The Yin and Yang of Harry and Leroy

It doesn’t take long for a newcomer to the area to realize who the two most powerful political figures are in Lowndes County.  Board of Supervisors President and District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders and District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks stand head-and- shoulders above all the other politicians and dignitaries in the area.  Part myth, part fact and part legend, the stories of Harry and Leroy are well-known and part of the cultural fabric of our community.

In many ways, they are the last stranglehold of the Old South in our midst. They are an ever-present reminder of the issues of race (both black and white) and the unresolved concerns of the past.  Both men are often seen in the community as the “one'” who is going to balance out the other.

In a time and place where race still matters, both men have a pivotal role of “creating balance” in the minds of many people in Lowndes County.  From community restaurants, barber shops and private residences, the “Leroy and Harry” mythology plays out like a long-running television show, with the community waiting for the next exciting car chase or explosion.

When questioned about the perception of Harry and him, Leroy points out, “Nine-five-percent of all the votes that take place (at Supervisors meetings) are unanimous votes.”  When I have a dispute with Harry, it is about politics, usually a personal issue and is often not as bad as it is reported.”

Leroy has been on the Board the longest of any of the Supervisors, with his tenure starting in 1984.  Harry joined the board in 2000 and assumed the board presidency in 2004. And, from the time the two came together, they have formed a certain Yin and Yang of existence that, for better or worse, defines their political careers.

But, for all their differences – and there are plenty – both men share some of the same attributes.  They are strong men, vocal men, and most of all, two people who are willing to “tell it like it is”, even if it ruffles some feathers.

Harry’s latest venture into the arena was at a Rotary Club meeting, a few weeks back, when he was quoted as saying, “Some of the City’s (Columbus) Board appointees could not tie their shoes” when asked by a reporter about the City of Columbus and Lowndes County forming one local government.

Harry doesn’t mince words when he talks, and if the reader or listener doesn’t understand what he is saying, it is not Harry’s fault.  And, don’t wait for an apology – it’s not coming.

Harry was clear to point out that the questions he had been answering that day where more in reference to forming one municipal government. “You would have to change the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 to remove the Supervisors from the leadership process and it’s not going to happen,” Harry added.  “If the City could annex the whole county, they could be in charge of it all and that is not going to happen.”

Harry, however, is astute and understands the complexity of such issues.  He is well aware of the pitfalls laying within the city limits.  Echoing what has already been said by Interim CMSD Superintendent Dr. Liddell and the rest of the City School Board, Harry is direct.  “People are moving from the city and the school system has to be fixed and if it’s not fixed, it’s going to be taken over by the Federal Government.”

When it comes to the board appointments and the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau (CCVB), Harry is his lively self.  “Some of the Board members want to do the right thing and others just want to fight.”  Harry is clear that he is not a fan of the so-called “parties” that the CCVB sponsors.

“Grilling on the River, fishing tournaments, baseball games and conventions make the money.  The so-called “festivals” do not, and are just short-term feel-good events.  They do not offer long-term success.”

In an ironic twist, Leroy also sees problems with how the CCVB is run, but from a different angle.  “I think you have Board members who joined the Board with their own agendas.  Without open minds, they do not have the flexibility to do the things they need to do.”

Leroy is also as direct and straight as Harry about the CCVB, just from the opposite angle.  “The problem can be solved by doing two things.  First, fund the festivals and don’t make everyone come back, year after year, and subject themselves to the process. If the books (recordkeeping) are correct, just fund the event. The second is, fund the LINK.”

“Once those two issues are done”, Leroy continued, “the rest will take care of itself.”  Knowing that people realize that he “has a dog in the hunt”, with the Juneteenth festival, Leroy is quick to point out that he is doing the Junettenth Festival for the community and that he is comfortable that he would be elected, even without the event.

Both men were also adamant about their support for the LINK.  Harry proudly announced that the LINK had generated over 5,000 jobs, and that on February 2, 2012, the County had received a tax check for $6,300,000 from SeverStal.  This the largest tax check ever given to the County and it will be shared with the County school system.

When questioned about Columbus’ lack of success in participating with the LINK and the County, both individuals were candid in their assessment.  Harry’s answer was quick and sharp, “It started when Jeffery Rupp chose not to have Columbus participate in the Industrial Park and no one, in the last decade, doing any work to annex the Columbus Air Force Base.”

“I can’t really tell you what’s wrong with the City.  The County tries to help.  We give them $700,000 a year to fix their roads. But, it really is up to the people.  If they don’t like how the city is being run, they need to find and fund candidates and elect other people for Mayor and City Council.”

Leroy was also firm in his response.  “The City is landlocked and has to look at retail for their growth. They have to have open communication with the LINK.”  When asked about annexation, Leroy was clear, “The City has to annex undeveloped land to grow.  Getting areas with no tax base is not going to help them.”

The fact is, the County is better run and organized.  A typical Board of Supervisors meeting lasts less than an hour and even when confronted with controversy, such as Co-Op Road, it has never seemed to lose order, over the past several months.  It helps when you have money in the bank to pay for your projects.

Harry and Leroy are opposites in many ways and, even when they agree that there is a problem, they often see a different solution.

Both men, however, are bold, with Harry often quoted as saying, “I am the bad guy for telling the truth.”  And, Leroy is not one to shy away from the controversy, either, and has no problem saying, “In a small, southern town, they are not used to a ‘Homeboy’ being so loud.”

In truth, both are loud and both are proud.  At any given Supervisors’ meeting, it is obvious that they are the men who run the table.  In the community, they are often seen as the defender of the cause.  And, in Lowndes County, that cause is race.

One day the community may rise above this concept, but it’s not here and it’s not now.  But, one day we will.  Until then, we have Harry and Leroy, the Yin and Yang of Northern Mississippi, standing toe-to-toe to fight any and all real and perceived injustices.

They are two giant men, forging toward the future, each with one foot planted squarely in the past.  And, strangely enough, it’s not all their fault.  Sometimes you give the audience what they want.

Joseph B. St. John

A/K/A Mr. Mojo Rising

Originally Published in February 22, 2012 Print Edition

2 Comments on “Commentary”

  1. Mary Lee Boutwell Says:

    Why did The Real Story not have any information on the Steve Wallace incident in Caledonia. I found no mention of it and would like to know the real story. Thanks


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