Frank Melton Is Not A Child | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Frank Melton Is Not A Child

"I didn't shred the documents. I tore them up with my hands." Well, then. I guess we now know what the meaning of the word "shred" is.

When Mayor Frank Melton made that statement to WLBT Monday, after denying reports last week by the staff of the City Clerk's office that he had shredded open-records requests, he was flipping off the citizens of Jackson. Again.

On Monday, he said he denied "shredding" the open-records requests by The Clarion-Ledger—legitimate and necessary queries about his travel expenses and other public information—last week to "embarrass" the daily newspaper, ostensibly for using the wrong verb to indicate that he ripped the public trust in two.

Last week, the mayor outright denied destroying the documents, but said that whatever-he-didn't-do was, in fact, a ploy to "expose the leak" in City Hall. The "leak" of what, Mr. Mayor? Dale Danks' pay? Your police chief's qualifications? The receipts for your bodyguards' fancy hotel rooms? The city's crime statistics? The salaries of city directors?

At this point, anybody who provides the public information that Melton and his staff are so bent on hiding can only be called one thing: a hero. Mayor, go ahead and out him or her so we can break out the ticker tape. At least somebody gives a damn about the public's right to know what their elected officials are up to and how you're spending our money.

As Brian Johnson details in our cover story, even as the other media outlets were still giving the mayor a free pass to do or say or lie about anything, the Jackson Free Press has been submitting basic public-information requests since the day Melton took office—causing the city to scream at us like banshees. In return for doing our jobs, we have been treated by the city with utter contempt in response. "Why do you want to know?" "We don't like you." "Well, if you were more loyal to the mayor. ..."

Loyalty, schmoyalty. Being a public servant is not about having a royal court huddled around you to do anything you say, including hiding vital information from the public and helping you circumvent the law. It's about serving the public. And media outlets are embarrassments to our industry, and the public, if we do not hold public officials' feet to the fire. As often as necessary.

The vital point here for the public is simple: This city administration does not want you to know what it is doing. Or what it is spending. Or who it is hiring. Or their qualifications. This is true regardless of which media outlet is on Mr. Melton's "cream" list at a given moment, and who has gotten a temporary reprieve. It is our responsibility as the media to inform you when government officials show contempt for our democratic principles.

As a journalist, I have seen public accountability problems. In New York City, Mayor Rudy Giuliani thought he was above the law, too, but he had people around him smart enough to know he wasn't. In Colorado, the utility company and school board thought they could operate in secrecy—until media nailed their hide to the wall over their tactics. And here in Jackson, during the last administration, I ran into frustrating bureaucratic ignorance about open-records/meetings laws. A certain nonchalance about public-record law pervades City Hall, regardless of the mayor.

But I have never seen such utter disdain for the law and the U.S. Constitution as I am witnessing with this mayor and his inner circle. They seem to think that the law—or whichever dern law gets in their way at a given time—does not apply to them. I sometimes wonder if the mayor has hired a legal staff with the sole charge of helping him get forgiveness for anything he does, rather than ensure that he is acting legally in the first place.

This is no way to run a city. Or anything else, for that matter.

Most importantly, this contempt for the law is setting a terrible standard. Young people are hearing the mayor lying left and right, and trotting out unsubstantiated allegations against anyone who dares criticize him. One week he is "investigating" the district attorney; the next he is "investigating" an unnamed City Council member. Guess what? He doesn't have legal authority to investigate either office. Does he care? No, he's above the law.

Except that he's not. He just acts like he is and hopes Jacksonians (and the attorney general) are disinterested enough to buy it. In return, way too many people—including those in positions to keep Mr. Melton from morphing into a despot, or a silly joke—condescend to this grown man as if he's a helpless child who cannot control his actions. He cannot help it that he lies regularly? He cannot help that he flies off the handle and rips public-records requests in two? He cannot stop himself from grabbing a shotgun and stalking up onto an elderly woman's porch like a character in a bad western, screaming through her door?

This is absurd. And it's an insult to the mayor and the citizens of Jackson—not to mention to all of the adults and kids out there who can control their actions—to just allow Mr. Melton to keep making a fool of himself and this city in such a way. And it's downright unconscionable to keep allowing him to endanger the lives of others by carrying illegal weapons (including onto airplanes), impersonating a police officer and waking people up in their homes in the middle of the night.

