Combs to stay as Natchez tourism director while Hawk leaves as city clerk
from Staff Reports - NEWS
January 18, 2017 - ListenUpYall.com
By John Mott Coffey
NATCHEZ, Miss. – Jennifer Ogden Combs will stay as Natchez tourism director after serving since April in the interim while the mayor and Board of Aldermen searched for prospects to fill the job permanently.
After failing to find someone else, aldermen agreed Tuesday with Mayor Darryl Grennell to hire Combs as fulltime director.
An applicant was tapped by the mayor and aldermen in December to be tourism director, but she turned down the job.
The Board of Aldermen in April ousted then-tourism director Kevin Kirby and the six-member Natchez Convention Promotion Commission after they clashed for months about how the city’s tourism program was being managed. The CPC has since been refilled with new members. Combs has been interim tourism director while also serving as Natchez Tricentennial director.
With the Tricentennial celebration of 2016 now over, Combs said she wants to continue promoting the city and attracting more visitors as tourism director. She also said she doesn’t want to vacate the post while city officials and tourism leaders are clarifying and retooling how Natchez’ tourism programs are run.
The city’s tourism sector has been rattled this past year by infighting and confusion. Clashes emerged about who’s in charge, how city tourism funds are being managed and how convention business is being divvied out to hotels, caterers and other vendors.
State law gives the Natchez Convention Promotion Commission -- an autonomous municipal agency -- control over the expenditure of Natchez’ tourism tax revenues. Combs’ office – the Convention and Visitors Bureau or Office of Tourism Management – is a separate agency that answers to the aldermen and mayor.
The mayor and board have been trying to get a better handle on what Grennell has said is Natchez’ “convoluted and complicated” tourism governing structure. It has city officials scratching their heads about who’s in charge and what they’re supposed to do in luring visitors to Natchez.
The board last year asked Mississippi State University’s government think tank – the Stennis Institute -- and the state tourism department to review Natchez’ tourism governance and give an assessment.
Combs said she’s planning to organize a summit of Natchez tourism partners soon to discuss a “refocusing” of the city’s efforts to attract conventions and visitors. A former Hollywood movie producer, Combs returned to hometown Natchez several years ago to live.
Natchez tourism taxes generated by hotels and restaurants so far this fiscal year total about $875,000, up from the $865,000 generated in 2015, according to the most recent report from the state Department of Revenue for the fiscal year that began in July.
City officials since summer have been actively seeking a permanent tourism director with an advertised salary of $75,000 to $100,000 a year. A pool of applicants was shrunk to two interviewed in December in a meeting closed to the public by the Board of Aldermen.
Grennell was preparing to announce the tourism director’s hiring the following week, but she backed out at the last minute. The mayor has declined to publicly name the designated director.
By John Mott Coffey
NATCHEZ, Miss. – City Clerk Melissa Hawk is resigning to return to Georgia to deal with personal matters, said Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell.
The mayor announced Hawk’s resignation Tuesday at a meeting of the Board of Aldermen. She’s been the city’s chief financial officer for only five months. She was appointed in August to replace Wendy McClain, who was fired for violating undisclosed city policies.
McClain had been deputy city clerk since 2015 and was picked by aldermen last July to be the city’s chief financial officer as that job was converted into an appointed post. Donnie Holloway had been Natchez’ popularly elected city clerk for 16 years.
Aldermen decided in 2014 to make the city clerk a position they appointed to ensure someone more competent could manage City Hall’s financial affairs, which have been plagued in recent years by sloppy bookkeeping and cash shortfalls.
Grennell praised Hawk for her work toward reconciling the city’s financial accounts and getting its records in order. “You can see the kind of person we’re losing,” said the mayor, expressing his disappointment about losing the second city clerk within the first seven months of his administration that began in July.
Hawk worked for government agencies in Georgia prior to moving to Natchez in 2015, when her husband became director of the Natchez-Adams County Airport. Bob Hawk will remain in that post.
While the mayor and aldermen will seek Melissa Hawk’s replacement, an interim city clerk is expected to be appointed.