The Closed City | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Closed City

In November of last year, Jackson Free Press reporter Adam Lynch arrived at City Hall to cover a public meeting. Representatives of the sheriff's department and two county supervisors were meeting with Mayor Frank Melton in a room the mayor calls "the Oval Office," although it's really nothing but a conference room.

There were seven or eight people in the room, and more milling about outside, waiting for the meeting to begin. JPD Officer Marcus Wright, one of Melton's personal bodyguards, was also outside the conference room, but when he saw Adam, he walked inside and told Melton that Adam was there to cover the meeting.

Although Adam was still outside, he had no trouble hearing Melton's voice booming from inside: "Escort that man from City Hall!"

Wright emerged from the conference room and took Adam by the arm. "You have to go," Wright said.

"This is a public meeting," Adam replied loudly enough for the mayor to hear. "Isn't this a public meeting? Why can't I attend a public meeting?"

Again, Adam heard Melton yell: "Escort him from the building. I have a personal lawsuit against (the Jackson Free Press)."

"We need to go," Wright said.

Adam shook his arm from Wright's grasp and yelled back at the "Oval Office," "You ain't got no damned lawsuit against us, and you know it." Then he let Wright escort him from City Hall.

Adam was right. Melton had not filed a lawsuit against the JFP or any of its staff. Even if he had, that would not have given him the right to exclude press from a public meeting.

Once outside City Hall, Adam called the JFP's attorney. Soon, Clarion-Ledger reporter Jack Mazurack arrived at the door after Wright had also escorted him out. Mazurack laughed at the absurdity of it all, and the two reporters commiserated for a moment before returning to their respective offices.

There was no reason to think that the meeting might be closed to the press; all city meetings are open to the public, including the press, unless they fall under a very narrow band of exceptions, as set out in the Open Meetings Act. For instance, if city officials are discussing litigation against the city, they may go into executive session so that the city's legal strategy remains secret.

Even if any of the exceptions to the Open Meetings Act had applied that day, the meeting had not even begun. The law states that all meetings must begin as open meetings, even if all the matters up for discussion are exempted under the law. A three-fifths affirmative vote of all members present is required before a public body can go into executive session, and the reason for going into executive session must be stated while the meeting remains open. That reason must be recorded in the minutes.

There was no legal justification for escorting reporters from City Hall that day. But it hardly came as a surprise.

'I Don't Talk to You People'
Mayor Melton had already, on several occasions, expressed his disdain for the JFP and its reporters, photographers and interns, starting back during his campaign when we tried to ask him substantive questions about his plans for the city of Jackson.

The cold shoulder did not grow warmer once Melton took office in July, when the JFP immediately provided exhaustive contact information, don't be a stranger, to the new administration and asked to be informed of all press conferences and media gatherings. We also made our first request for new JPD Chief Shirlene Anderson's résumé and qualifications.

Nevertheless, the JFP was rarely informed of press conferences, and city spokeswoman Carolyn Redd, Melton's sister-in-law from Texas, rarely returned our phone calls. On Aug. 2, Donna Ladd complained to Carolyn Redd in e-mail that the JFP was being left out of media briefings. She responded, "I believe in equal access and will endeavor to do my best in responding to your personal request." However, a week later she changed her tune after Donna asked her in e-mail why neither she nor anyone else from the mayor's office was answering public-information requests. Redd made it clear that the JFP was not covering the mayor the way he'd like to be covered.

Redd wrote on Aug. 9: "I can and will only respond to the things and give information to the press that I know to be factual. I am extremely cautious with the JFP because of the way the paper reported and positioned the information during the campaign." She has never has provided any example of inaccurate reporting by the JFP, nor asked for a factual correction.

Such treatment was not limited to e-mail. In July, the newly elected mayor addressed reporters in City Hall while the City Council met. Reporters were asking the mayor questions, and when it was his turn, Adam asked a question of his own. Melton looked Adam in the eye and dismissed him with a wave of the hand. "I don't talk to you people," Melton said before moving on to the next question. At that time, Melton was on very friendly terms with other media in Jackson, including The Clarion-Ledger and WAPT.

In August, it happened again. Outside the City Clerk's Office, Adam asked the mayor a question for an article he was writing. The mayor replied, "I don't talk to you people. You do bad reporting."

The Jackson Free Press has asked Mayor Melton many times to provide examples of "bad" reporting. To date, he has not produced examples (and recently has told the JFP that we do the best reporting in the city).

Also last August, Adam and then-JFP Assistant Editor Casey Parks had a conversation with city spokeswoman Carolyn Redd, Melton's sister-in-law from Texas. They asked Redd why the mayor would not release public records to the JFP and why she would not return our phone calls or inform us of press conferences, after repeated requests that we be notified about the city's press gatherings.

