Vast majority of voters who voted
seem content with city's status quo
The vast majority of the minority of Meridian voters who went to the polls Tuesday seemed very satisfied with the way things are here in Mississippi's sixth largest city.
That's one conclusion drawn from the overwhelming 66 percent of the vote going to incumbent mayor John Robert Smith and the fact that all five incumbent city council members were also reelected.
The vision Smith talks about Grand Opera House, Hope for Children, Union Station, the new Central Fire Station, the initial stages of downtown revitalization and the elusive but expected new manufacturing jobs certainly resonated with voters who actually went to the polls.
He easily got more votes than the sum of the votes received by the other three candidates. He got more votes from one precinct heavily Republican Poplar Springs than all three of his opponents got city-wide.
He raised more money than all of his opponents combined, probably in the neighborhood of $50,000 by the time all reports are filed.
Independent Charlie Haynes joked he got more votes per dollar. Haynes said he raised less than $300 and election night returns gave him 1,067 votes. That's about 28 cents a vote.
Under that same reasoning, each of Smith's 4,485 votes cost about $11.
Even in the wake of Meridian's declining population and shrinking tax base, voters who went to the polls opted for the status quo.
But what about the 70 percent or so of Meridian's registered voters who didn't go to the polls? Are they satisfied too? Or, as Smith's three opponents suggested in a series of political forums, do they feel disenfranchised, locked in a hopeless spiral of despair, economic decline, disconnected from the processes that choose their leaders and determine their future?
The main option for people who have such feelings is the vote, and in city election 2001 they chose not to speak at the ballot box. Since their voices were silent, conventional wisdom has it that, yes, they are happy with the state of their city. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it's the only conclusion to be drawn.
Issues to watch
Over the next few weeks, a number of major issues will play out locally. Among them are:
a new controversy over construction of a north Meridian water tank;
city-county cooperation over funding for the E-911 emergency response service;
improvements in trash pickup;
improvements in law enforcement;
attracting new manufacturing jobs; and,
The same nagging issues remain and we now must depend on the same political leadership to resolve them, or not. One joke around town is that the city can't even build a water tower without some kind of controversy.
One day, the city and county are going to have to permanently resolve how to fund E-911 service that all agree is essential. A new contract is likely to be negotiated with Waste Management for garbage pickup.
The most ominous cloud on the horizon may very well be congressional redistricting. This is one area of government in which good public policy takes a back seat to political maneuvering. The central issues are political power and black voting age population not contiguous districts or areas of common interests.
Meridian residents may like being in a congressional district with the Mississippi Coast and calling their congressman long distance in Bay St. Louis. Residents of the northern part of Lauderdale County may find themselves split from the rest of the county.
Spoiled by the outstanding services offered over the years by hometowner Sonny Montgomery and nearby resident Chip Pickering, we've never before had a congressman who lives outside our own area code.
The state's legislative leadership seems intent on breaking up the conservative Republican voting patterns in Lauderdale, Jones, Rankin and DeSoto counties which puts it in immediate conflict with Meridian, where the incumbent conservative Republican mayor was just voted into a third term with two-thirds of the vote.
Buddy Bynum is editor of The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3213, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.