Hancock County officials were conspicuous in their absence when President Obama spent part of Monday on the Coast.
No familiar local faces appeared when Air Force One taxied into the Harrison County Air National Guard facility at 10:14 a.m. Monday. Nor did they appear when Obama’s motorcade whisked him to the Gulfport Coast Guard Base to talk with elected officials from that city, Biloxi, and Harrison and Jackson Counties.
“Nobody was asked from Hancock County,” said Rocky Pullman, president of the county’s Board of Supervisors. “This is just another slap in the face of Hancock County.”
Some local officials said they would have liked to have the president’s ear for a few minutes, and the chance to express Hancock County concerns over harm the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy is doing to the Coast.
“Just the invite … to make sure everybody who should have been there was there,” said Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo. “It shocked the hell out of me when I saw on the news that he was in Gulfport.”
But apparently, plenty of other people knew.
Those appearing at the meeting with the president included Gov. Haley Barbour and his wife, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, as well as the mayors of Gulfport and Biloxi, and county supervisors representing Harrison and Jackson Counties.
Also present were the directors of the state Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Marine Resources, and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
Pullman said being left out of the loop isn’t unusual for Hancock County. Sometimes, he said, he feels that Mississippi “wants to give us to Louisiana, but Louisiana doesn’t want us, either. We’re sort of out there in no man’s land.”
Nor were Bay St. Louis officials asked to attend.
“We were never contacted at all,” Mayor Les Fillingame said. “I don’t know why we weren’t invited. Our concerns are as real and as passionate as anybody else’s.”
It remained unclear Tuesday who made up the guest list for the president’s visit. Pullman said that before the event, he heard from Barbour aide Ashley Edwards, who was attempting to reach Brian Adam, Hancock County’s director of emergency management. But Adam apparently wasn’t invited either, Pullman said. Bay St. Louis City Councilman Bill Taylor said he, too, had been unaware that local officials on the Coast would meet with Obama. “For sure, they could have invited somebody from Hancock County, the mayor or the president of the board. It wouldn’t have taken much to do that,” Taylor said.
Being asked to the meeting may have been largely ceremonial in its import. But the sting was real, local officials said.
“Shame on them for that,” Pullman said. “Somebody owes the county an apology.”
BY: J.R. Welsh
The Sea Coast Echo