Breaking: JFP Urges City Council to Reject Settlement | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Breaking: JFP Urges City Council to Reject Settlement

In a memo faxed and hand-delivered to members of City Council on June 26, JFP Editor Donna Ladd raised a number of concerns about the proposed settlement between the city of Jackson and The Clarion-Ledger regarding public records.

The memo details several points of concern. First, despite avowals from Dale Danks and Mayor Frank Melton, the settlement addresses only The Clarion-Ledger's access to public records. It would not apply to other media at all.

Second, the settlement was drafted by Melton's private attorney, Dale Danks, without the participation of the city attorney's office. This is very strange. Dale Danks is not a city attorney, and Melton was sued in his official capacity as mayor. How then can the city attorney's office be excluded from the settlement?

Third, Dale Danks' participation in the settlement and his potential role as public records czar raise a host of conflict of interest concerns. For instance, Danks currently represents Melton in his suit against The Clarion-Ledger for alleged breach of contract. Also, the Jackson Free Press has made a number of public records requests related to Danks himself, none of which have been answered.

Fourth, the JFP is concerned by language in the settlement that gives the city 14 days to respond to any request for information, even if that information is readily available. This contrasts with a public records memo Melton signed last week that stated "the 14-day working day waiting period is the maximum provided by law and is not to be our standard response time."

Fifth, the JFP already has two dozen public records requests that have not been honored. Why does the city need to haggle over a "settlement" when instead the city could simply start following the law?

The letter concludes with a call for rejection of the settlement. Instead, the city should honor outstanding information requests, appoint competent information officers to break the bottleneck on routine distribution of information and instruct the city attorney's office on their obligations under the law.

At the time of this posting, the City Council is in executive session discussing the settlement.

Previous Comments

ID
172511
Comment

Bet they won't.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-06-27T12:32:16-06:00
ID
172512
Comment

I don't bet. I just try to do the right thing and wait.

Author
ladd
Date
2006-06-27T12:39:15-06:00
ID
172513
Comment

I'm posting it that on my wall. "Do the right thing and wait."-Todd S.

Author
emilyb
Date
2006-06-27T12:44:51-06:00
ID
172514
Comment

It's the JFP mantra. You can't expect immediate gratification, response or understanding—but it will come if you do the right thing. Words to live by, IMHO.

Author
ladd
Date
2006-06-27T12:51:01-06:00
ID
172515
Comment

I hope that the council will give your memo very careful consideration. If they choose not to consider it, then IMO they are only aligning with Melton. The council cannot make an unbiased opinion without hearing more than one side. That logic has never worked before, and it certainly will not work now. It's time for the major players to step up to the bat. Melton has loaded the bases, but it time for a strikeout. JFP -1 Melton -0

Author
lance
Date
2006-06-27T13:21:03-06:00
ID
172516
Comment

I'm hoping they do the right thing, honest. I just also know that secrecy only aids tyrants. How Frank gets treated is up to the Council, but with apolgies to Ben Allen, I don't trust a lot of them. :)

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-06-27T14:09:05-06:00
ID
172517
Comment

Apparently, the executive session ended with no resolution this week—so no settlement on June 27 as The Clarion-Ledger had hoped. Word is that it may come back up next week, but Brian will update you when we know more.

Author
ladd
Date
2006-06-27T14:14:26-06:00
ID
172518
Comment

I just found this over on Sid Salter's blog: Today's story on that subject quoted Jackson Free Press Editor Donna Ladd as expressing concerns that Melton's agreement with The Clarion-Ledger not be considered a la carte compliance with those laws. Donna's absolutely right to voice those concerns, as would be other media outlets and good government advocates across the political spectrum. Melton can't pick and choose when he will or won't comply with the state's sunshine laws or with which media outlet he will exercise that compliance. That's not the point and never has been. Then a commenter made this point, which is right on: The settlement was wrong. The Open Records Act took a sharp hit. The C-L should have pursued the case through the court and the city should have been fined the maximum. Too many issues were raised to have some smoke-filled, back room "agreement" ala the Hedermans. There needed to be an adjudication in which the judge clearly stated in open court that the law required the city to respond prmptly. Since the C-L...for whatever reason...decided to let them off the hook, the law is now muddled. [...] The judge was supposed to (within reason) clear his calendar, hold a hearing, and require the release of the documents and fine the screwups. My problem is this. I am afraid that you guys muddled it with all the lawyers and the settlement garbage. I'd rather you had let the reporter (or editor) who submitted the request take it to the court without a lawyer. The lawyer comes in when the judge screws up. Because of the way you handled it, I'm afraid that "everyman" will feel that the law is out of his reach. That the law only applies to the guys with a checkbook. Right on. But it looks like the Ledge's settlement is falling apart so maybe we can get this thing back on track the way it's supposed to work. Let's hope.

Author
ladd
Date
2006-06-28T17:53:37-06:00

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