James Crowell is angry about the Coliseum Commission's new makeup. "If you don't want us there on the board," he said, "then why should we then in turn support this referendum."
Crowell's anger bubbled over in April. That month, the only black man on the coliseum board was replaced by a white man from Pass Christian. "It appears to us that it was taxation without representation," the NAACP president said.
Harrison County mayors made the switch for a simple reason. "We didn't have any representation on this end," Pass Christian mayor Billy McDonald said. Chris Moore's term had expired. And William Mitchell "showed an interest in joining the commission," Mayor McDonald said.
The coliseum commission has five members. Three commissioners are appointed by the governor. They are Walter Blessey, Fofo Gilich and Bobby Mahoney. Mitch Salloum represents Harrison County supervisors. And one commissioner is selected by the five Harrison County mayors. When Moore represented the mayors, four of the five commissioners were from Biloxi. Mitchell's appointment gives the commission more countywide representation.
The coliseum director is Bill Holmes. "We believe in diversity," he said. "But we have no control whatsoever on appointments to the coliseum commission."
Chris Moore had no problem with the change. In fact, the outgoing commissioner joined a committee pushing for the coliseum's $68 million expansion. "Personally, this is my personal belief, it's a good thing," he said, referring to the need for Harrison County voters to ratify the expansion plans.
The NAACP sees things differently. "If we're going to ask the minorities to pay taxes," Crowell asked, "why then can't we continue to have minority representation on the board."
Crowell sent a letter to the Sun Herald. He used phrases like "arrogant attitudes" as he urged people to reject the coliseum's expansion plans.
To Bill Holmes, rejecting the referendum would be a big mistake. "What we're talking about is economic development. It transcends any racial issue," he said. "This is economic development. This is more jobs. This is more dollars coming into the economy."
This November's referendum needs 60% support if coliseum meeting space is going to be expanded.