Redd told Adam and Casey the city would not fill the JFP's requests because we took information the city provided, did further research on it and then "twisted it." She said that other media, such as The Clarion-Ledger, did right by the mayor, implying that we were not loyal enough because, as she put it, we do "research and stuff."

What the @#$%???
Discrimination by the Melton administration against the Jackson Free Press continued throughout the fall and early winter, with numerous reports of the mayor telling citizens and other members of the media not to worry about the JFP. "They won't be around in six months," he reportedly told several people.

In January, Adam was in the office of Sheriff Malcolm McMillin, interviewing him about his department's budget. (See "Running Out of Gas," No. 20.) Suddenly, a familiar voice came from behind Adam.

"What the hell are you doing here?" It was Melton, who had come to meet with the sheriff on unrelated business.

"Good morning, Mayor," Adam replied without turning around.

Again, the mayor accused the JFP of printing inaccurate information, though he could not provide specifics.

"We put in information requests," Adam replied. "We just never get a response."

"That's because I told them not to tell you ####," the mayor spat.

The sheriff then admonished Melton for not being open with city information. "I don't hide anything," McMillin said.

"I don't want to sit here with him," Melton told McMillin, but the sheriff asked him to sit and wait until the interview was finished. The mayor sat, rocking to and fro in his chair in obvious agitation. Adam finished the interview and left.

It would be another month before Melton agreed to sit for a series of interviews with JFP Editor Donna Ladd. By then, news organizations that had once been in his favor, like The Clarion-Ledger, had drawn the mayor's wrath by covering his trip to the Bahamas (which first broke on the JFP's Web site) and questioning how Melton paid for his two bodyguards to accompany him and stay in luxury lodging. In Ladd's first interview with Melton, he told her that he still had the travel expense receipts—and $1,800 in reimbursements to the city—in his desk drawer and he was refusing to provide them to The Clarion-Ledger because he was angry at them for tracking him down in the Bahamas. "But here's what made me furious, Donna," he said, and asserted that the paper should not question his travel expenses to the Bahamas because Gannett corporate executives also flew there on a corporate jet paid for by shareholders, or so he said.

Melton then turned on WAPT after the TV station followed the JFP's lead and started covering the lawsuit against him (and The Clarion-Ledger) in Meridian filed by Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agents who say that Melton defamed them by releasing a false memo to the newspaper. A judge ruled against Melton in the case last fall because he had lied about leaking the memo in court documents during his campaign. He changed his story after being sworn in as mayor last July. The damages phase of that case is pending.

WAPT, and especially reporter Andrea Molloy, drew more ire from Melton after the station aired footage in February of Melton telling the camera: "(The media) come and ask me questions, then they run out and ask the public what they think, like I give a #### what they say."

Despite the unprecedented access the mayor afforded Donna for her interview series with him, his administration continued to withhold public documents from the JFP—even as he told Donna directly that our requests would now be honored.

The mayor vowed to fill our requests, and we provided him with a memo, memo, detailing the requests we had made that had not yet been filled. To date, none of those requests has been filled.

Like Mice in a Maze
A major barrier to City Hall accountability is that there is no good single source of information from the city. The new city administration has made it nearly impossible for reporters to go to a single public information officer to gather needed data, or to schedule appointments with city officials. One week, we are told to talk to Redd, another to Nash Nunnery, still another to Brendon Bell at the Jackson Police Department. Melton himself will often tell media (that he's talking to at the time) to come directly to him or Chief Anderson. They then do not return phone calls.

For instance, three weeks ago, Mayor Melton tried to call Donna Ladd 11 times over two hours to discuss the ComStat Report that the JFP obtained. Then last week, the city held a press conference, and we did not hear about it until the next day. There is no rhyme or reason to how the administration provides information to the press.

I made our first formal request through the city clerk's office on Sept. 29, 2005, for a recording of a City Council work session, work session, that took place in 2003. I was working on the Leslie Berryhill story at the time, (see "Driving While Young," Oct. 13-19, 2005). The Berryhills, who were suing the city for violating their daughter's rights by detaining her for violating the youth curfew, said that the City Council and President Marshand Crisler had been dismissive when they brought their situation before the council. Crisler disputed that account. Because the meeting was taped, I thought I should listen to it myself.

Since September, I have discussed this request with the city clerk's office at least six times. Most recently, in January of this year, more than three months after the city was required to produce the tape, I asked about it one more time. Deputy City Clerk Patricia Gilbert told me that it was not on audiotape after all. It might be on videotape. She promised to call me, as other clerks had previously promised, and then never called, as previous clerks had never called, either. The city has never even refused to grant the request; it has simply failed to make any response at all.

