By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The rocky tenure of Larry “Butch” Brown as executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation came to an abrupt end Tuesday with the swearing-in of Mike Tagert of Starkville as the Northern District Transportation commissioner.
Tagert, who won a special election for the vacant post earlier this month, joined Central District Commissioner Dick Hall in voting to oust Brown.
“I gain nothing and take no pleasure in being put in this position,” said Tagert, who fills the vacancy created by the unexpected death of Bill Minor on Nov. 1.
Tagert said it was best for the 3,000-employee agency and for the state to replace Brown.
Hall had been advocating the removal of Brown for years, but the director had the support of the other two commissioners – Minor and Wayne Brown of the Southern District.
On Tuesday, in executive session soon after Tagert’s swearing-in, Hall made the motion to demand that Brown submit a letter of resignation by 5 p.m. Wednesday or he would be terminated. Tagert supported the motion. Wayne Brown, no relation, voted no.
‘Part of a vendetta,’ Brown says
Larry “Butch” Brown, 67, said later Tuesday that he had not decided whether he would resign or be fired. He was in Houston at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he has been undergoing procedures to deal with prostate cancer.
He said people in Jackson were trying to determine what would be in his best interest to ensure that health insurance is continued for him and his wife.
He did say he was surprised by the actions of Hall and Tagert since he already had announced he would retire June 30.
“I can’t imagine how they could be so cruel as to put a man on the street who is going through what I have been going through,” Brown said from Houston. “Now I will have to spend time replacing health insurance.”
“I think it was part of a vendetta on the part of Dick Hall. He was able to convince Mike Tagert.”
Hall told The Associated Press it was time “for a fresh start.”
All seven candidates who vied to replace Minor indicated that they wanted a new executive director.
On Tuesday, Tagert, former head of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority, said he did not campaign on replacing Hall, but made it clear that was his intention.
Brown, former mayor of Natchez who was first appointed to head the Transportation Department in 2002, has been a lightning rod for some time. This past summer he was arrested at a Biloxi casino on public intoxication charges.
Under an agreement, the charges will be dropped if he undergoes anger management classes.
Hall had long sought his removal, saying his management style was heavy-handed.
But he was reconfirmed by the state Senate for a new four-year term as executive director in 2009.
On Tuesday, Rep. Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, said he was not caught off guard by the removal of Brown. “I am not actively involved at MDOT, but I am really not surprised.”
Sen. Gary Jackson, R-French Camp, also said he was not surprised “since he was a controversial figure.” But, Jackson added, “I have not had any problems with him.”
Others questioned the need to act so quickly to remove Brown.
“He already said he was going to leave,” said House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, who called Brown “a five-star administrator.”
McCoy added, “To kick a man when he is down … I hope they feel better.”
Sen. Eric Powell, D-Corinth, said, “I don’t know why they had to act so fast. Maybe, I don’t know all that was going on, but in four months he was going to retire anyway. … I am hoping whoever replaces him with work as well with the Legislature and with others as Butch did.”
The commission named Chief Engineer MeLinda McGrath to replace Brown on an interim basis. Under state law, if the commission has not named a replacement by March 1, the governor is supposed to fill the vacancy.
The replacement will be subject to Senate confirmation.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.