Harrison County Supervisor Marlin Ladner this week reminded us how the state of Mississippi does business — in the dark.
Ladner told his fellow supervisors that if he had it to do over, he would not have voted to approve a memorandum of understanding that gave Topship breaks on property taxes and other taxes in exchange for a promise to bring 1,000 jobs to Gulfport’s Inland Port off Seaway Road.
Why? Because he hadn’t read it. Why? Because it wasn’t finished at the time of the vote.
In fact, though the supervisors voted to approve the memorandum of agreement in February, it wasn’t received by the county until March 18.
Now Ladner says: “If I had seen this (the MOU) I would not have voted for it. I guarantee you it will never happen again. I don’t care who is coming in … This is bull. I’ve got a problem with this.”
Ladner and other county officials blamed secrecy from the state and the affiliate of Edison Chouest for their mistake.
That’s the oldest trick in the book: “It’s a limited time offer; if you don’t sign this now, I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to offer the same deal later.”
There are several things, however, that the supervisors and state had to know. They knew Topship’s fortunes are tied to the oil business. And, if the officials had passed a gas station on the way to the signing ceremony, they had to have known gas prices were incredibly low. (Good news for drivers but not so good for an oil industry that shed thousands of jobs as a result.)
And they should have known another Edison Chouest affiliate, Gulfship, had not delivered on its promise of 800 jobs in Gulfport, peaking somewhere between 600 and 650. Officials said that operation now employs 120.
So even with the veil of secrecy, supervisors should have been comfortable saying, hold on a minute, let’s think about this.
But when the governor is pushing something your way, it’s hard to push back. So ultimately, the responsibility for this venture is on Gov. Phil Bryant, who dropped a 197-page bill on the Legislature in an hours-long extraordinary session in February.
There wasn’t enough time to read and study the bill and little debate in public.
That’s the Mississippi way. And that has to change. Unless we’re comfortable with the phrase “Thank God for Mississippi.”