On that same day, I also filed a request for all complaints or disciplinary action against JPD Officer Wesley Flynt, Flynt. I had heard from a source that Flynt had a history of misconduct. This time, the city did reply, refusing to release the information on the grounds that it fell under the personnel exemption, no way. Fortunately, I was able to find the information—and what the confidential source had told me was true—in a deposition on file at the federal courthouse. I wonder how often the clerks hear someone shout "Yes!" while stooped over a towering pile of documents.

On Nov. 4, 2005, Adam Lynch requested the salaries, bios and résumés of a number of city administrators, including Shirlene Anderson, Todd Chandler, Dale Danks and others, salaries. Danks was of particular interest to me. He was mayor of Jackson from 1977-1989, after which he often sued the city, particularly JPD. He was a longtime Melton confidante and supporter, and he was hired by Melton in the fall, even though he was still the Berryhills' attorney and also represented Byram in a lawsuit against Jackson. The city released all the requested salaries except for Danks', because he was "not employed" by the city but worked on "contract." A similar request followed, Mack et al.

The city refused to provide résumés for any of the officials on the grounds that these documents fall under the personnel exemption, first, second, third, fourth.

On Dec. 5, 2005, I requested all releasable contact and demographic information for city employees, demographics. I had just attended a conference held by Investigative Reporters and Editors in Birmingham, Ala., much of which covered open records law. The attorneys and reporters at the conference told us that we had a right to almost every document, including internal phone directories and general information on all employees. It was clear by then that the city was not following the law, so I made the request to see how the city would respond. To this day, the city has neither refused nor granted the request. The city has never made any response at all.

On the same day, I made yet another request for Shirlene Anderson's résumé, Anderson. Once again, the city refused to provide the information on the basis of the personnel exemption, personnel.

Local civil-rights attorney Rob McDuff disputes that interpretation of the law. "There's absolutely no reason for them to withhold (the résumé) unless they have something to hide," McDuff said. "People have a right to know about the officials who work for them. You and I have as much right to know about the police chief's qualifications as the mayor does, because she works for us. Surely the mayor knew about her qualifications before he hired her, and you and I have the same interest in knowing them and the same right to know them. It's really kind of pathetic that they're unwilling to release things like the police chief's qualifications. A real leader is not afraid of the truth.

"The Mississippi Supreme Court has decided exceptions should be liberally interpreted to favor disclosure, and that any exceptions should be narrowly construed," McDuff continued. "The court has also said that any doubts should be resolved in favor of disclosure. If it's a close question, the courts are required to answer it by requiring that documents be turned over to the public."

On Dec. 13, 2005, Lynch requested the names of police officers who had been terminated and the reasons why they were fired, cops. This came after the elimination of the Crime Prevention Unit and was prompted by word of new terminations in the JPD. The city never made any response.

On Dec. 14, 2005, I requested crime stats for 2004-2005, crime stats. The city never made any response.

On Jan. 5, 2006, I wrote Police Chief Shirlene Anderson and asked her for her résumé directly, pretty please. Anderson never made any response. In May, the JFP posted Shirlene Anderson's résumé to jacksonfreepress.com. We obtained it from a member of city government and did not release it earlier because we wanted to give the city every opportunity to do the right thing by releasing the résumé themselves.

On that same day, I requested ComStat figures, ComStat. ComStat is a sophisticated system for tracking crimes by neighborhood, in order to deploy police where they are most needed. It was used with great success in New York City in the 1990s. The Johnson administration supported the program enthusiastically. The city responded: "ComStat is for departmental use only. ComStat is not to be released to the public." ComStat Internal. The city made no attempt to refer to exemptions in the Public Records Act, possibly because no exemption covers crime statistics. The JFP acquired the April 17 ComStat report ComStat from a member of city government, and it showed a substantial rise in crime.

"The city is clearly required to divulge crime stats and ComStat," McDuff said.

Mississippi Sen. Gloria Williamson has sponsored a number of bills related to open records. "The only matter related to law enforcement at the state level that can be withheld is the identity of undercover agents," she said. "Other than that, everything is a public record. So if this is true at a state level, how could it be otherwise at the city level? That is an open record. Any time somebody withholds information, they have something to hide."

Also on Jan. 5, 2006, I took another crack at finding out how much the City of Jackson pays the elusive Danks, Danks contract. Because the city had refused to disclose Danks' salary on the grounds that he was not employed but contracted, I asked for his contract. If the city signs a contract with a debris-removal company, the public has a right to know the terms of the contract. The same goes for Danks. The city has never responded to this request.

"There's no question that they have to release salaries," McDuff said. "It's not the mayor's money; it's the taxpayers' money, and they have a right to know where it goes."

Williamson agreed. "It is never correct to withhold a salary. Ever. If Dale Danks has a contract with the city, he is still being paid by the city. They cannot withhold that information."

