July 12, 2018 10:36:09 AM
Did Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves bully the Mississippi Department of Transportation into building a $2 million road from his gated community to a nearby shopping center?
The accusations and denials are flying fast and furious since the Clarion-Ledger reported that MDOT executive director Melinda McGrath said political pressure from state legislators to build $163 million in road projects had forced MDOT to delay work on other projects.
Among those projects was the $2 million frontage road in Reeves' neighborhood that has become cynically known as "Reeves Way."
At a time when the state's roads/bridges infrastructure is in a state of deterioration -- it is estimated it will take as much as $3.75 billion to put that infrastructure in good working order -- the optics of legislators, and especially Reeves -- aka The Man Who Would Be Governor -- are particularly bad.
Reeves denied the charges Wednesday, saying he did not recall talking to anyone about the road project, but allowing that members of his staff "may have inquired" about various road projects. On an unrelated note, I "may have eaten the last piece of cake in the break room."
Reeves wrote a letter to McGrath demanding to know who pressured MDOT to pursue these road projects and Dick Hall, the central district transportation commissioner, said he made the decision to build the road for "safety reasons."
That's an interesting way to put it, of course. The new frontage road would benefit about 150 residents, and it appears the safety of these people is of paramount concern.
These are not run-of-the-mill people, after all. They are wealthy folks, important folks, folks who know people in high places, folks who are already in high places.
Meanwhile, there are millions of Mississippians bouncing all over the place throughout the state whose safety appears to be a lesser priority.
Amid the furor, Hall has suspended plans for "Reeves Way" pending an investigation and giving more thought to whether the road really is a matter of "safety" or simply a matter of wealthy folks not being inconvenienced.
If you know how things work in Mississippi, you already know the answer to that question.
We are all too familiar with "Reeves Way" of doing things.
Earlier this year, Reeves presented a roads/infrastructure bill that would have stripped MDOT of much of its authority in choosing which roads/bridges are fixed and in what order those roads/bridges would be repaired.
It was a clear power grab by a man whose lust for power is an open secret. In his time as Lt. Gov., Reeves has become the most despised man in the legislature, mainly because of his strong-arm tactics.
Did Reeves use his muscle to get a road built in his neighborhood?
Let's put it this way: It would not be out of character.
In the meantime, the calls for an investigation lead to another question. Who would do it? Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat who figures to run against Reeves for Governor next year? How about the state ethics commission director? His name is Tom Hood. He's the AG's brother. You see the problem.
But even if there could be an impartial investigation of the legislators who have demanded these $163 million in road projects, how effective could that investigation be? The legislature has exempted itself from Public Records laws, which tells you all you need to know about the arrogance and integrity of that body. If there is evidence, the legislature has made sure it will not be discovered. Metaphorically, they throw all the smoking guns into Ross Barnett Reservoir.
So we'll probably never know for sure if Reeves and legislators acted inappropriately.
But we have a pretty good idea.
For as long as anyone can remember, our state has been run on patronage: Who you are, who you know and how much money you have in your bank account matter.
Most Mississippians don't live in neighborhoods where cutting five minutes off your drive to Kroger constitutes a "pubic safety" issue.
That's something to think about as you bounce all over the pot-mocked road to your non-gated community from work today.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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