Last week McComb Mayor Quordiniah Lockley observed that the number of negative remarks about the city increased once a majority-black board of selectmen took office last year.
The mayor said race is “the elephant in the room” when it comes to criticism of the city board, and he has a point. When there is a power shift like the one that occurred in 2018, it can take some getting used to, and that’s what is happening in McComb.
Lockley also is correct that some of the city’s problems — white flight and street conditions, to name two — were percolating long before the current board took office. This board cannot be blamed for these problems, and new solutions should at least be considered and debated.
However, there is a second elephant in the room: This board, in just a year’s time, has shown a disturbing tendency to leap before it looks.
The first example occurred last year, when some board members were determined to relax penalties for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Only the opposition of the new police chief killed the idea, and it came up again this year but got voted down a second time.
Then there is a similar determination to raise property taxes, first to build a gym at the Martin Luther King Center and more for street resurfacing. It indicates this board is less willing than its predecessors to live within its means.
A property tax rate increase in the 8 percent range will not help rebuild McComb or entice people to remain in the city. In the worst case, regularly rising taxes will encourage businesses to look elsewhere, which would put the city’s sales tax revenue at risk.
Finally, there was last week’s vote forbidding police from taking into custody anybody charged with a non-violent misdemeanor crime. This week the board rescinded that decision, saying it would come back with a revised proposal.
But the damage was done. Whether accurate or not, the board’s first vote to release misdemeanor suspects, along with its prior efforts to reduce marijuana-possession fines, gave the impression that the selectmen are uninterested in prosecuting lawbreakers. That does not inspire confidence in the board’s judgment.
Lockley, in his remarks during the May 21 city board work session, said everyone needs to work together to improve McComb. That starts with the mayor and the selectmen.
It’s clear, and understandable, that some of the black selectmen feel they have earned the right to even the score with the white selectmen, who now are in the minority. And it may be that the mayor himself is unwilling to work with white selectmen Michael Cameron and Ted Tullos, since they both voted to remove Lockley from the city administrator’s job a few years ago.
Still, there is work to be done. It would help if the majority avoided rushing into controversial issues. It also would help if Cameron and Tullos started attending work sessions again, which they are paid to do. All city officials say they want to improve McComb, but it’s easy to wonder if any of them truly want to do it.