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Who benefits from a false front?

By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
Oct. 12, 2003
Sitting quietly, dressed in suit and tie at the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation's annual meeting Thursday at the Frank Cochran Center, I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable.
Not because of my outfit, but because I wondered if the picture of solidarity between the city and county officials seated at the head table was actually reality.
From the outside it looked good smiling faces, pats on the back, hearty claps for one another as each was introduced.
I want to believe that they get along and work together behind the scenes during everyday business as well as the image they projected Thursday night.
But do they?
Just two days earlier, I watched some of those same faces turn angry during a routine Meridian City Council meeting. That meeting quickly turned into a dissertation on how city taxpayers don't get a return for the tax money they pay to Lauderdale County.
The controversy was over a contract renewal with Lauderdale County in which Meridian is required to pay $20 a day for every prisoner the city sends to the county jail.
I viewed the county jail contract renewal as a moot issue.
Keep in mind that this wasn't a new contract. It's the same contact, with minor operational changes over the years, and same price-per-inmate as the contract penned back in 1998 when the county built the jail.
And also remember that it was the city that wanted to house their inmates there in the first place. They had their own jail at the time but obviously thought it would be more economically feasible to send their prisoners to the county for $20 a day than to keep operating their own.
So why bring it up now?
Regardless of whether you think the contract is fair or not, it was signed years ago. What gives?
The division between the neighboring governments appears to deepen every day.
This is just one example. There are others. To be fair, there are also certain aspects that get better.
But as a reporter, I hear a lot of stories when the recorder is turned off that strengthen my belief that the city and county don't work as well together on projects as they could.
And it's not because there are not good people who want to squash their differences. Most tell me that they try desperately to work together and they actually do respect each other and get along.
Some just feel that a few personalities and egos in the group get in the way. Some, they say, are more interested in claiming credit for a project than working together to get it done.
For the most part, though, those stories are never seen in print. Why? Some of those officials say they can't publicly come out with the information for fear of scaring away potential economic development prospects.
And I can, for the most part, understand where they're coming from. If I were in their shoes, I might feel the same way. But some times I wonder what's the use?
My late grandfather used to always tell me, "You'll never get anywhere in life by trying to be something you're not. People see right through it."
He would sit on the front porch for hours and talk about everything under the sun. I thought the world of him, and still do.
The one thing I learned from listening to him was that it's always better to be upfront and honest. Even if there are problems, it's better to meet them head-on.
Some times I get frustrated when I hear comments from officials who point the finger at us in the media and say we are to blame for the division between the city and the county.
Maybe I'm being blind, but I don't buy it. If we always turn a blind eye and look the other way, who would benefit?
I'm optimistic that the differences between these two neighboring governmental bodies will get better. But I just don't think it will happen from ignoring the problem.
Whatever the problem is, I just think it needs to be met head-on and faced in public.
When the public is left in the dark, that's when the rumors, innuendoes and conspiracies surface. I know none of these officials like those. It frustrates them.
But whose to blame for their creation?
Some people might not like this column. Some might even get mad. But it's hard to escape the truth.
I would just hate to see this area lose an economic development prospect because some of our city and county officials can't get along with each other.
Why? Because I know they can get along and I honestly believe at the end of the day, they are all passionate about moving this area forward.

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