December 1, 2002
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove owes an apology to the members of the Mississippi Military Communities Council he cut out of the loop when he fired their consultant on military base closures. The apology should come quickly and publicly before things on the base closure front get out of hand.
When he dismissed Washington, D.C.-based consultant Barry Rhoads without bothering to alert any of the people who've worked most aggressively to protect military bases in Mississippi Musgrove cast a partisan political shadow over a process that over nearly a decade has been a tough enough load to pull. Communities such as Meridian, Columbus, Pascagoula and Biloxi that helped pay Rhoads' fee deserve better than this from their state's highest elected official.
By hiring a well-known Democratic Party political operative who served in the Clinton administration, even one who hails from Greenville, Musgrove has negated nine years of experience in successfully fighting base closures.
Belatedly, Musgrove's Mississippi Development Authority owned up to Rhoads' dismissal and on Wednesday MDA issued a press release on what The Meridian Star had already reported, namely that the new consulting firm is Jefferson Governmental Relations of Washington, D.C. One of the firm's vice presidents is Wilson Golden, a lawyer, lobbyist and former congressional liaison in Bill Clinton's Transportation Department. What MDA did not say is that Jefferson Governmental Relations will be paid $200,000 a year.
The Mississippi Military Communities Council was chartered by the Legislature to help protect U.S. military bases in Mississippi from base closure rounds launched by the Department of Defense. The council's efforts were funded with $200,000 that was to only pass through MDA, not get stuck in a political bog. Supplementary funding for Rhoads' contract came from the communities, which now ought to get some money back.
It's hard to imagine any real monetary savings by changing consultants, so Musgrove's real impetus must lie elsewhere.
It seems to us that Musgrove essentially is trying to seize political control of a process that has, up to this point, been driven by the communities themselves, not the state. As it should be. And, it should be noted, no bases in Mississippi have been closed since Rhoads has been on the job.
It's also hard to imagine that the state of Mississippi's economic interest in base closures is any different from the communities' interest. It is essential that all parties be reading from the same page and, yet, Musgrove is running the very real risk of alienating the communities for no apparent good reason.
Sentiment is very strong among members of the council that Rhoads is still the man with whom they want to work. They will likely ask the Legislature to change conduits for the money. Mississippi could have one consultant working for the governor and another working for the communities. We ought to be working together as a single cohesive unit.
In our opinion, Musgrove in this episode is straddling the line between democracy and autocracy and needs to somehow set things straight with the communities quickly.