“BP has jerked our chain one to many times,” Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran told The Gazette in an exclusive interview Tuesday.
“Ocean Springs joined with other coastal cities as part of a settlement, but BP has since backed away from the table. I’m very unhappy.”
The man-made catastrophe not only shut down the fishing industry but it also impacted tourism. According to Moran, BP did provide money to recuperate lost sales tax revenue, but the company has yet to fund specific waterway improvements listed with the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) program.
“All of the projects we asked BP to fund are on the NRDA list,” Moran said.
One of those projects is a living shoreline on Front Beach. The multi-million dollar project is at a stand still until grant money can be secured to fund the environmental engineering aspects of the proposal.
“The project aims to create additional marsh and wildlife habitats,” said Moran. “It also involves erosion control measures.”
As mayor of Ocean Springs, Moran has leaned on contacts from around the globe to accomplish her visions of Ocean Springs. Her international contacts were formed just out of college.
After graduating from Ocean Springs High School, Moran set her sights on the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Her education in international commerce and finance, later led her to work at both the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization. She was also a Fulbright Scholar at the Institute of World Economics in Kiel, Germany.
“If you think we’re bureaucratic, you haven’t seen the Europeans,” she said.
“This was the early 70s, and I saw food, trade and goods as a better alternative to military diplomacy in regard to economic development,” Moran added. “That’s what enticed me to the field.”
After college, Moran served five years as managing director of the State of Mississippi European Office in Frankfurt, Germany. Her connections there with the German Embassy landed Ocean Springs $60,000 to build the community’s Boys & Girls Club.
“There are a lot of parents who simply can’t afford after school care for their children,” Moran said. “The Boys & Girls Club is a national program, and they know what works.”
Prior to her mayoral election, Moran also served as director of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation in the late 90s. It was a post she held for three years as an industrial recruiter for the Gulf Coast. In the position, she was instrumental in creating thousands of jobs in Jackson County, she said.
“The BP Destin pipeline was going to be in Mobile,” Moran explained. “That was a billion-dollar project.”
She also led efforts to amend legislation to allow the development foundation to seek a $2 million grant for the four-lane access road to Signal International, one of the largest marine and fabrication companies on the Gulf Coast. It was a tedious process, she said.
“I helped lay the groundwork for future development and a lot of other industrial projects in Jackson County,” Moran said. “There is a direct correlation between my industrial development background and my time as mayor.”
Her understanding of government agencies and programs helped reconstruct Ocean Springs following the devastation of Katrina in 2005. As mayor, Moran has led the community to a point now where she and residents can boast of multiple beautification projects -- a streetscape plan, beach walkway and Hwy. 90 bridge murals, to name a few -- all funded with grant money.
“It was a trial by flood,” said Moran of taking office six weeks prior to Katrina. “It was the biggest challenge of my life.”
As mayor, Moran bills Ocean Springs as an historic arts community. Walter Anderson and his family paved the way for Ocean Springs as an arts destination, she said, so it’s a natural fit.
“Walter Anderson is our greatest cultural asset,” said Moran. “Now more and more artists come here to sell their work, and it’s part of our creative economy. We’re blessed.”
A strong fiscal conservative, Moran makes no apology for fighting for every dime she can get from grant money. Her grandfather was a county supervisor for 40 years, and her father was a city alderman for years. Their love for Ocean Springs inspires her to fight hard for the city’s continued improvement and quality of life.
“Ocean Springs has been transformed,” Moran said.
Some citizens have criticized Moran’s decision to transform Government Street to look more like Washington Avenue, but she counters that tree canopy roadways are key to drawing residents and tourists to downtown. It just takes time to adjust, she said.
“There’s plenty of room, you just can’t drive 40 m.p.h. anymore,” Moran said. “That was actually part of the plan. We wanted traffic calming devices other than obnoxious speed bumps to make downtown more pedestrian friendly.”
With an aim to maintain the small town charm of Ocean Springs, Moran said residents should be thankful that they can walk anywhere in downtown Ocean Springs and purchase most everything they need.
“If you think about it, that’s the way Ocean Springs was growing up here,” she said. “Downtown Ocean Springs was the center of life here 100 years ago, and we’re trying to get back to our roots.”
With no term limits for mayoral positions, Moran said she hopes to seek re-election as mayor of Ocean Springs. Until then, she looks forward to completing the streetscape project and the front beach master plan, cutting ribbons on new municipal office buildings and finishing the largest sports complex on the coast.
For 2012, Moran hopes to break ground for both a new park on the inner harbor complete with a boardwalk and benches as well as a storm shelter to serve as a gym and potential city office building in case of an emergency. She’s also working closely with developers to construct new businesses and living spaces across Ocean Springs.
“There’s plenty to work on,” Moran said. “I could develop a list of projects for the next 50 years.”
Getting Personal With Mayor Moran
In 1999, Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran gave up her ties to the Republican Party. It was personal.
A single mother of a special needs child, Moran said she switched political parties because her daughter Magdeleine was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and autism.
“The issues that revolve around raising a special needs child I felt wasn’t on the radar screen of the Republicans,” said Moran. “I’m a strong believer in equalizing the playing field. Everyone needs a chance, and I saw the Republicans shifting more toward the haves rather than the have-nots. It just grated at my sense of social justice.”
Moran said Mississippi continues to lag far behind other states when it comes to educating special needs children. A strong advocate for the national autism epidemic, Moran endorses a statewide network for parents with special needs children called TEAAM, Together Enhancing Autism Awareness in Mississippi. She was also instrumental in forming the Gulf Coast Autism Support Network.
“It’s important for parents to know what to look for in regard to symptoms,” Moran said. “Early intervention is key.”
Moran eventually set out to force the local public school to provide special needs children with an adequate education. Now Ocean Springs has one of the best programs in the state, but more improvements are needed, she said.
“It’s consuming,” Moran said. “It’s also heart breaking, but if parents don’t demand it, then they aren’t going to get it.”
“Each child with autism is different,” she added. “There’s a broad spectrum, and you have to work with each child individually in order to get them to connect to your world.”