Pass Christian Changes Permitting Teams

Trey Campbell took off the construction mask he wore while clearing his Davis Avenue office. "We're trying to get our building rebuilt here in downtown Pass Christian," he said.

For awhile, Campbell feared that nobody was listening to him. He kept telling people, "Let me fix my building." Yet nobody at Pass Christian's makeshift city hall was giving him, or anybody else, permission to rebuild. "Let me have my permit. Let me go," he kept asking.

Two weeks ago, Pass Christian aldermen issued their building office a directive -- get construction projects started again. "We wanted to expedite the building permits for the people," Pass Christian Mayor Billy McDonald said.

But as of Thursday night, nobody had received a permit. So at a rather heated meeting, aldermen transferred building permit supervisor Peggy Johnson to another position.  And they told a group from Palm Coast, Florida to take over the city's permit process.

In a Friday phone conversation, Johnson defended the job she's done since Hurricane Katrina ripped through Pass Christian.  Over the past nine weeks, Johnson said, "We weren't in a position to issue permits." She pointed out that only about 124 of some 4,000 buildings in town survived the hurricane. So, her initial objective in the days and weeks after the storm, she said, was to get Pass Christian people into FEMA trailers. "We were doing the best we could," she said.

Apparently, that wasn't good enough for the city. "Again, I'm not about to throw Mrs. Johnson under the bus, because I think an awful lot of her," the mayor said. "It looks like the board made their choice, and we're moving in the right direction to get the building permits to get some businesses back in town."

Businesses like the one Trey Campbell wants to rebuild on Davis Avenue. "I think it just says that we have to move forward, and we need as much help as we can possibly get," Campbell said.

Mrs. Johnson said she could have provided that help. In fact, she told aldermen she had eight permits ready to be picked up. But contractors never stopped by her office.

The overall lack of new construction forced a majority of the board to transfer Johnson, and bring in the Florida experts.  Mrs. Johnson will now concentrate on city flood mitigation issues. "We have a plan in process. They just didn't give us a chance to implement it," she said.

The Florida permitting team begins its work in Pass Christian on Monday.

Building permits aren't the only concern in Pass Christian. The city has no money coming in, so its budget is in serious trouble. Today, the mayor said Pass Christian was asking FEMA for a one point four million dollar loan to temporarily stay afloat.