Probing, carefully considered questions should be asked of Mississippi Department of Transportation Executive Director Butch Brown at his May 5 confirmation hearing before the Mississippi Senate Highways and Transportation Committee.
Brown, a high-profile and often controversial official and former mayor of Natchez, administers MDOT’s decision-making process based on policies and mandates of the three-member, elected transportation commission, but he does so with apparently wide latitude. He is hired by the commission but must be confirmed by the Senate. The executive director serves a four-year term.
The confirmation hearing, which will be run by Senate Transportation Chairman Tom King, R-Hattiesburg, only became a scheduled event after Attorney General Jim Hood ruled that Brown and other, similar appointees are subject to reconfirmation after each four-year term expires. The Transportation Commission had not wanted the confirmation process, apparently to avoid the controversy that could be stirred by theirs and Brown’s critics’ questions.
Heat began building in late 2008 when a Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee’s investigative report found that MDOT had not followed legislative intent – statewide priorities for construction projects – in the Vision 21 Highway Program, passed in 2002.
The questions were persistently raised by members of the Northeast Mississippi legislative delegation in both parties because of the absence of progress in highway construction.
Brown also is often criticized for his abrupt personal style, but personality isn’t at issue, except as it affects the department’s and commission’s efficiency.
Among the widely discussed issues that could be raised during the hearing are these:
- Why did MDOT not follow legislative intent in administering the Vision 21 Program, instead parceling out projects on a commission district apportionment?
- Does MDOT have a plan to propose for raising adequate highway funding for full implementation of Vision 21 in a timely way, and for funding special needs related to economic development?
- What plan, if any, does MDOT use to regularly communicate its decisions and policies to the Legislature, particularly the transportation committees, and to the governor’s office?
- How much does MDOT spend annually on executive-level travel expenses for out-of-state meetings and conferences, and what method of accountability is used to quantify the results of the travel expenditure?
- What is the most up-to-date projection for completion of Vision 21 highways (Highways 15, 9, 25, and 7 in Northeast Mississippi), conversion of U.S. 78 to Interstate 22, and construction of a hurricane evacuation corridor from the Gulf Coast northward to Jackson and other points?
Senatorial advocates of an appointive highway commission and executive leadership should raise questions for comparison of construction progress and timelines in the other 49 states, which don’t elect commissioners or directors.
Citizens who have concerns about Brown’s professional performance and MDOT’s effectiveness should send questions to the Transportation Committee’s members at:
- The Capitol fax: 601-359-3935
- The mailing address is: Post Office Box 1018, Jackson, MS 39215, or Mississippi Capitol, 400 High Street, Jackson, MS 39201
- Put “Attention: Senate Transportation Committee.”
Highways and Transportation Committee members are Tom King, Chairman; Lee Yancey, Vice-Chairman; Sidney Albritton; Terry W. Brown; Nickey Browning; Hob Bryan; Kelvin E. Butler; Videt Carmichael; Doug E. Davis; Bob M. Dearing; Tommy Dickerson; Merle Flowers; Tommy A. Gollott; Billy Hewes; John Horhn; Billy Hudson; Robert L. Jackson; Perry Lee; and Nolan Mettetal.
The hearing begins at 2 p.m. in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the Capitol.
NEMS Daily Journal