ERROL CASTENS: Let’s talk: Town, gown and county

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Hundreds of people were involved in Oxford’s massive Vision 2020 study in the late 1990s. A few years later, city officials adopted a comprehensive plan that is to guide governance.
Last week, Oxford undertook yet another study of itself when a team of out-of-town experts sponsored by the American Institute of Architects came to look, listen and offer ideas for Oxford’s “sustainable growth.”
Surprising no one who’s ever been here, the team noted a host of appealing qualities: tree-lined streets, a thriving downtown, historic perspective, a vibrant arts community.
Some concerns were predictable: the strip-mall look of West Jackson Avenue, the quest for parking on the Square, gentrification of some neighborhoods and the mild blight that student rentals impose on others.
One big problem, though, is invisible to the casual visitor. It’s a lack of cooperative effort between public entities.
When Oxford aldermen voted to build the city’s Conference Center, Alderman Janice Antonow said, they had no idea that the University of Mississippi would soon build the Inn at Ole Miss, which has taken much of the convention business the city had targeted.
Lafayette and Oxford Schools have little to do with each other, and consolidation isn’t even on the table.
Lafayette County supervisors and Oxford aldermen talked past each other for years about whether to jointly fund a sportsplex.
Despite paying county taxes, city residents pay little attention to county affairs, guaranteeing that rural concerns are disproportionately regarded. That’s why Lafayette County residents outside Oxford have no zoning and no building codes.
“You’ve got two cultures: One that thinks the other culture is half-witted, and one that thinks the other is a bunch of high-falutin’ rich people,” said T.J. Ray, a retired English professor who chairs the Lafayette County Planning Commission.
Here’s an idea offered before and apparently ignored: Oxford’s Board of Aldermen should appoint a member to attend Board of Supervisors meetings and vice versa. Many concerns could be answered on the spot, and those not answered could be accurately reported back to the other board.
Adding Ole Miss to the mixture, Chancellor Dan Jones, Mayor Pat Patterson and Board of Supervisors President Lloyd Oliphant should sit down once a month and discuss commingled concerns.
Sue Schwartz, a housing director from Greensboro, N.C., is a member of the sustainable design team that was here last week.
“Thomas Jefferson said, ‘The people get the government they deserve,’” Schwartz said. “If you tolerate that lack of cooperation, it will continue.”

Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.