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franklin county times

Ax falls on base closure consultant

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
Nov. 24, 2002
Mississippi may have a new consultant soon to help the state prepare for the 2005 round of military base closures. But it won't be the Washington, D.C.-based expert who has helped protect our bases through two previous rounds.
Barry Rhoads, whose contract was summarily terminated last week at the direction of Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, is out. At least as far as the state of Mississippi is concerned.
The termination of Rhoads' new four-year contract  worth more than $1.1 million  came suddenly and without warning to representatives of the nine communities that make up the Mississippi Military Communities Council. They had agreed to share in the contract's costs; in fact, some of the money has already been paid, leading to questions about whether the state plans any reimbursement.
Musgrove dispatched Bob Rohrlack, head of the Mississippi Development Authority, to Washington on Wednesday, where he lowered the boom on Rhoads at a morning meeting called ostensibly to review BRAC strategy for 2005.
BRAC is the acronym for a base realignment and closure commission created by Congress to shutter unnecessary military installations.
Rhoads reportedly was floored by the state's about-face. His 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.
Neither the chairman, vice chairman nor members of the military communities council were aware that such a move was in the works. They didn't get the courtesy of any advance notice from Musgrove or Rohrlack.
The issue of military base closures has been a prickly one since the first round in 1993 as the U.S. Defense Department started economizing.
Many bases have been targeted and some across the nation have closed. Bases such as Naval Air Station Meridian, Columbus Air Force Base, Keesler Air Force Base, the Navy Seabee base in Gulfport, military activities at the Stennis compound in Hancock County, the Navy home port in Pascagoula and the Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg are all potentially vulnerable in 2005.
Following BRAC rounds in 1993 and 1995, bases in Mississippi not only survived, but also flourished.
Last year, U.S. military bases in Mississippi provided about 36,000 jobs and an economic impact of nearly $1.3 billion. So, the mere talk of base closure reverberates through the military communities like an unpleasant echo.
To Rhoads' credit, and to the credit of the congressional, state and community resources mustered for the cause, none of the bases in Mississippi listed for possible closure were lost in the previous BRAC rounds.
Rhoads and his firm, which now includes James Lofton, longtime legislative director for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., had nine years of experience working for Mississippi. On the one hand, you would have to say his counsel has been valuable, even though he has squabbled with some state and congressional aides from time to time.
Still, members of the Mississippi Military Communities Council have grown close to Rhoads and appreciate his firm's success rate at helping protect military installations in the state.
Plug pulled
Since the majority of funding for the base protection effort flows through the Musgrove-controlled MDA, the governor apparently felt the time was right to pull the plug on the Rhoads contract. And he did.
In a two-paragraph statement issued last week, Rohrlack said, "It is critical that we develop a new, aggressive program to ensure that our bases throughout the state remain open while maximizing the funding we receive from the Legislature.
Pardon me for saying so, but that reads like so much drivel and offers little in the way of explanation. It does seem to say that Musgrove will hire a new consultant  perhaps one more politically friendly to him who will cost less money and pursue some new, as yet undefined, strategy.
Can he (or she) match Rhoads' record? Remains to be seen.
The circumstances surrounding Rhoads' termination have perplexed some of the people who hold his work in high regard. A group of legislators met with Musgrove late in the week for an explanation and the military communities council will meet next month, perhaps to devise its own strategy of how communities can protect themselves.
Has Musgrove alienated the communities that stand to lose, or gain, so much from BRAC? Remains to be seen.
One thing is for certain. Even with the loss of a seat in the U.S. House, Mississippi has its strongest congressional delegation in years. If these guys can't keep Mississippi's military bases open, it just can't be done.