Mississippi Sen. Deborah Dawkins, who has also sponsored open-records bills, said: "The legislative intent of the law is public disclosure of public money. You should be able to get salaries, and if Danks does have a contractual arrangement with the city, it is my opinion that the Public Records Act supercedes privacy concerns because of the public money involved. I guarantee you that Dale Danks knows the law. If it goes to the court, it's my opinion that the judge would find that this was not only negligent but deliberate."

On Jan. 26, 2006, I requested documentation on Frank Melton's license to carry a firearm, Melton permits. This was after the mayor delivered eviction papers to the Jackson Apartments on Maple Street. Melton came with a large contingent of police—at least one of them armed with a submachine gun—and a pistol slung from his police department bullet-proof vest. On March 9, 2006, long after the city was required to provide an answer, Deputy Clerk Patricia Gilbert told me that I would have to ask the highway patrol for that information.

Also on Jan. 26, I requested the identity of the man who carried a submachine gun in a photograph taken during the Maple Street event, who is this man. At that time, we did not know if the man was a private bodyguard or a police officer, let alone whether he was qualified to carry an MP5 submachine gun. To my surprise, the city responded within the allotted time, identifying the man as Officer Marcus Wright, who is assigned to "Dignitary Protection." Wright. Note that the city charged us $6.75 for producing this name. The Public Records Act is explicit that the city may only charge for the cost of producing records; the city may not "punish" citizens who request data by charging excessive fees. So how did it cost the city $6.75 to glance at a photo and fill in a name?

Also on Jan. 26, 2006, I requested the résumé and qualifications of Marcus Ward, who had recently become the Melton administration's choice for city lobbyist, Ward. Ward, who was 28 at the time, replaced the firm of Winston and Strawn. He also announced that he would work from Jackson rather than Washington, as Winston and Strawn had. The city refused to release that information on the basis of the personnel exemption, no and no.

Finally, on that same day, I again requested the salary of Danks, Danks this time with a bit of legal language to make plain the JFP's right to the information, specifically "Mississippi Dept. of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks v. Mississippi Wildlife Enforcement Officers' Ass'n, Inc., 740 So.2d 925 (Miss. 1999), and Harrison County Development Commission v. Henry W. Kinney, No. 2004-CA-00901-COA (Miss. Ct. App. Jan. 17, 2006)." This time, the city's response made me want to laugh and cry at the same time, unbelievable. Deputy Clerk Patricia Gilbert wrote: "Mr. Johnson the City of Jackson does not have this information. Please contact the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Federation."

Note, first of all, that Dale Danks does work for the city of Jackson; therefore, the city of Jackson knows what he is paid, whether contractually or otherwise. Note also that my request did not mention the "Mississippi Department of Wildlife Federation," in part because no such department exists. (The litigant in question was the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks—where Gilbert got "Federation" from, I have no idea.)

Above all else, isn't it obvious, even to the layman, that I was citing case law to argue why the city must release that information? Nine months after Danks' appointment, the citizens of Jackson have no way to know how much they are paying him or why.

"That's amazing," McDuff said when told of Gilbert's reply. "The refusal by the city to fulfill its responsibilities is the height of arrogance. They seem to be acting as if they don't owe anything to the public and aren't accountable to the public. That's not only wrongheaded but also illegal. They're obviously playing a game of stalling tactics. If they keep this up, they're eventually going to be called on the carpet by the courts."

On Feb. 15, 2006, Adam made a detailed request for budgetary figures, budget please. We had heard that the budget was in the red and that the city had dipped into its reserve fund, both of which proved true. There are no statutory exceptions in the Public Records Act for budgets. In fact, the act is explicit that budgets must be released on demand. The city never made any response to this request.

Let the Sunshine In
Around this time, Donna Ladd began her interviews with Frank Melton, and we took a break from filing information requests, mostly because the mayor told her that he would supply the data we had requested. We wrote a memo at the conclusion of those interviews to Melton and City Clerk Cedric Morgan detailing the requests we had filed that had not been filled or responded to.

Despite the mayor's pledge, none of those requests has been filled to date.

We began to file additional requests in April. On April 26, I requested Mayor Melton's qualifying scores for handling firearms in his capacity as mayor, qualify. The mayor has long maintained that he is a law enforcement officer with all necessary licenses to carry firearms. However, Mayor Melton only filed for a concealed weapons permit on May 1, 2006, and that permit does not allow him to carry firearms as a law enforcement officer. In order to do that, he must qualify on a firing range once every six months. The city has not made any response to this request.

On that same day, I requested the salary and position of Bob Hickingbottom, Hickingbottom. Hickingbottom describes himself (on talk radio, where he often trashes Melton critics) as a "Melton supporter," but we suspected that he was on the city payroll as well. The city acknowledged that Hickingbottom is employed through a temp agency as a "Job Evaluator," and is paid $16 an hour, evaluator.

