Storms: Point man for consolidating government
Aug. 19, 2001
Chief Administrative Officer Ken Storms is the point man in Meridian city government.
This is a good role for Storms, a retired Navy captain and former commanding officer of NAS Meridian, who flew dangerous missions in a Navy jet over Vietnam. His account of a particularly perilous mission in 1967, written for The Meridian Star's "Profile 2001: By The People" edition is extraordinary.
Now, he's putting himself to another test as an advocate for taxpayers in the city of Meridian. As we shall see, taxpayers who live in Lauderdale County but outside the city should take notice.
The CAO's job cannot be easy. Storms is a lightening rod for tasks elected officials wish to avoid. When they want to avoid bad publicity, Storms steps forward to take the heat.
It was Storms, for example, who first announced a shortfall in the current city budget. It was Storms who stood with former Police Chief Gregg Lewis when he announced his retirement. Storms, from all indications, is heading up the searches for a new police chief and for a new head of Public Works to replace Bennie Wolfe, who took a similar job in Pascagoula.
It was Storms who met with a disgruntled group of parents in the Meridian Separate School District during school bond debates in 2000. His efforts to blunt their criticisms by advocating appointment of a school board member who lives outside city limits but inside the school district failed.
The relatively small but vocal group had a real influence on the defeat of both school bond issues, the second defeat by a slightly larger margin than the first. Members of this group were not especially appreciative when a representative from outside the city but inside the school district was eventually appointed to the school board. They seemed to turn on the officials who were trying to help them and finally said out loud what many suspected they really want out of the city school district.
And, Storms was in on the closed sessions which produced a 2002 city budget proposal that has been met with something other than widespread acceptance. It contains a proposed 5 percent increase in property taxes, no raises for firefighters, police officers or other city employees with the exception, of course, of the highly-publicized raises for the mayor and members of the city council. Money for their raises, at this point, remains in the budget proposal.
Judging from his appearance at the Meridian Kiwanis Club last week, Storms has taken on another challenge. He said he was reflecting frustration among city taxpayers that too much of their money is going for things that benefit people who don't live in the city.
He is becoming the chief advocate for consolidating the governments of Meridian, Marion and Lauderdale County. It may be the toughest assignment yet in what is shaping up as a "political" career.
Yes, political career. His role meets one of the definitions of the word "political" in that he exercises power in the government of a municipality.
He is appointed by the city's chief politician and his role as counselor, mediator, advocate, manager assumes he has considerable influence over city affairs.
Short end of the stick
Using a flip chart and numbers that may be a little outdated, Storms nevertheless makes a strong case that city taxpayers are getting the short end of the stick in services. Most of the taxes paid in Lauderdale County come from people who live in the city, he said, but did you ever try to get a county supervisor to pave a city street?
A city animal shelter, supported by city taxpayers, took in animals from all over, most of them from outside the city. He's been working on that one for about eight years and still there is no solution except that the city shelter no longer accepts county animals.
City taxpayers support a city police department and a large share of the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department. City residents get little benefit from the sheriff's office, he said.
County supervisors want to build a new sports complex and turn it over to the city for operation and maintenance when most of the people who will use it will come from outside the city.
People who live outside the city come in to work, shop, eat, drive on city streets, and enjoy first class police and fire protection while they're here.
Storms is making a case that savings of at least $2 million a year could accrue from consolidating government, not the least of which would be the salaries of fewer elected officials. Conflicts could be easier to resolve because there would be no competing political jurisdictions. One budget. One government. One community.
Suffice it to say the idea of a consolidated government has fallen on deaf ears. County supervisors oppose it with a vengeance. Absent some grass roots movement started by people fed up with high taxes and reduced services, conflict, inefficiency and political turf building, it may never get a fair hearing.
All this from Ken Storms, a man who lives outside the city of Meridian, and is still the chief advocate for consolidation of government.
Buddy Bynum is editor of The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3213, or e-mail him at email@example.com.