That brings me to Jim Hood. As we go to press, word is that the attorney general may well take the easy way out—as timid people have done for years over Melton's shenanigans—choosing instead to ask Melton and the D.A. to sit down for a chat. This had better not happen. This would be the ultimate insult to a district attorney who did her job by lodging these concerns, regardless of political fallout. And worse, it would be a slap at every law-abiding citizen in the state of Mississippi.

Mr. AG, it is time to send Mayor Melton a firm message: He is not above the law. If he has committed a crime, whether felony or misdemeanor, charge him. If Mr. Melton is going to get a pass to violate the law, every citizen of the state should as well. Are you ready to issue those free passes, Mr. Hood?

Previous Comments

ID
72552
Comment

Why don't you file a suit like the CL has filed. Just go copy their pleadings. Perhaps the suits could be joined and you could ride their coatails.

Author
pneville
Date
2006-05-31T16:15:45-06:00
ID
72553
Comment

Offering Suggestions Now? pneville ----> Why don't you get yourself a running start and take a leap head first into your Computer Monitor? Well it made me smile just thinking about it......all worth it for me! ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This topic reminds me of when FM cursed at the WAPT reporter about conducting the online polls, he made a gesture with his head (,b>Like a 3yr old) after he stated that he didn't give a damn what the citizens of Jackson think.

Author
JAC
Date
2006-05-31T16:31:52-06:00
ID
72554
Comment

neville, we have our own attorneys. We don't need to copy the Ledge's pleadings, or anything else. However, they have mega-resources, and I'm glad to see them at this party, and not using all their resources just trying to run the little guys out of our distribution spots.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-05-31T16:39:44-06:00
ID
72555
Comment

Jim Hood was on channel 12 TV tonight telling us that he's letting Frank off with a "warning" and then saying that Frank wasn't breaking any state or local laws with his raids but he may have violated federal laws.

Author
Izzy
Date
2006-05-31T17:05:13-06:00
ID
72556
Comment

Their newscaster said the bit about "state" and "federal" laws, actually, then a clip of Jim Hood saying he hoped it would be a "learning experience" The way the newscaster phrased the first part made it sound like Frank hadn't broken any laws (when she said hadn't broken state or local laws) so when she mentioned he "might" have broken federal laws or civil rights it suprised you. Also sounded as if those laws were less important. What crap!!!! I'm sorry but the news casters ought to be more pissed about this -- they finished up saying that hopefully (paraphrasing here) this would blow over and then we can get back to the work of fighting crime. I'm thinking, yeah, fighting Mr. Melton's crimes. Jeez!

Author
Izzy
Date
2006-05-31T17:09:46-06:00
ID
72557
Comment

Is there a legal mechanism that allows for a recall election?

Author
Philip
Date
2006-05-31T17:51:33-06:00
ID
72558
Comment

The AG has displayed wreckless disregard for the law and the office that he has sworn to uphold. Just like Melton he thinks that he can pi$$ on our backs and tell us that it's raining. His weak and pathetic ruling has opened the door for any citizen to commit the same acts that Melton has done and get away with a simple little warning. I hope that DA Peterson will step over Hood and get some results that will get this city a new mayor ASAP. Hood, just like Melton couold not even look into the camera when he was talking. He and Melton are poor excuses for elected officials. Melton chooses what laws he wants to break, Hood uses the law to justify his reasons for letting Melton off the hook. Thanks Donna Ladd and the rest of your staff for your relentless fight for what's right regardless of who it is.

Author
lance
Date
2006-05-31T20:13:44-06:00
ID
72559
Comment

Frank and Jim Hood remind me of two cowboys that just made a hit movie. You cover for me, and I'll cover for you and we'll ride off into the sunset. This is soooooo not cool. The mayor and the attorney general team up and thumb their noses at the very people who put them in office. This madness has to stop.