Also on April 26, I requested the city's procedures for handling confidential informants, informants. District Attorney Faye Peterson had accused the Melton administration of improperly handling informants, particularly Christopher Walker. As a result, Peterson decided she could not call him as a witness in the trial of Albert "Batman" Donelson. The city has never made any response to this request.

On that day, I also requested all correspondence between Frank Melton and/or Jimmy Heidel with Gene Phillips, Phillips. Melton had recently declared that he had a new buyer for the King Edward Hotel, and we had been told the new buyer was Phillips. The city never made any response to this request.

Finally, I requested a list of all employees who work for the city but are paid by Melton, others. During Donna's interviews with Melton, he told her that several people—including the recently acquitted Anthony Staffney (of murder charges) are working for the city but paid out of his pocket. The city replied that individuals employed by Frank Melton are not employed by the city of Jackson; therefore, the city could not provide their names, nope.

On May 1, I made two requests related to the arrest of Michael Black, Michael Black. WLBT had shown footage of Black being struck by JPD officers while he was in handcuffs. JPD Internal Affairs regards all of its proceedings as personnel matters, such that even if the officers who struck Black are identified and disciplined, the public may never know what happened. In any case, the city has not refused my requests for the names of officers present at Black's arrest; it has made no response at all.

On May 5, I requested the salary of Stephanie Parker-Weaver, Weaver. We first asked for it on Jan. 26, but the city ignored the request. In a story the JFP ran on Feb. 22, "Mayor Axing Police, Fire Budgets," Firefighters Local 87 Union President Branden Falcon said, "The rumor is that you have people like the Stephanie Parker-Weavers (estimated $70,000 a year) and Jimmy Heidels ($150,000 a year) and so forth making more than the people in the last administration, and those salaries are eating up the budget on the mayor's staff."

Parker-Weaver got angry at the JFP for printing "inaccurate" information, but still would not provide her salary. After Donna Ladd argued with her on the phone about the need for public accountability for a half-hour last month, she finally said she made "in the mid-30s." Minutes later, Melton called Ladd to repeat that figure, but added that he also paid her money out of his own pocket.

After all this drama, the city responded to my May 5 request on May 19, listing Parker-Weaver's salary as $37,579, Weaver.

"It really is an embarrassment to the city of Jackson that the mayor and his staff are so obstructionist and so unwilling to follow the clear mandates of the law," McDuff said. "They seem to think that they owe the public nothing. The Public Records Act is an expression of the fact that the government does not belong to government employees; it belongs to the people. As time unfolds, they're going to regret this course of action."

Finally, on May 30, I went to City Hall to request the file of all information requests filed with the city that the city has rejected.

The Public Records Act states: "Denial by a public body of a request for access to or copies of public records under this chapter shall be in writing and shall contain a statement of the specific reasons for the denial. Each public body shall maintain a file of all denials of requests for public records. Public bodies shall be required to preserve such denials on file for not less than three (3) years from the date such denials are made. This file shall be made available for inspection and/or copying during regular office hours to any person upon written request." (Emphasis added.)

When I entered City Hall, City Clerk Cedric Morgan was standing outside Council chambers. I approached and told him that I needed to see the file of rejected requests.

"You'll have to file an information request for that," Morgan said.

"I have it right here, file. I assume you're aware that the file is supposed to be available on written request during regular office hours," I replied.

"We have to send this to legal to make sure there are no liability issues," Morgan said.

"How can there be liability issues for following the clear letter of the law?" I asked.

"We just have to follow the same procedure across the board," Morgan said.

"Mr. Morgan," I replied, "your office is so far behind on so many information requests that you are in willful violation of the law. How can you talk to me about procedure?"

I then showed him a copy of the Public Records Act, specifically the passage above.

"This is just like any other information request, and it has to follow the same procedure," Morgan said. "But hey, it may not take as long as 14 days."

Once again, I left City Hall without the public information to which I was legally entitled according to state law.

"I've lived in a lot of crazy places, but I've never seen anything like this," Dawkins said. "I've seen some bad mayors and bad management, but this beats anything I've ever seen."

Check out the JFP's Public Eye for PDFs of information requests and responses and follow Brian Johnson's Publie Eye blog, tracking the city's accountability, on the same blog.

Previous Comments

ID
79972
Comment

Wow great summation. I'm ready to see the JFP mount a full attack on the City and bust'em up! Why hasn't the JFP sued the city like the Clarion Ledger yet? It doesn't sound like you need a great lawyer and you can actually hire them and let them go and do all of this research again, get a great big bill, sue the city and win, get attorney's fees and keep suing and winning until he follows the law. My question is it really that weak of a law that it's a $100 penalty?

