South Mississippians speak their minds to CMR

One feisty woman rules the crowd with sense of humor

jphampton@sunherald.comFebruary 7, 2013 

The Commission on Marine Resources asked the people of South Mississippi for their opinions on the search for a new executive director of the Department of Marine Resources and it got them Thursday in Biloxi.

Participants brought them scribbled hastily on scraps of paper, written in elegant longhand on legal pads, and in one case, input on a cellphone. They took notes and revised their remarks on the fly as others spoke.

The audience ranged in age from 12 to the mid-80s. One brought a video camera. Others voice-recorded the meeting. One quoted Shakespeare.

Some brought anger.

"Wow -- how can you trust this board to appoint someone to guide us into the future?" said James "Catfish" Miller loudly, after scolding the commission for losing the public's trust. "We're done."

He called for the commission to be abolished.

But the woman who won the crowd over did it with humor.

"Bruce Duckett, I taught you in 1956," said Della McCaughan, as she wagged her finger at Duckett, who had spoken earlier and was sitting next to the podium. The crowd applauded wildly.

"Could you state your name for the record?" Chairman Vernon Asper asked McCaughan.

"He just did," she said of Duckett, to more applause.

"I want to say something to the Sun Herald and you listen to me," she said. "Due to the actions of a few people, they have brought embarrassment and shame to this DMR. That needs to be corrected. There are some many wonderful people in the DMR -- brilliant brains,

people who know technology, people who work there tails off.

"The next time someone is drowning or a boat is sinking out there, you go ask that person if they love the DMR."

More applause.

Her criteria for a new director? "When you have an executive director, that fellow ought to smile sometimes. I haven't seen an executive director smile in about 10 years, and it's about time."

She also favored -- as did most who spoke -- an open-door policy at the agency.

"You listen to that fisherman, you listen to that oysterman that's dredging and pulling those trawls and working hard. You listen to those people who work hard to get you to where you are today."

Keep it here

She -- and other speakers -- were opposed to control of the DMR migrating north.

"We can't let Jackson take it," she said. "Boy, there'll be a move to take it up there."

Several people supported Ed Cake, who presented a list of criteria he wants the next director to meet. He proposes the next director would have an extensive academic background and at least seven years of "active employment and/or research experience in a marine resource-related position in the Gulf of Mexico."

Supporters and opponents

Interim Director Danny Guice was the only candidate mentioned by name.Some liked him.

Duckett has been openly campaigning for him.

"My experience is it's far more important for the chief executive officer to be respected rather than be loved," he said. "I think it is helpful that the director would be knowledgeable in the management of our marine resources, but given the number of scientists who currently are on the staff of DMR, I don't think this is what I'd call a critical need.

"I think it would be helpful if he or she was familiar with the local political environment. Mostly to be aware of who not to get involved with as well as who to team up with.

"I think currently your deputy director, Danny Guice, has these skills."

Some didn't.

"Why should Gov. (Phil) Bryant or Bill Walker select or elect Danny Guice or Ashley Edwards, etc.?" Carol Lightner said. "That's business as usual."

Some have said Edwards, an aide to Bryant, is a leading candidate to replace Walker, who was fired in January. Edwards isn't talking.

"John Grisham could write a book on this," Lightner said. "You can't possibly make this up."

Afterward, Asper said the meeting was a success.

"I was pleased this many came," he said.

At least 20 spoke. About 100 attended.

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