February 9, 2011 9:57:00 AM
JACKSON -- Within moments of taking office Tuesday, a new Mississippi transportation commissioner voted with one his colleagues to give embattled agency director Larry "Butch" Brown an ultimatum: Resign by Wednesday or be fired.
Mike Tagert, who won a special election runoff last week to become Northern District commissioner, was sworn in just before the meeting. He voted with Central District Commissioner Dick Hall to replace Brown.
Brown has had a series of public gaffes and run-ins with other officials, and Hall had frequently criticized him as a heavy-handed manager.
Southern District Commissioner Wayne Brown, no relation to Butch Brown, voted Tuesday against pushing Butch Brown out of the job. Wayne Brown is not seeking re-election this year.
Butch Brown, 67, announced in January that he would retire in June, citing a recurrence of prostate cancer. He had surgery in late January and has been recuperating.
Reached Tuesday at Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas, Butch Brown said it was "cruel for someone to be fired when he is undergoing some high powered medical procedures."
"I am not there to cause anybody any grief or anything else. I am tucked away here in the hospital," Butch Brown said. "I was more shocked that Mr. Tagert did this without having met with me."
Tagert said during the campaign that MDOT needs new leadership. He is filling the final months of a four-year term started by Bill Minor, who died in November. Minor had been an ally of Butch Brown.
Hall told The Associated Press there is no reason to wait until June.
"We had a new commissioner come on board ... and it was time for us to make a new start, a new beginning," Hall said.
"He has been asked for his resignation by the end of business Wednesday and if he doesn''t then he is terminated," Hall added.
Butch Brown wouldn''t say Tuesday whether he''ll resign or allow the firing to take place. "It doesn''t matter," he said. "One way or the other, I am gone."
Butch Brown is being replaced temporarily by Melinda McGrath, MDOT''s chief engineer.
Hall said the search would begin immediately for a new MDOT director.
Hall said he disagrees with some people who believed the agency needs to be led by an engineer.
"I don''t think that''s necessary at all," Hall said. "You need an administrator. If he or she happens to have an engineering degree, then fine. But you need an administrator ... this is a billion-dollar company."
Butch Brown said his ouster was part of a continuing political vendetta by Hall.
"With Dick it is a culmination of a vendetta that he will have to explain to others. I''m a big boy I can live with that," Butch Brown said.
He said he was comfortable with the work of MDOT while he was executive director. He said it brought national accolades to the agency and its staff.
Butch Brown said he will spend some time working long distance to deal with issues of insurance, retirement, leave time and moving out of his office.
Butch Brown, a former Natchez mayor, had a rocky history with MDOT.
The commissioners first voted to fire him two years after his 2002 confirmation as MDOT director. He was reinstated six weeks later when a new commissioner took office. He has served since then.
At his confirmation hearing in 2009, Butch Brown defended his use of department stationery to write letters in 2004 and 2006 asking the state Parole Board to release Douglas Hodgkin, who was convicted of capital murder in the 1986 slaying of a University of Mississippi student who was raped, sodomized and strangled.
Butch Brown said he sent the letters because he knows and likes Hodgkins'' father, a banker in Kentucky.
More recently, Butch Brown was arrested at the Beau Rivage Casino in July and charged with public intoxication. In November, Butch Brown agreed to anger management classes and, in return, the city of Biloxi would drop a public intoxication charge. He said the incident was a misunderstanding and he was neither drunk nor disorderly.
"I''m Butch Brown. I''m from a river town. That''s how we act," he told reporters Jan. 10 at his retirement announcement.
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