Author
guywithanidea
Date
2006-05-31T18:03:22-06:00
ID
79973
Comment

Guy, without going into our legal strategies (which "they" tell me not to do), let me remind you of something. We are a small operation, and we do, do, do constantly to cover the city well. We have mounted a year-long effort to break open the accountability of the city, including back when the other media didn't seem to give a damn. And lawsuits take effort and time. Also, I've said it before: I am not litigious. I think lawsuit suck time and energy better spent on other efforts and creative negative energy. Thus, I will make every effort to educate people and get them to cooperate in other ways before filing a lawsuit. We have been trying to do that with the city. We have done backflips. However, lawsuits have their place. Frankly, I am happy that The Clarion-Ledger stepped up now, even if as I suspect they're doing it to deflect from all they haven't done over recent years when it comes to Mr. Melton. (And perhaps to deflect from their mounting public-relations disaster over their distribution scheme.) A company that large and with their mammoth resources *should* be doing this on behalf of all of us and the citizens. They're probably doing it on behalf of themselves -- but that doesn't mean we all can't benefit from the outcome. And if one outcome is that this city government learns the 101 lesson that they cannot pick and choose their media based on loyalty, well, that's a good outcome. This city administration needs to grow up.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-05-31T18:20:39-06:00
ID
79974
Comment

I'm not satisfied with your response. Please take no offense from the previous statment or the following: I'm no legal expert but common sense says you win. If all the JFP does is come up with all the "irrefutable" evidence of the City not following the law all you are doing is whinning and you lose credibility. I don't buy your argument that the JFP doesn't have resources. From what I can tell you are on the fast track to being the mainstream portal of info for metro jackson...You have your grips on a very resource rich group of people. Lawyers to be specific; I know one in particular that would probably take up your case, charge you his fee, and win. I bet he would even write off the expenses if he lost and forgive your debt. But if he won he would get paid because the city was ruled against. I think the JFP's integrity is on the line right here and now if they don't stand up and use the system to their advantage (rightly so )you will be disregarded. Your passionate plea (above) has been made that you've done your best now I'm hoping to see you knock them over. You're a private enterprise with a motive. Your motive in this case happens to be the same as a good number of people (your constituency) and that is to hold our City government accountable and that includes Mayor Melton. I find I differ with you (JFP) on many issues but this is so basic to our society it's hard to find many who can in good faith. I don't offer my comments as a directive per se, but as encourgagment to do what's right.

Author
guywithanidea
Date
2006-05-31T18:48:10-06:00
ID
79975
Comment

also, you say the city administration needs to grow up; you give them credit that they are able to reach that plateau...I think we've made a mistake with Melton (guilty) and need to suck it up and hold his ass to the fire until a new election cycle (that is if he's not guilty of any felonies before then::) If that sucka took a loaded gun as he admits on to a plane use it against him, get a felony conviction , send his ass to prison, and elect a new mayor. I think government needs to be held accountable. I'm tired of paying taxes all the time and being told I'm a 3rd rate citizen and my opinion doesn't count. I'm tired of people using tired race politics. I'm tired of all the BS these people dish out. My God just follow the freaking Golden Rule and move freakin forward...

Author
guywithanidea
Date
2006-05-31T19:18:32-06:00
ID
79976
Comment

If things continue to progress as they are here in the city, Melton's administration will implode without having to be sued. Melton has been just plain lucky that there has not been any incidents of harm to himself or anyone else. Even though Melton thinks that he is Teflon Don, there are many people out there that are not afraid of him or his bodyguards. I hope that no one will wind up hurt if one of these "raids" go wrong. People are talking all over the city about how Melton's lunacy is taking him on a fast track to hell. If he wants to be a cowboy, hero, crimefighter or whatever, I suggest that he spend some of his fortune that brags about and bring in a Hollywood film crew and make a movie about himself. It would be a lot safer for all concerned. Plus if he wanted, in his movie he could just jump from the top of city hall and fly all over the place just like his heroes from the Justice League of America.

Author
lance
Date
2006-05-31T20:22:36-06:00
ID
79977
Comment

guy, I appreciate your comments, but I don't think you're getting everything I'm saying. Let me try this a different way. I didn't say we don't have resources. We have attorneys, including on this issue. We and they have put in a lot of work so far, and will continue to do so. I just may not be able to keep you guys up on everything we're doing *before* we do it. So rest assured. You sure can't say that you've seen any indication to date that we are not going to hold the mayor and the city accountable, right? And I don't think we are in any danger of being "disregarded" on this issue; if so, people aren't paying attention to the work we, and especially Brian Johnson, have put in and will continue to do. We've let the local media on coverage of Melton, and that won't change. So take a breath. We're not deserting Gotham City any time soon. And we have great attorneys. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-05-31T22:10:43-06:00
ID
79978
Comment

