Our View: Local leaders rise to the challenge

June 2, 2020 11:24:03 AM



Since the metaphorical ball dropped to signal the beginning of a new year, no one aside from writers of dystopian novels could have imagined what was in store for us in the first six months of 2020.


The midpoint of the year finds our nation reeling from two major crises -- COVID-19, which has taken the lives of more than 100,000 people in our nation, and social unrest that challenges our notion of what racial equality really means and how far we are from achieving it.


Complicating efforts to find the best way forward in these troubling times is a void of leadership that threatens to deepen and prolong the misery.



In times of crisis, we look to our national and state leaders for leadership, for guidance, for assurance, for something unifying that comforts and encourages us. We struggle to find such a leader who represents Mississippi on a state or national level.


In the Golden Triangle, we are faring better than many communities in confronting both of these crises because our local leaders have risen to take up the mantle of leadership, a burden that carries with it a fair amount of criticism, second-guessing and doubt.


When Gov. Tate Reeves balked at providing a timely COVID-19 plan, our mayors and supervisors stepped in to provide clear, decisive action, establishing procedures necessary to mitigate, to as great a degree as possible, the worst-case outcomes of the virus.


There is little doubt their actions, generally adhered to by the citizens, have saved lives in our communities.


We note also that such local leadership has emerged in the business community, which faces the challenge of recovering from the heavy economic blow caused by the shutdown.


While the state's primary economic development voice -- Mississippi Development Authority -- has been silent and federal stimulus money for businesses was slow to flow, local groups such as The Partnership in Starkville, the Columbus Lowndes Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Columbus, the Golden Triangle Development LINK and the West Point Growth Alliance have stepped into that void, providing resources, support and information that has been critical for small businesses.


Similarly, when George Floyd's "death by cop" lit the tender box of justifiable outrage, our communities have managed to so far address this serious issue in thoughtful productive manners.


District attorney Scott Colom moved quickly to reassure Columbus citizens after the state dropped a manslaughter charge against a former Columbus police officer in the 2015 shooting death of Ricky Ball, a decision that put a local face on a national issue. He shared the community's disappointment and promised to bring the facts of the Attorney General's decision to the public.


A day later, 250 people gathered to protest the AG's Ricky Ball decision, as well as the other deaths that sparked the national furor. The protest was meaningful and inspiring. Columbus police chief Fred Shelton was present and a handful of officers kept their distance in an unimposing manner. Colom was present, as was councilman Pierre Beard. These local leaders set the tone that prevailed during that demonstration.


In Starkville, Rep. Cheik Tayor met with citizens on Sunday night to lead the discussion about how citizens should express their feelings about the issue of police brutality in a constructive manner. City leaders, along with Colom, sat in the front row, in a show of solidarity. Starkville police chief Mark Ballard addressed his department's race relations during a Monday discussion about planned peaceful demonstrations this weekend.


In all these instances, local leadership has emerged in the absence of state and national leadership.


The decisions our local leaders have made haven't been universally liked, but we believe they have been generally well-reasoned and in the best interest of the public based on the facts at hand.


Our communities are better, safer, healthier as a result.