Candidates mixed on Brown's future

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Results of Tuesday’s Northern District Transportation Commission special election may lead to the ouster of the controversial executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
Larry “Butch” Brown has led the 3,000-employee Department of Transportation in recent years with the support of Northern District Commissioner Bill Minor and Southern District Commissioner Wayne Brown, no relation. He generally has been opposed by Central District Commissioner Dick Hall.
The elected commission selects the executive director, who runs the agency’s day-to-day operations.
But Minor died unexpectedly Nov. 1, and several candidates in Tuesday’s election to replace him say Butch Brown will go if Hall needs their vote to oust him.
Brown, a former mayor of Natchez, has been a controversial director, with the most recent incident coming in Biloxi when he was arrested on public intoxication charges last year. The charges were dropped when he agreed to attend anger management classes.
But Brown, who is now battling prostate cancer, also has his supporters, who say he has run an innovative and efficient department. In 2009, despite the controversies, he was reconfirmed by the state Senate 40-5 to a new term.
Here is how the candidates in Tuesday’s election view the situation surrounding Brown:
– Mike Tagert of Starkville, head of the Tenn-Tom Waterway Development Council, said the Department of Transportation is bigger than any one person.
“If you have people who are causing problems, then certainly you have to address that,” he said. “I would have to address that and see where we are.”
– House Transportation Chair Warner McBride of Courtland said that if elected, “I will sit down with him and the other elected commissioners and help him plan that exit strategy. It would be a transition.”
– Tippah County Supervisor Dennis Grisham said he is not running “to fire anybody.” But, he added, “If elected I will take a look at that, and I will represent the people of north Mississippi in the right way.”
– Joey Hood of Itawamba County, who has worked for MDOT for 17 years, praised Brown for “doing more for the employees than any executive director” in recent years. But he said he recognizes there have been problems. “We will cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said.
– Ray Minor, brother of Bill Minor, said he has not given much thought to Brown’s status, “but he may not be back.”
– John Caldwell, transportation director for the DeSoto County Schools, said he is not running on Brown, but “we are not likely to keep him.”
– Grenada business owner Larry Lee said that if he is elected, “Butch Brown can pack his bags.”
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.