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Mississippi rehires fired director

By Geoff Pender
South Mississippi Sun Herald

JACKSON – Less than two months after being fired on a 2-1 vote of the state Transportation Commission, Butch Brown on Tuesday was rehired on a 2-1 vote as director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Brown will retake his old job immediately, MDOT officials said. Although the move is now subject to state Senate approval, that is expected to be a formality. His rehiring comes after a new commissioner, former state Sen. Bill Minor, joined the three-member elected commission this month.

"No, this wasn't a surprise," Brown said Tuesday. "I was a lot more surprised when I lost the job. I'm excited. We've been busy, especially in (South Mississippi). We were right in the middle of a lot of good things when we got this little six- or seven-week setback, so we just want to get to moving fast again."

Brown's firing in November by the commission had angered many, including leaders in South Mississippi who thought he had been doing a good job of straightening out the agency, which has a $1 billion budget, 3,300 employees and a penchant for bureaucracy and internal bickering.

Northern District Commissioner Zack Stewart and Central District Commissioner Dick Hall had voted to fire Brown, who had been serving in the $125,000 a year job since mid-2001. For Stewart, a lame duck at the time, it was one of his last official acts before leaving office.

Wayne Brown (no relation), Southern District commissioner, had voted to keep Butch Brown, and had been vocal in his opposition to the firing.

"I had been saddened," Wayne Brown said Tuesday. "I felt it was misguided, especially with Stewart as a lame duck. I felt Butch Brown had a vision for the department and made a wonderful leader, and Sen. Minor felt the same way. Now we need to just get back to building roads."

On Tuesday, Butch Brown said he is still unsure of the politics behind his firing.

"MDOT's a big operation, like a huge company with a big budget, and it's a very high-profile job," he said. "Gosh, I guess it's inevitable in an organization that size and scope, you're going to have some egos and some differences of opinion and management style. That's the only thing I can attribute it to."