MDOT commissioners vote to oust director Brown (3 p.m.)

mmnewsom@sunherald.comFebruary 8, 2011 

— Mississippi Department Of Transportation Executive Director Larry L. “Butch” Brown said this afternoon he hasn't decided whether he'll resign by the end of Wednesday or face termination.

Brown, who is battling cancer, also said Tuesday afternoon he was “sideswiped” by the news the Mississippi Transportation Commission voted 2-1 behind closed doors today to demand Brown submit his resignation or be fired. Newly-elected Northern District Commissioner Mike Tagert was sworn in before the meeting and sided with Central District Commissioner Dick Hall, a longtime foe of Butch Brown. Hall made the motion to force him to resign by Wednesday.

Brown has been criticized with spending practices at MDOT and what some perceive as heavy-handedness when dealing with the public, among other issues.

Southern District Commissioner Wayne Brown was the lone vote against Hall's motion. Melinda McGrath, an assistant director would be interim director to replace Butch Brown and she's accepted the job.

Brown told the Sun Herald by phone after the vote he has been at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston since Jan. 18 receiving treatments, which included several surgeries, for a reccurrence of prostate cancer. He said he had an additional surgery scheduled for Friday. Brown, who had recently announced he would retire in June, was critical of Hall and Tagert for Tuesday's vote.

“I think it's cruel and unusual for this action to be taken when I'm down and out,” Brown said.

Brown said he hasn't decided which course of action he'll take. He said he faces a large medical bill for his cancer treatments, and he's going to have to figure out which option will have the least effect on his state benefits plan. He said the Commission's move could have "serious ramifications" on his insurance.

“I'm trying to assess the best course for me,” Brown told the Sun Herald. “I'm in a life-threatening situation. I've got to put myself and my family first.”

Hall led a move to fire Butch once before, but Brown was rehired in 2004 after then Northern District Commissioner Bill Minor sided with Wayne Brown to bring Butch Brown back. Minor died last fall and Tagert won a special election runoff on Feb. 1 to replace him.

Butch Brown said Hall “wants to have the last laugh.”

“I think it is really low for Dick not to show any reasonableness about how he does business,” Brown said.

Hall said he begs to differ with criticism of the timing.

“This was the absolute opportune time for a change,” Hall said. “We had a new commissioner today. If we were going to make a change, now was the time to do it and we can move forward with a unified commission and a staff with a better attitude.”

Hall, who said he also is a cancer survivor, said he wishes Brown the best and hopes he recovers, but he doesn't see the timing as poor.

“Butch had to know it was coming,” Hall said. “If it wasn't today, it was going to be the next meeting or the next. I was hopeful he would have already turned over his resignation and moved on.”

The Sun Herald follows this story in Wednesday's print and online editions.

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