butler in trouble? No one knows they exist. Along with David Carter, they’re first-termers and most of the disasters occurred before their watch. Did they help solve the problems? No. And they made it worse. But politically, it would be easy to blame their predecessors for a series of Regional catastrophes.

          Is Mike “Mouth of the South” Lazarus in trouble? Honestly, Mike’s always in self-anointed trouble. But he’s as slippery as oleo on a pig in the summer heat. He can talk three sides of an issue in one conversation and leave the listener feeling, “Gee, Mike doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But he surely is a nice guy.” And in politics, nice guys finish first.

          I don’t believe Adams County Supervisors will sue their buddies on the Natchez Regional Board of Trustees. Would Darryl Grennell vote to sue Rev. White, a close personal and political friend?

          Supervisors would need at least three votes to sue. Angela Gibson and Calvin Butler would need Darryl’s blessing to sue. Would Darryl want to file suit against current trustees or some of the ones that served long term on the board and did more of the damage, like his mom? I am sure Darryl Grennell is ready to sue his mom for her administrative incompetence. Yes, surely.

          All this talk is about political cover, pretending to do something, pretending to be concerned and upset, while actually doing nothing. Supervisors are talking this trash to let voters know they’re on the voters’ side, when the opposite has been true. The supervisors were on the side of the trustees, consultants and administrators who bankrupted Regional twice and fleeced the hospital and county taxpayers of millions of dollars and caused the loss of several hundred jobs.

            Some believe that supervisors’ graduated from the Moe-Larry-Curly School of Government. Folks say, “Supervisors are dumb. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

          The evidence is to the contrary. They do know what they’re doing. The absence of professional, problem-solving leadership during Regional’s time of troubles was calculated. Placate the powers that be. Placate the Regional employees. Pretend, lie, scheme. Do whatever to keep voters passive and re-election secure. Don’t raise a fuss. Don’t tell the public the real truth as to what’s going on.

           Next year, Adams County holds its local elections and supervisors will be on the ballot. All will run for re-election, because the pay, benefits and retirement are so good.

           But it will be interesting to read the incumbents’ campaign literature, touting their successes. Call it creative writing.

            These events remind me of days past, when a former Adams County Justice Court judge in Adams County held court in his barber shop. The judge sat in his barber chair to hold hearings, with citizens arrayed in front and below him in those small and very uncomfortable wire-backed chairs. Sitting on high, the judge asked one man arrested for wrongdoing, “How you plead?” The accused said sheepishly, “Not guilty, your honor.” The barber-judge then slammed his gavel down on the marble arm of his barber chair, yelling in anger, “I don’t want to hear any lyin’ in my court!” Fearing the judge’s wrath, the accused said, “I’m sorry, your honor. I mean, I’m guilty as sin.”

            Supervisors should change their plea, too, from ignorance to guilt. Even if they don’t admit the truth, we do know what happened and who did what to who and when.

          That’s the strange thing about politics. No matter how you hide or fabricate, you’re eventually confronted by the truth. It’s open, bare, naked for the world to behold. It’s inescapable.




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