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Musgrove collects another scalp

By Staff
Oct. 7, 2001
J.C. Burns, the affable Batesville banker turned economic development specialist, probably learned some valuable lessons in his 20 months as executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority. Add another one to the list:
With Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, loyalty only runs one way from the bottom up. Musgrove has shown again that will cut loose any one of his appointees who dares to (a) try to manage their own department of state government, (b) resist his micro-managing ways or (c) be perceived as a political liability.
Dangerous tendency
Not even Musgrove's closest political aides, including the ones who helped him get elected lieutenant governor and, later, governor, are immune from this dangerous tendency. And it is a dangerous tendency that tells volumes about both Musgrove, the man, and the direction in which his administration is headed.
Musgrove's original chief of staff, Dr. David Cole, apparently saw the light early. Shortly after he moved to Jackson in 2000 to serve the governor, he announced he would return to the position he had just left as president of a northeast Mississippi community college. He gave it a year and a half.
Musgrove hired Dr. Betty Ward Fletcher, the former interim president of Jackson State University, as director of the Department of Human Services and then suddenly fired her in December over differences that remain unknown. She lasted about a year.
Musgrove's closest political aide, Donna Simmons, resigned suddenly a few months ago and now, reportedly, is leaving the state.
Musgrove's communications director, Lisa Mader, resigned suddenly, at about the same time as Simmons.
Musgrove's divorce from his wife, Melanie, became final a few weeks ago.
Burns was unceremoniously fired last week over what has been reported as "philosophical differences." His firing came a few weeks after Burns declared personal bankruptcy over some $400,000 in debts related to his 1998 divorce. Musgrove was Burns' divorce lawyer.
Intentionally or otherwise, Musgrove seems to be disassociating himself from many of the people who raised money to get him elected, put their private careers on hold to serve him in public office and believed in his promises for "unparalleled growth, unprecedented opportunity."
At this moment, the promises of his administration are looking awfully empty.
More sinister
Even more sinister is the allegation leveled by Burns that Musgrove wanted him to deny state incentives to local communities that did not totally embrace the Musgrove economic development plan.
If true, this amounts to political blackmail and Burns was right to resist the sordid arm-twisting. Local economic developers work too hard to build their communities to have any governor attempt such blatant control over their activities. They should be incensed. They should also be supported by the policies of state government and encouraged in their productive pursuit of new business and higher-paying jobs at a time when they are sorely needed.
Mississippi under the Musgrove administration continues to face dire economic prospects and now he's given himself another chore. He has to bring in a replacement squad halfway into his administration, at a momentous time in history, to pick up where his own hand-picked first team left the job unfinished.
He's painted himself into a very tight corner and many people, including his friends, are wondering whether his political career can recover.