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Letter Questions Newspaper Coverage of Harrison County Development Commission

GCN Editor's Note:   The following letter was published anonymously on GCN's Message board. The use of the name Publius is important. Publius was the pen name used by the authors of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison. This collection of 85 articles, published pseudonymously in New York State newspapers form October 1787 through May 1788, was influential in convincing New York voters to ratify the proposed United States constitution.

Note: A response follows in another well-informed post to the GCN Message Board.


Posted by: Publius () 11/26/2003 12:12
November 26, 2003.


    An open letter to the Sun-Herald: (the Sun-Herald won’t print letters like this, so I'm publishing it here where they still respect freedom of the press)
    Dear Sun-Herald: Your editorial November 23, 2003 about HCDC “bickering” surrendered whatever moral authority you may have had in this community. You haven’t been paying attention. Taxpaying voters in two recent Harrison County races elected incumbent leaders, Connie Rockco and Deborah Dawkins, who stood for reform of HCDC. Their opponents were financed and overwhelming endorsed by the keep-everything-secret clique of CEOs that runs the HCDC. The voters see through it. You don’t.
    “Bickering?” Excuse me, Mike Olivier and the HCDC clique are BREAKING THE LAW! The Sun-Herald editorial called for the Attorney General to get back in the picture. Where have you been? In July of 2003, the Attorney General published an Official Opinion making it clear that the HCDC is breaking numerous purchasing laws and other laws, but you refuse to report the AG’s Official Opinion to the public. Lawbreaking is usually newsworthy, but you ignore it in this case and demand editorially that everyone shut up.
    If HCDC Commissioners Richard Bennett and Paige Gutierrez had exposed elected officials the same way they have Mike Olivier, you would call them heroic whistleblowers. Instead they expose Olivier’s law breaking, bad accounting and bad business practices, but you call it “bickering” and “personal or political agendas.” What agenda is an honest Commissioner supposed to have if it is not serving as the taxpayers check and balance against bad government? Other Commissioners have tried to exercise honest oversight through the years, but the Sun-Herald didn’t back them up either. Ask former Commissioners Mary Bankston, Bob Sawyer, Louis Elias and many others who tried to do right but were always in the minority. The public needs to know the story, but the Sun-Herald won’t tell it.
    Then there’s the alleged “jobs.” Do you not have a single investigative reporter or editor who can cut through the hype and look at the facts? Actually you do have some good reporters, but for some reason you won’t put your resources on a story like this, so you’ll eventually lose your best reporters, just as you have in the past. The truth is that Mike Olivier and the HCDC have produced relatively few permanent jobs, even though the taxpayers of Harrison County have made huge investments in the HCDC industrial parks in its nearly 40 years of existence.
    The Coast economy is presently healthy for two reasons: casinos and U. S. Defense Department. Olivier and HCDC didn’t bring us either of these economic pillars. State legislators, local elected officials and tourism business leaders brought us casinos. Franklin Roosevelt, Senator Pat Harrison and Biloxi and Gulfport’s depression era Mayors and Chambers of Commerce brought us Keesler, the Naval Air Station (now the Gulfport-Biloxi Airport), the Seabee Base, and the two VA Hospitals; Eddie Khayat and Governor Paul Johnson brought us the Litton Shipyard (now Northrup Grumman); Lyndon Johnson and Senator Stennis brought us the Stennis Space Center and made Keesler the electronics training center for the Air Force; Ronald Reagan and Senator Lott brought us the Navy Homeport. If it weren’t for our U. S. Congressional and State Legislative delegations through the years, we’d have been a ghost-town before casinos came.
    In a visionary attempt to diversify this economy, Mr. Eugene Wilkes, your former publisher, founded the HCDC, but it has never lived up to its promise, mainly because most of the Commissioners have never lived up to the standards of public service envisioned by Mr. Wilkes. The millions of public money invested in the HCDC have not been cost effective in producing actual, permanent, new jobs. Your newspaper has never done a story that actually accounts for the total investment and the actual permanent jobs that have been caused by this investment. How could you? Olivier won’t give you or anyone else the records.
    Amy Tuck clams up. You sue her and say it’s not personal. Oliver refuses to show the Supervisors how he spends his six-figure expense account and refuses to give the Sun Herald the records. You don’t sue him but say that critics who demand accountability are being personal. What is going on here?
    An investigative reporter given the resources and time by his or her editors will find that the true HCDC cost per job is horrendous. No one would run a private business with such a poor return on investment. For example, Oliver’s HCDC recently pushed through a $1,674,000.00 ten-year tax exemption for a Dupont expansion at DeLisle for 10 jobs. That’s $167,400.00 per job. There was no proof that Dupont could or would have expanded anywhere else if they didn’t get the tax exemption. And there’s still no proof that we even got the ten jobs! The $1.67 Million would be better spent on something new that the private sector can’t do, like helping USM create a teaching hospital at the Gulfport VA or building a gaming management school at Gulf Park.
    It is ludicrous for the Sun-Herald to describe the current HCDC controversy as, “he-said, she said squabbles”. HCDC’s law breaking and lack of accounting is a matter of written documentation and the lack of it.     
    You don’t need to depend on what someone said, just look at what the written records say and fail to say. You did report that Olivier destroyed accounting documents. But you stopped there. He refuses to disclose other documents, like his six-figure expense account and his “private” consulting fees paid in part by the Sun-Herald, but you don’t demand these documents, as you did with Amy Tuck. If Olivier were an elected official, you’d call such behavior “denying the public the right to know.” In any other context, you’d call for his head for breaking purchasing laws.
    The Sun-Herald has risen to the occasion before. Look at your own newspaper archives. In the mid-1980s, the Sun-Herald did a series of exposes about the HCDC’s failure to ever have an independent financial audit.  The Mississippi Power Company, under Alan Barton, chimed in that the HCDC was not living up to its promise. Roland Weeks was called on the carpet by the CEOs who think they really run Harrison County and was told that the Sun-Herald was hurting the business climate by criticizing the HCDC. Roland Weeks and Alan Barton did not cave in. Instead they put the responsibility where it belonged: on the wrongdoers at the HCDC, and it changed. Now we’re right back in the same situation. It’s similar to the situation when Barry Goldwater rode down to the White House and told Richard Nixon the game’s up. It wasn’t Nixon’s critics that made him come to grips with reality; it was the senior spokesmen of his own party. So it must be now with the HCDC: the Sun-Herald and honest business leaders must tell the Emperor that he has no clothes. But will the Sun Herald and Mississippi Power be able to do it this time, when they are part of the Olivier clique that has created the problem?
    You want economic development in Harrison County? You won’t get it by ridiculing robust, public debate as “bickering” and “personal.” Instead, speak up for good, efficient, conservative government. Abolish the HCDC. Spend the money on education, or give it back to the taxpayers. That would do more for an attractive business climate than more trips to London for Mike Olivier and his buddies at taxpayer’s expense.
Sincerely your friend, --Publius


