I could write a treatise in real life failed local government from closely observing the workings of the Bay St Louis City government over the past three years but I’m not. I am ready to call it like I see it and can do so in a fairly short post. The overarching principle here is municipal government is dysfunctional because that is exactly the way the Mayor and City Council want it. And yes last night again saw a City Council divided on what I see as a fundamental issue: Council access to the legal services the cost of which is born by the City’s taxpayers. The vote was for more of the status quo.
To blame the financial catastrophe that has befallen the City solely on Mayor Fillingame would be misplaced. Over the past three years I’ve attended meetings where the assembled crowd knew more about operating within the four corners of the state statutes than those charged with governing. A cynical man would automatically think such public displays of ignorance from elected officials could only mean a hidden, self interest based agenda had to be present. The bottom line is don’t hold your breath waiting over the next year for things to improve as the administration is certain to ignore the directives of the City Council that it doesn’t like and the Council lacks the collective political will to force the administration to play nice, for lack of a better term. Even worse, with its current Ad Valorem levy about 33% low compared to its sister Cities here on the coast the problems can only continue. On the other hand given the fiscal mismanagement that’s occurred over the past seven years there is no way I could ever justify recommending giving the current Mayor and this City Council any more tax money to squander. Its a classic catch 22.
By my rough count there are about 11 months before the City’s voters go to the polls and it will take more than a simple house cleaning to cure the structural problems with a municipal government that does not levy enough general fund taxes to fund the delivery of basic city services across the entirety of the City. Politically, the council districts have been pitted against each other competing for the delivery of basic city services. The divide between Ward 6 residents, who are now relying on the County’s good graces to maintain the public rights of way there and Ward 2 residents that sometimes exhibit the attitude the City limits do not extend past the intersection of Washington St and US 90 was on display as recently as this past Tuesday’s regular meeting.
Having been around the entirety of South Mississippi both professionally and on a more up close and personal level, the irony in places like Poplarville, Picayune, Wiggins and Lucedale doing a superior job overall as stewards of taxpayer compared to A Place Apart is rich given how deeply certain of the Bay blue blood aristocracy regards the average Mississippi redneck. What separates these locales from Bay St Louis is more than a lack of refinement though. Bubba simply has more self-respect for his hard earned tax dollars and doesn’t much tolerate the type of tomfoolery that is on open display in Bay St Louis government.
The machinations of Bay St Louis City Government is certain to appear again in the news cycle as events are in motion that are beyond the control of the Mayor and the City Council. Its going to take a special group of people to work together to fix the Place Apart. I am not certain any of those people hold office today. Only the voters in Bay St Louis can change that.