SURRATT: Van Norman leaves big shoes to fill for Vicksburg

Published 4:00 am Friday, May 5, 2023

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen are in a bit of a fix.

Vicksburg’s city government is losing one of its most important assets and the board is trying to determine the best way to replace the irreplaceable.

Public Works Director Garnet Van Norman has announced his retirement effective May 30 and with him goes a vast storehouse of knowledge about the city’s infrastructure that very few people now working for the city have, and it will take anyone — be it a new civil engineer or an engineering firm — a long time to learn and understand.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

I met Garnet soon after I joined The Vicksburg Post 12 years ago and started covering the city government. It wasn’t long before we developed a working relationship and I took my questions about municipal public works to him because he usually had the answer stored in his memory.

Soon after I arrived in Vicksburg, I was working on a story about the city’s aging infrastructure, and Garnet gave me a history lesson I don’t think I could have received anywhere else. Garnet was like that; if you were interested in a topic involving the city’s infrastructure he was willing to teach you about it, whether it was the city’s brick streets, its water system or the sewer system. About a year ago, I got a history lesson about Vicksburg’s sewer and storm drain systems.

When the ice storm hit the area in 2021, he was one of my first calls each morning to find out how the city was faring and to check on any rumors popping up on the Internet. If Garnet was unable to answer my question he would refer me to someone who could. That’s the kind of working relationship a reporter likes to have with a public official.

Come May 30, I’ll miss that.

On Monday, the board authorized City Clerk Walter Osborne to advertise a request for proposals for engineering services. On May 19, the board will receive the proposals and read them to the public on May 25. The mayor and aldermen are looking for someone or a firm to help carry the city forward and help meet the infrastructure needs of what our officials hope will be a growing city.

But the new engineer or engineers will be lacking; they won’t be familiar with the system’s past or how the system was tied together. There are a lot of old pipes and lines running under the city’s streets that go nowhere or used to run to somewhere.

And that means someone will have to learn history.

Garnet Van Norman put in almost 33 years with the city and served it well. He deserves the right to, as a friend once told me, “Pack it up and take it to the house.” Here’s hoping he has a long and enjoyable retirement.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

email author More by John