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franklin county times

Musgrove hires new base closure consultant

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
Nov. 27, 2002
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has hired a new Washington, D.C. lobbying firm to guide the state's efforts through an ultra-sensitive 2005 round of base closures, The Meridian Star has learned.
It was confirmed today that Wilson Golden, an attorney who is originally from Greenville and a former staffer for then-Lt. Gov. William Winter, has been hired effective Dec. 1.
Golden's lobbying firm he is vice president of Jefferson Government Relations will be paid $200,000 a year and an official announcement of his firm's contract is expected soon.
Golden has a 20-year military background in the National Guard and Reserves and has been with the Jefferson group about a year. Before moving to Washington in 1994, he practiced law in Jackson with the Watkins, Ludlam firm.
He and a colleague, Mark Greenberg, who worked in the Reagan White House and for former U.S. Sen. Paul Trible, R-Va., are expected to be the firm's point men in the base closure issue.
According to its Web site www.jeffersongr.com the firm is a general government relations practice that covers the gamut of lobbying operations. It will take over the state's part of lobbying to protect Mississippi's military bases.
Rhodes fired
Last Wednesday, Musgrove dispatched Bob Rohrlack, who heads the Mississippi Development Authority, to Washington, where he terminated the contract of consultant Barry Rhodes, an attorney who had worked closely with members of the Mississippi Military Communities Council for nine years.
Rhodes' new contract had just been approved this year. It would have paid him and his firm, Rhoads-Weber Shandwick Government Relations, on an escalating basis leading up to 2005 $240,000 in year one, $300,000 in year two, $360,000 in year three and $264,000 in year 4.
Members of the military communities council said they were not familiar with the Jefferson Government Relations firm's direct involvement with base closing-specific matters since the base realignment and closure process began in 1991.
Golden is well known in Mississippi political circles for his work with Winter and strong ties to the national and Mississippi Democratic Party.
Musgrove's unceremonious dumping of Rhodes last week caught members of the Mississippi Military Communities Council by surprise. Mississippi has yet to lose a base to closure, and veterans of past closure battles credit the Rhoads group with valuable assistance.
In Columbus, home of a U.S. Air Force base, local officials demanded that Musgrove explain why Mississippi fired the firm that has successfully lobbied on behalf of the state's military interests for almost a decade.
We didn't know until after the fact,'' state Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Columbus. Smith attended a special meeting the Columbus-Lowndes group on Monday in response to the decision. The Associated Press reported that MDA officials declined comment in response to the Lowndes-Columbus meeting and instead repeated a statement released last Thursday that said the MDA will develop a new, aggressive program to ensure that our bases throughout the state remain open.''
It's like the Yankees firing Joe Torre when he won four (championships) in a row,'' said Mark Leonard, a member of CAFB 2020, a committee that monitors Columbus Air Force Base issues. The group asked Smith to explain the concerns of Columbus and the state's six other military communities to Musgrove.
Economic impact
In Mississippi, military installations account for direct employment of almost 36,000 military and civilian personnel with a direct payroll of about $1.3 billion. The state's military bases are responsible for billions of dollars more in indirect employment and benefits, according to specialists who track economic impact.
But for the state to fire Rhodes and hire a new consultant may, oddly, force the nine communities to consider whether they should break with the state just at a time when observers believe they all need to pull together.
Feelings among military communities council members ran strong Tuesday that they needed to somehow retain Rhodes' services despite the state action because, as one put it, "Barry Rhodes has the experience and understands the base closure process better than anyone in the country. You definitely don't want him on the other side."
Council members said the base closure process is political, but has never been viewed as partisan.
Rhodes was a staff attorney to the base closure commission in 1991. His counsel is credited with helping Mississippi's military bases avoid closure in 1993 and 1995 including Naval Air Station Meridian, which twice avoided closure.
Nine communities make up the Mississippi Military Communities Council and the Legislature approved $200,000 in funding this year for lobbying efforts. The money was funneled through the Mississippi Development Authority, controlled by Musgrove. Some members of the council said the Legislature may be asked to re-direct the money.
Observers believe Columbus, Biloxi, Gulfport, Meridian and Pascagoula potentially have the most to lose in the upcoming base closure round, known as BRAC, as missions change and the Department of Defense seeks economies.
Meridian is home to the Navy base that is Lauderdale County's largest employer; Keesler Air Force Base is in Biloxi; the Navy's Seabee base is in Gulfport; Pascagoula, hometown of U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, soon to regain his status as Senate Majority Leader, is a U.S. Navy homeport; and Columbus has a U.S. Air Force base.
Privately this week as they attempted to comprehend the rationale for Musgrove's decision, none of the military community council members contacted said they supported Rhodes' dismissal.
Instead, they said they would meet next month to try to find a way to keep Rhodes on board with the communities, even as the state moves in another direction.