Author
rufus
Date
2006-05-31T20:26:34-06:00
ID
72560
Comment

Phillip: Is there a legal mechanism that allows for a recall election? No. I would require the Legislature to enact a recall law (unlikely) or thru the Initiative/Referendum process (time consuming). The only means to oust Melton would be for other state or federal officials to pursue charges against him on some of his other violations, such as carrying a weapon on a commercial flight or witness tampering. Better yet, let him file false charges on Batman again, that may be all that's needed. I never thought I'd see the day that I'd actually dreaming and devising ways to dethrone an elected official.

Author
Jeff Lucas
Date
2006-05-31T21:18:23-06:00
ID
72561
Comment

Trust me, the Initiative/Referendum process is a tough sell in Mississippi. I was deeply involved in the term limits initiative a few years ago and it was a grueling process.

Author
Jeff Lucas
Date
2006-05-31T21:19:53-06:00
ID
72562
Comment

Also, Prospero, are you the same one posting on the Ledge forums? If so, you're an intelligent voice in otherwise-mostly-dismal sea of insults over there. I can barely wade through; however, I just saw your comment on the crime-stat forum, and really applaud you for this: The most important lesson we could learn is about who we are to have elected him. And if we really want to elect the right candidate next time we might be humble enough to try to figure out what the people who didn't vote for him saw that we missed. If we really care about the city we'll learn from this mistake without getting defensive about having elected him. He deceived us. That's on him -- not us. Or maybe next time we'll be a little hipper to the politician who's smart enough to figure out what we want to hear and manipulative enough to say it whether it's good for Jackson or not because he knows it will get him elected. Better yet, maybe we'll question whether what we want to hear makes any sense or not. Like maybe "throw the bums in jail" wasn't exactly the answer to "the crime problem." If we've had to put up with this mayor so we can be a smarter electorate the next time it was well worth it. If we don't learn a thing, not about him but about ourselves, it's all been for nothing. You're making sense.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-04T11:49:40-06:00
ID
72563
Comment

You know, without anyone being condescending or being "I told you so" boastful, we could have a discussion about what those of us who did not buy Melton's schtick saw, and why we were turned off by him. This could really help facilitate a community discussion about how not to have these problems in the future. I'll start. My first big sign is that he only talked in sound bites. He simply could not, or refused to, answer direct questions about how he was going to fulfill his promises. When he did -- "federal grants!" -- they didn't make sense, or weren't fact-based. Now the media played a big role here, because they bought what he said hook, line and sinker. So there was a huge problem with awful media coverage. However, the people themselves really need to question sound bites and just to rely on the media to do it for you/us. So, I will summarize this one to be: "Obvious lack of substance to claims." And not just in a political way. In a real obvious way. Next?

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-04T11:53:27-06:00
ID
72564
Comment

I agree with Donna. More or less, his hit tv show, the bottom line, was all we knew about him. That was only talk without having to produce or do anything. He kept up the formula during his campaign, and it worked overwhelmingly. I imagine some people also felt that since he was apparently successful as a tv executive he could run the city that way, too, and that would be better than anything Johnson was doing. How wrong we were! We should have demanded more evidence of his ability to work with others and to get things done. I suspect Johnson miscalculated our ability to be duped. Because Johnson was too clever to believe what he couldn't see any evidence of from Melton, he assumed we likewise had his cleverness or acumen. Otherwise, I can't see why he didn't question Melton's ability and stability more vociferously for us since Melton was trying to take his job. I said all along Melton was either brillant or crazy and full of crap. I saw no evidence of real brillance before the election and I certainly have not seen any since. I aver we should have blind faith in only God and require everybody on earth to show us some evidence or factual support for their position or claim. This likely would run off most liars or pretenders.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-06-05T17:13:42-06:00
ID
72565
Comment

Additionally, I suspect it's too early for Melton's staff and cheerleaders to cross and demand accountability and more responsible activity from him. None of them has benefited enough yet, nor do they view the problems or fallout as irreparable thus far. Since this is likely the case, the city council and others with access to Melton, with little or nothing to lose, have to hold the mayor to the fire by demanding excellence, accountability, and responsibility. They have to also ask honest and probing questions that the public want to know about when possible. Peterson, Johnson, Ladd and others are trying. The city council must try harder to control the plight and situation of the city despite their statutory limitations. The jury is still out on whether Hood has had any effect on screamlining the mayor's goal, percieved duties, or plans for the city. We will see.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-06-05T17:41:19-06:00

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