MARTIN: A productive field trip for Vicksburg leaders

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, March 1, 2023

In February, I joined Vicksburg community leaders for a leadership exchange in Hattiesburg.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr., Aldermen Michael Mayfield and Alex Monsour, and a couple of dozen other representatives from Vicksburg were in attendance to meet and discuss city operations with their counterparts in the Hub City.

The event was organized by Flaggs and Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker, who have been friends since their time working together in the Mississippi Legislature. The idea was to have the leadership of the communities share with each other what does and does not work in the municipal nuts and bolts of the two similarly-sized cities.

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I am somewhat skeptical when I hear of politicians making trips to places in the name of fact-finding or tours. To be fair, in my own professional life, I have not had to attend very many out-of-town conferences, seminars or meet-and-greets.

The few I have attended often left me with the notion that they would have been more efficiently presented in an email. If I see a politician touring a factory, I think, “How is this anything but a photo opportunity; a political advertisement paid for by taxpayers? What information could they possibly obtain from a visit like this that would be less effectively communicated by a thoughtful report?”

But I saw value in the proceedings of this leadership exchange. The visiting Vicksburg leaders and city staff were broken into three groups according to their areas of expertise. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that everyone was actually taking this seriously. It struck me that the people from Vicksburg’s departments and organizations were very much excited to see how the City of Hattiesburg does business.

The whole affair lasted about five hours, not including the bus ride, and the great majority of it was productive. Meetings that split into groups allowed easier communication between counterparts of the two cities and their given departments. The Vicksburg guests seemed sincere in their excitement when talking about how they might implement things they learned on the trip.

It was a field trip in a way, but I think there was a genuine exchange of ideas that would not have been nearly as effective as it would have been over video chat or email. The act of being in a place does grant knowledge that is uncommunicable through words. It helps fill in gaps where language inevitably fails us.

Vicksburg has its issues, like any city. But there have been encouraging statistics from the past few years concerning the well-being of our community: demonstrable improvements to our public school system, violent crime has decreased and businesses have invested significantly in the downtown area.

It is heartening to see a group of leaders genuinely committed to the craft of city policy and operations instead of sliding into complacency.