And going back to the schoolbus incidents, that he proudly claims that he has a right to do, I found it quite embarrassing for this city that in newspapers across the country and as far away as Anchorage, Alaska, Frank made the news under the heading "weird news of the day!" Just paste these links in your browser and see for yourself. http://www.startribune.com/389/story/452495.html and http://www.anchoragepress.com/archives-2006/weirdnewsvol15ed21.html

Author
Darron
Date
2006-05-31T22:20:27-06:00
ID
79979
Comment

That was my stab of motivational writing. I'm tired of talk in Jackson. I want to see some results. Because I will tell you if I were to pull some of the crap these politicians are pulling my butt would be in jail...fair treatment for all!!! You've done great work so far in regards to chasing the mayor down. It just seems that there is some chasm we keep coming to and we turn around and disembark and walk away just to arrive at the same conclusion the next go around. Do it enuf times and I'll lose faith (of which I guess I'm in the early stages of doing since i'm expressng my self in such manner). I know you have to have a plan of action and of course you can't share it...thks for the time to reply.

Author
guywithanidea
Date
2006-05-31T22:28:00-06:00
ID
79980
Comment

That's OK, guy. I appreciate what you're saying, and I understand your frustration. A lot of people are in the same place. We're not going to disembark. I promise. We wouldn't have published this week's cover story to educate the public on what we've been through with the mayor's office if we were going to walk away. We're in for the long haul.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-05-31T22:45:11-06:00
ID
79981
Comment

This is democracy, folks. We will sue if we have to, but it shouldn't be that hard. It shouldn't be that fancy. The plain truth is that the city administration is laughing at Jackson, because they think that everyone will fall into line. They have overplayed their case. If Melton were a serious politician, he would have spun. Isn't that what our cynicism demands? Don't we deserve Giuliani? Instead, we have Bush, who simply asserts law. Melton says he will not talk to The Clarion-Ledger because they are inaccurate, even though they only want the small part of Melton that leaves a paper trail. Imperium v. democracy. What a pathetic embarrassment it is when conservatives hide numbers (like Melton's) behind a reflexive loyalty; the conservative ideal is truth, transparency and the American way. The next Republican who tells me Melton is above the law gets a one-way trip to China.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-05-31T22:59:44-06:00
ID
79982
Comment

The Public Eye has spoken. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-05-31T23:02:34-06:00
ID
79983
Comment

Can I have some of what Brian is having?;)

Author
guywithanidea
Date
2006-05-31T23:16:12-06:00
ID
79984
Comment

You may quaff it, but you don't really want the mayor to defy the law, do you? Jacksonians, do not blow with this breeze. Doesn't democracy demand a certain impatience?

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-05-31T23:27:15-06:00
ID
79985
Comment

It does seem interesting how the "Republican Ideal" in this country for government has been perverted into the exact opposite...and now we have a "liberal" paper (I had someone call the JFP that to my face the other day. It was fairly fabulous and outdated, anyhoo) demanding accountability while the conservatives scream "We have no right to this information." Its like Seinfeld's Bizarro World. What the hell is going on here?

Author
Lori G
Date
2006-06-01T08:17:47-06:00
ID
79986
Comment

Brian C. Johnson wrote-"Jacksonians, do not blow with this breeze." That's debatable. but I digress. ladd, you're doing what should be done, stand back and watch the melee between to a$$ backwards entities(Frank/CL) unfold, then report the news as is drains out into the public domain. what the JFP has effectively done is distrupt the cohesive cahoot-ness in city government. the JFP has no business jumping into the fray for a few reaasons: 1. the JFP is relatively new to Jackson and they would do a lot better in public relations in the long run by not aligning themselves with idiots or by adding fuel to a fire that's been simmering beneath the surface for years. Although the JFP was needed to fan the flames, just let it burn itself out, I say. 2. sueing Jackson will only hurt not help. the city is poor as hell as it is. now the CL wants to zap the city? Don't do it JFP. 3. Frank's antics will implode the Mayor's office on it's own, his team needs no help to do that. and the CL, well, they've been a useless wipe of a rag for decades. no threat there. I predict the JFP, if stayed true to Jackson's progressive community, will be the most read paper and overtake the CL by 2010. But that might mean the JFP will cost a $1 or so...it'll be worth it, because just like Frank, the CL needs to go!