The Following was posted to the GCN Message Board in response to the letter by Publius.

Posted by: Cato the Elder () 11/29/2003 09:40
November 28, 2003
Dear Publius,

Such idealism! Such naiveté. Your open letter to the Sun-Herald is a waste of time. Why appeal to a journal so dedicated to the status quo? So intellectually dishonest? So much a part of the disease; how could the Sun-Herald become part of the cure? Those of us who have been in the news room know better.

For that matter, why spend so much energy on reforming the Harrison County Development Commission when it is but a pathetic symptom of the systemic disease that eats away at our body politic? What ails our beloved Coast and indeed our beloved Mississippi is the systematic betrayal of fundamental conservative values by our corporate and professional elite in order to maintain the status quo. They are not true conservatives. True conservatives value limited government and oppose the creation of government agencies like the Harrison County Development Commission. True conservatives oppose government give-away programs like tax exemptions for “industries” and selling public land below market. True conservatives (like the ones who brought us the 1st Amendment: George Mason and other Founding Fathers) value open government and oppose the Development Commission’s recent destruction of records and use of secret ballots to chose accountants and lawyers.

True conservatives become nauseous with shame when they see and hear a senior executive for Beau Rivage, Bruce Nourse, state, as he did last week on WLOX, that the secret ballot he presided over to chose the development commission’s new lawyer was not intended to be secret; it was just intended to make members comfortable about voting without their friends knowing how they voted. Nourse sounds like Bill Clinton saying it depends on what the meaning of “is” is. Then Nourse said he did it because a former lawyer said it was OK, but he can’t tell us the name of the lawyer, because it’s a secret! True conservatives are outraged that their elected officials have made a petty influence peddler like Bruce Nourse the spokesman for business in Harrison County. Can anyone out there really imagine a true conservative businessman demanding, as Bruce Nourse did, that the taxpayers pay his parking tickets when he goes to development commission meetings, just so he doesn’t have to spend time finding a parking place in downtown Gulfport? Even the Sun-Herald reported this shameless contempt for the public.

True conservatives also remember that the Founding Fathers understood the venal side of human nature and established checks and balances to stop public “servants” like Bruce Nourse and Mike Olivier from abusing power. That’s why Madison and Hamilton and Washington and Franklin established an independent judicial branch, and why every state government established the same. Be patient, Publius, the Courts will have a chance to check out BruceMike. The bigger problem is that so many of their fellow business “leaders” have also abandoned conservative values and will merely replace BruceMike with other puppets.

My friend, Cicero, said, “The evil implanted in man by nature spreads so imperceptibly, when the habit of wrong-doing is unchecked, that he himself can set no limit to his shamelessness.” So, Publius, step by step, year by year, imperceptibly, the local “conservative” business community and their house organ, the Sun-Herald, have been accomplices to the erosion of limited government and open government in Coast counties and have allowed the Harrison County Development Commission’s abuse of power to go unchecked. These are but a few of the many fundamental values of a conservative society that have been betrayed by our governing elite. How could respectable, honest businessmen have allowed such shameless wrong-doing to become commonplace? How could honest, virtuous businessmen like Dave Dennis, past President of the Harrison County Development Commission, have allowed the Olivier-Nourse culture of secrecy, deceit, and wasteful spending to take root and flourish without protest?

Adam Smith's friend, the historian and philosopher David Hume, noted that
NOTHING appears more surprising to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and pions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find, that, as FORCE is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular.
Young Publius, the corrupt status quo will not change until the general population forms opinions based on the truth about their governing elite. Do not wait for good but timid men like Dave Dennis and Ricky Matthews to speak up. You were mistaken to waste so much time on appealing to the Sun-Herald. It is decadent and irrelevant. You are right, however, to use the internet, for there are many of us out here in the real world of business and journalism who are paying attention and who are spreading the word to the silent majority. Keep it up, and the time will come when real conservatives will restore conservative values to the leadership of business and government. Delenda est status quo.

--Cato the Elder

 

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