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Roses and thorns: 2/5/12




A rose to board members and administrators of the Columbus Municipal School District for their quest to improve communication and transparency with city officials and the community. Dr. Martha Liddell and the board of trustees personally invited Columbus Mayor Robert Smith, members of the City Council and local leaders to attend a Saturday morning budget workshop. 


During the workshop, the district's chief financial officer, Kenneth Hughes, and Liddell gave an update on where the district stands financially and efforts they are making to stanch the fiscal hemorrhage they've experienced in previous years. 


The joint meeting between school and city leaders is a step in the right direction and a great improvement over last year's fractious relationship. 


In July, while district officials struggled to finalize their 2012 budget, the mayor and council made several requests to meet with the five board members -- entreaties they said fell on deaf ears. Ward 5 City Councilman Kabir Karriem, backed by Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens, even called for board members' resignations, but the motion was voted down 3-2. 


Karriem, Mickens and Ward 4 Councilman Fred Stewart were not present for Saturday's meeting. But Councilmen Charlie Box and Bill Gavin were enthusiastic about and appreciative of the district's conciliatory move, calling it a proactive measure. 


The city levies ad valorem taxes to fund the district -- moneys the municipality is legally required to provide. And though the school board is autonomous, city officials -- and the taxpayers -- have a right to know where their money is going. 


It seems Liddell and the school board are willing to bend this year, and the presence of Box, Gavin and Stewart, along with Lowndes County Tax Assessor Greg Andrews and Columbus Chief Operating Officer David Armstrong and Chief Financial Officer Mike Bernson, indicates a ready acceptance on the city's part to meet them halfway. 


The meeting was both a smart move and a professional courtesy, and we were glad to see it. 




A rose to the Columbus Arts Council and board member Beverly Norris (the sister of Dispatch Lifestyles Editor Jan Swoope), who received a Humanities Partner Award from the Mississippi Humanities Council this week. The awards recognize outstanding contributions by Mississippians to the study and understanding of the humanities, and we can't think of a more worthy endeavor than the Arts Council's six weeks of special programs held in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibition, "New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music." 


Programs included performances ranging from African drum and dance to blues concerts, Indian song and dance, protest songs of Merle Haggard and even a diddley bow-making workshop -- all of which Norris helped plan and organize. 


This week, downtown Columbus visitors had a plethora of arts events from which to choose -- a Valentine-making workshop, folk art and photography exhibitions, a big band concert and dance -- and judging by the attendance, community response was enthusiastic. 


As economic realities shift and evolve nationwide, it's important for Mississippi -- and the Golden Triangle -- to tap into all resources, and that includes its deep artistic roots. According to a Mississippi Creative Economy study last year, nearly 61,000 Mississippians are employed in the creative sector, and the Mississippi Development Authority is taking note. 


"This new economy is evergreen, authentic and local," Mississippi Arts Commission Executive Director Malcolm White said. "Every Mississippi community has a story, and we think it is time we tell those stories and invite guests to visit and build civic pride around the process. Creativity and innovation are the new currency in this global economy, and Mississippi has a rich inventory of assets, entrepreneurs and storytellers." 


Events like the New Harmonies exhibition draw out-of-towners to Columbus, and our hospitality and charm may keep them here. As the city of Columbus struggles to keep pace with Lowndes County, it makes sense to harness every asset it has. 


To Norris, a tireless foot soldier for the cause of community art, we say thanks and congratulations for recognition long overdue. 




A rose to the Starkville High School Yellow Jackets, who won (1-0) over Pascagoula High School on Saturday for the Class 5A high school soccer state championship. As their first state title match, it was the biggest moment in the program's history, Starkville Coach Brian Bennett said. 


Athletes, their coaches and their parents sacrifice much. Here in the South, football tends to be the religion of choice. But every sport, from baseball to basketball to soccer to swimming, represents hours of hard work and sweat. The bleachers are full at Friday-night football games across the state, but other sports sometimes get short shrift. That should change. 


The Yellow Jackets' dedication to achieving their goals deserves a hearty round of applause. 




A rose to organizers of the 12th annual Town and Tower Prayer Breakfast for a stellar program Thursday at the Columbus Country Club. The guest speaker, retired Air Force Col. Carlyle Smith "Smitty" Harris, kept the audience riveted with his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam from 1965 to 1973. It's not often you get the opportunity to hear truly high-caliber speakers, and Harris' delivery was top-notch. Many said they walked away inspired by his faith and positivity in the face of brutality. 


He spoke of the Vietnamese captors torturing three Americans for holding worship services. As they were dragged outside and beaten, their cell mates sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the top of their lungs in a rebellious show of patriotism and solidarity. The Vietnamese found that even after the beatings, they were unable to quell the prisoners' attempts to worship. Finally, they relented, telling them they could pray as long as they sang quietly. 


"Not only did my life change instantly -- it made me a different man," Harris said. "... I stand before you one of the most fortunate people." 


Fortunate. After eight years of unfathomable torture, fortunate. What a remarkable reminder of the freedoms we enjoy and too often take for granted.



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