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MDOT-Who has the courage to change it?
The struggle for good government

By Royce Hignight - Special to GulfCoastNews.com
February 14, 2006

     The first three days of the recent, very revealing Sun Herald series of articles titled, “MDOT, The Fourth Branch,” suggests MDOT is a government agency associated with the following characteristics: arrogance, vindictiveness, incompetence, deception, mistrust, intimidation, bullying, extortion, personal attacks, misinformation, lying, untrustworthiness, hindrance of economic development, corruption, cronyism, and masters of illegitimate excuses. Further, it allegedly does not function as a Board as it is required to do.  The MDOT commission is largely elected by those, such as highway builders, who directly benefit from it and its $1billion annual budget that gives it the power to run roughshod over those it is supposed to serve.

Most, if not all, of these characteristics have been the case for decades and have cost taxpayers billions of dollars, resulting in inadequate transportation system. An analysis of the information in the Sun Herald series reveals the main issue is not simply about what kind of bridge or roads that are to be built, but it is the choice of bad government, or good government.

The choice of good government or bad government has consequences.  So far the choice of bad government has been the prevailing choice for too many decades. This is why we, in Harrison County, are stuck without an inadequate transportation network before Katrina and after. It is not a lack of funds; it is the choice of bad government as personified by MDOT and the choices that MDOT has made in expending the available funds.

Every public official, the media, and the citizenry are making choices for either good or bad government either actively or passively.  Doing nothing or saying “it’s not my job,” means making a choice for bad government whether you are the governor, mayor, council-person, supervisor, legislator, media person, or private citizen.

The fourth day of the Sun Herald articles, one titled, “Reluctant to reform,” mainly reported how difficult and how unlikely it would be to reform MDOT, as demonstrated by the interviews of several public officials.  The majority of those interviewed showed a disturbing lack of leadership and no propensity for the political courage to reform such an agency. Among these politicians was the Governor, who was flippant and who demonstrated a lack of political courage and no potential for real leadership. He definitively said, “I have no intention of advocating any change in how anybody’s elected in Mississippi.”

The  fence-sitting attitudes and the mentality as expressed by these office-holders, in spite of all of the known information about the character of MDOT, is shocking. This mentality is not limited to MDOT, and I believe this acceptance of bad government is why Mississippi is last in practically all socio-economic measurements, except for corruption in which it has been ranked number one.

 The lone exception of those interviewed was Senator Hob Bryan, of Amory, MS., who has demonstrated political courage and leadership on a number of occasions over a period of time. Senator Bryan stood head-and-shoulders above the other politicians, including coast politicians, who were interviewed. He stated:  

Effectively, what we still have is three highway departments; I don’t care what they tell you otherwise.  In my opinion, the governor should be in charge of highways, whether through a board that appoints or a commissioner.  The problem is, it’s very popular to elect people, and if you talk about changing that, you face huge opposition.

In order to effect change, the media has a responsibility and an obligation to report truth and facts, no matter who does or does not like it, as was done in the first three days of the revealing Sun Herald articles. The media also has an obligation to find out specifically where all office-holders stand on such an important issue and what actions they are going to take or whether they will try to dodge the issue. Their positions should be made a matter of public record as was done by the Sun Herald article with several office-holders.

If citizens are educated with the truth and the facts, they will make the right choices on the issues and the suitability of office-holders to deal with those issues.

The revealing series of articles set up a golden opportunity for the Sun Herald editorial board to issue a clarion call for reform of MDOT.  Instead, the editorial board did an editorial titled, “MDOT will play a pivotal role in our renewal-but will it play fair?” dated 2/7/06. The editorial board basically seemed to have focused on the information in the “Reluctant to change” article, while ignoring the overwhelming derogatory information from the first three days of articles.  In so doing, the Sun Herald seemed to accept subjugation and dominance by bad government, as in MDOT. 

The shape of much of South Mississippi for generations to come is now being determined.  And some of the most critical decisions in that process involve the Mississippi Department of Transportation. But while there is no question of the importance of the role MDOT will play, there is considerable doubt that MDOT will play fair.

MDOT should employ whatever effort is necessary to turn its critics into allies.  Not by bullying them or browbeating them or dismissing them.  But by listening to their concerns and working with them to find solutions that will benefit South Mississippi in particular and all of Mississippi in general for decades to come.

Why would public officials, citizens, the media, or anyone else allow themselves to be subjugated and dominated by a “public agency,” as described in paragraph one, and in which there is considerable doubt that it will play fair?  Why would anyone even risk allowing such an agency to shape much of what South Mississippi for generations to come will be, or make critical decisions in that process?

These are questions that should have been dealt with years ago, but better late than never.

The answer to “will it play fair” is no.  This writer has done dozens of back-ground investigations on government employees while employed by the government. Background investigations are done because the past history of an individual’s behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.  This would hold true in government as well because government is an organization run by people.

There is an old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me.”  Unfortunately, there are many in public office, in the media, and in the citizenry who are glowing with “shame,” for being so gullible and naïve, and/or having no backbone, and/or who like cronyism and corruption for allowing MDOT to be MDOT for so long.  Where do you fit in and more importantly, where are you going to be in the future which is now?

MDOT must be reformed!!!

If the legislators and other public officials continue to refuse to reform MDOT, then public spirited local attorneys should consider filing a lawsuit against MDOT and the State of Mississippi in U.S. District Court for the denial of equal treatment to the citizens of Harrison County in the expenditure of State funds under the 1987 Four-Lane Program and of Federal Highway Funds.

It is time for public officials to get off the fence and act for the betterment of the Coast and Mississippi.

About the Author

Royce Hignight is a long time Coast resident and retired FBI Agent who, after retirement, has spent a considerable amount of time examining the area's transportation needs and participating in citizen groups interested in resolving Biloxi's transportation problems.

During his long tenure with the FBI, Hignight investigated government corruption in Mississippi. He is written "Mississippi's Open Wound" that outlines his observations on why Mississippi continues to see repeated problems over corruption.

Contact the Author: mailto:roycehignight@netscape.net



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