Heidel likely for high post in state MDA

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 8, 2004

[1/8/04]Jimmy Heidel of Vicksburg is being considered to fill a top post in the state economic development agency he once headed, and an announcement may come today as the new executive director assembles his staff.

Separately, Rep. Chester Masterson, R-Vicksburg, has been appointed to a House committee that will recommend legislation to provide doctors with medical malpractice insurance through the state. Masterson, a retired physician, is starting his second House term.

Lawmakers returned to the Capitol this morning for the third day of the 2004 legislative session.

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Start-up activities were continuing with statewide elected officials being sworn in, except for Gov.-elect Haley Barbour whose inauguration is Tuesday.

At an afternoon press conference, Barbour is expected to announce Jackson developer Leland R. Speed will head the Mississippi Development authority.

Heidel said Wednesday that he has interviewed for a chief operating officer job, a new position that will divide the executive director’s post into two offices.

“From what I was told yesterday, (the job) will be split,” Heidel said. “I don’t know what they’re going to call him. It would be modeled a little bit after Washington, where you have a Cabinet member and then chief operating officer.”

Heidel was economic development chief from 1992 to 2000 under Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice. He’s now paid $140,000 a year as executive director for three related organizations the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce, the Vicksburg Warren County Economic Development Foundation and the Warren County Port Commission.

He has also served on Barbour’s transition team and helped write a new economic development plan for the state. Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, who also has served on the transition team, confirmed this morning that Heidel is being considered for the position, but could not say if he would be offered the job.

Heidel, 60, said he also has interviewed for the top economic development job in Louisiana and was supposed to hear back on that job next week.

Asked if he’d rather work in Mississippi or Louisiana, Heidel said: “You know I’m a Mississippian. I spent 35 years of my life in economic development in the state.”

Masterson, re-elected in November, said the House Select Committee to which he’s been appointed will not address civil justice reform, but will look at ways to make malpractice insurance available to doctors across the state. He said the committee being co-chaired by Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, and Rep. Edward Blackmon, D-Canton, was told to have legislation ready before the end of the 120-day session.

“This is very important work if we’re going to keep doctors in the state,” Masterson said.

In 2002, lawmakers set a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, but did not address insurance prices or availability. Several Republicans including Barbour have promised additional reform this year.

The committee was appointed by the new speaker of the House, Rep. Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi. Other committee appointments are expected to be made next week.

Barbour, who defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in November, will be inaugurated Tuesday. Late last month, he announced his first six agency appointments.

He named former district attorney Rusty Fortenberry as public safety commissioner; law enforcement veteran Melvin Maxwell as deputy commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety; longtime trooper Marvin Curtis as chief of the Mississippi Highway Patrol; and Maj. Gen. Harold Cross as adjutant general.

Speed, who is expected to be appointed MDA head, has been the managing trustee and chairman of EastGroup Properties since 1983 and served as chief executive officer through September 1997. He also serves as chairman of the board of directors of Parkway Properties Inc., and as a director of ChemFirst, according to an EastGroup Properties Web site.

He holds an MBA from Harvard University, and is a prominent Republican who often donates to party candidates.

Speed is a member and past chairman of the board of trustees at Mississippi College, chairman of Jackson State University Development Foundation and a past chairman of the Metro Jackson Chamber of Commerce.

The current MDA executive director is Steve Hale, the last of three men to serve in the job under Musgrove. The list included J.C. Burns, who helped bring the Nissan plant to Canton; Robert Rohrlack, a former economic development official in Florida; and Hale, a former Senatobia mayor who served as Rohrlack’s chief of staff.

Hale has been paid $152,700 as MDA executive director.

Today’s announcement was expected to confirm whether Speed will take the top post as a volunteer with Heidel as the salaried executive.