Contacts with key people an invaluable asset

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 15, 2009

There’s e-mail through the Internet, faxes and phones — wired and cell. The U.S. Postal Service is also still in business. Communication with Congress is easier than ever. Nothing, however, replaces face-to-face time, and having a delegation from Vicksburg and Warren County travel to Washington, D.C., each year is proving more and more worthwhile.

“We got a very favorable impression,” Warren County Port Commission executive director Wayne Mansfield said last week when the group returned after having presented its wish lists to members of the House and Senate from Mississippi.

Since the trips were begun about 10 years ago, local projects have received millions. And it’s not always roads and bridges. Though “infrastructure” is important, money has been made available for parks and recreation as well as museums and programming.

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Most significant today is that, contacts have been built and staff relationships established. Now, when Congress is ready to dump unprecedented amounts of money into the economy, key people in Washington know the cash sent here will be spent for public purposes and with full accountability.

Mansfield said the delegation, which included Mayor Laurence Leyens and District 1 Supervisor David McDonald, was assured local requests already in line for grants would not be lumped in with projects for local governments that are less prepared to receive and spend the money.

“Maybe” funds include $25 million to complete the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers interpretive center, for which the retired MV Mississippi IV is in position near City Front to serve as the centerpiece. Funds for national parks and repair of monuments in federal cemeteries, both of which would affect the Vicksburg National Military Park, are in the stimulus bill. Other line items include money pledged to construct a railroad tunnel and replace the bridge at Washington and Clark streets, a project to connect South Frontage Road between Porters Chapel Road and the Outlets at Vicksburg and maybe even $25 million for a new jail.

“Official travel” rarely gets good reviews. There’s a reason for that. Many junkets primarily serve the purpose of letting officials enjoy fine wine and tender steaks at the expense of taxpayers and lobbyists. It speaks well of local leaders that their annual trips have been organized, purposeful and work-oriented. The proof is in the results seen to date. We wouldn’t be where we are without ongoing efforts to maintain face-to-face communication.