Author
JSU
Date
2006-06-01T09:09:37-06:00
ID
79987
Comment

It would be nice to stay clear of the lawsuit and just "cover the war". I agree with Donna, in that litigation does nothing but feed the sharks, so to speak. Gannett has the money and time to cut down pretenders like Melton.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2006-06-01T09:32:56-06:00
ID
79988
Comment

what the JFP has effectively done is distrupt the cohesive cahoot-ness in city government. Thanks, JSU, I like that. Honestly, what papers like ours are supposed to be is a "megaphone." We are read by the most influential and powerful people, as well as smart and engaged people without power, and that translates into change and action. And it feels like that is exactly what's happening. I still don't know that The Clarion-Ledger would be criticizing Mr. Melton by now had we not been here. They might still be ignoring his antics as they've done for years. As for lawsuits over public information, I think that is unfolding *exactly* as it needs to. And understand that the main point of these kinds of lawsuits is to get them to comply -- not to get damages. So, yes, we will continue to shake the foundation of the status quo here and to encourage the other media to do a better job. That is one of our primary missions.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-01T09:48:09-06:00
ID
79989
Comment

Donna, Well done. I was surprised to see the level of contempt and ignorance by the city bureacracy. It makes me ill to consider what they're up to. However, I do have an idea ... Since the public eye has made .pdfs of the information requests available, could ones be made so that interested citizens could fill in their own information and submit them to the city? Same information requests, but dozens of different people requesting it. I suspect that would help motivate the city clerk and others, if only by showing its not just the media interested in this. Just an idea mind you...

Author
Pilgrim
Date
2006-06-01T10:11:39-06:00
ID
79990
Comment

I think we're working on that, pilgram. The Public Eye himself, Brian Johnson, will get back to you. BTW, all those PDFs should be live today. We've been scanning and loading them for a while now in anticipation of this cover story and primer; we just have to get them linked right.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-01T10:16:17-06:00
ID
79991
Comment

Y'all noticed on the TV news that Danks walked out of Hood's office yesterday with Recio and Wright, right? Guess he was there on Melton's dime as his personal attorney?

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-01T10:17:07-06:00
ID
79992
Comment

..ladd -"Y'all noticed on the TV news that Danks walked out of Hood's office yesterday with Recio and Wright, right?" lol..I saw it. looked like a mob boss with his henchmen..lol

Author
JSU
Date
2006-06-01T10:47:15-06:00
ID
79993
Comment

...ladd -"I still don't know that The Clarion-Ledger would be criticizing Mr. Melton by now had we not been here. They might still be ignoring his antics as they've done for years.' yes indeed they would. I'd bet my house on it. they would probably get deeper in bed with him and not question a damn thing...ever.

Author
JSU
Date
2006-06-01T10:51:10-06:00
ID
79994
Comment

LOL...that cover picture is pretty funny. Frank looks like a damn fool ripping. I mean, shredding those documents...lol...who drew that?

Author
JSU
Date
2006-06-01T11:39:38-06:00
ID
79995
Comment

Excellent work, folks. That Brian Johnson is a great asset, too.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-06-01T16:00:09-06:00
ID
79996
Comment

Agreed, Ray. The JFP talent pool keeps growing. ;-) That's a photo illustration created from several photos and a drawing by Darren Schwindaman. Pat Butler took the Melton photos.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-01T16:13:12-06:00
ID
79997
Comment

A relative gave me a picture with the body of Barney Fife loading his one bullet with Melton's face on it. Boy, it is funny. Anybody else see that? Don't dare Donna and Brian to ever use one like that. We need somebody who is still able to talk to the fool.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-06-01T16:17:04-06:00
ID
79998
Comment

Thanks Ray. Keep your eyes on this thread, because this evening I'm going to post all the pdfs. There are a LOT of them, so I appreciate your patience in waiting. It makes for great, if absurd, reading.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-06-01T16:49:34-06:00
ID
79999
Comment

All right folks, I finally got all those PDFs posted. Take a gander at all these links. Walk into the sunshine. (By the way, if you find a link that doesn't work, post here and I'll fix it. I haven't yet checked them all.)

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-06-01T22:09:32-06:00
ID
80000
Comment

OK, I'm confused. The Clarion-Ledger just posted a story today, saying they may settle the lawsuit with Melton. But the story is confusing as all hell (I know, big surprise). See for yourself: Jackson Mayor Frank Melton has authorized his attorney to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with The Clarion-Ledger that would force the city to come into full compliance with all of its public records laws. The agreement, which has not been finalized, involves placing Melton’s attorney in charge of the public records process, reviewing denials and ensuring each request receives a response. The City Council would have to sign off on such agreement, as would the judge assigned to the case. "This is a great first step," said Ronnie Agnew, executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger. The talks came after the paper sued Melton and other city officials for failing to respond to a range of requests. There's more. But I am confused; maybe someone can help me. The Clarion-Ledger and the city are going to agree to how open-records requests are handled? Are they agreeing that *Danks* would sign off on open-records requests?!? Some of our requests are about Danks; I'm not sure we would be exactly comfortable with such an agreement. And what happens when we file a request asking for how much the city paid Danks to deal with this? And can Danks represent Melton and the city at the same time? And while he's suing them? This is bizarre. But I do know that nothing smells right about Dale Danks being the keeper of public records.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-01T22:14:15-06:00
ID
80001
Comment

What I wanted to ask is why "Melton's attorney" is dealing with the request and the "City's attorney" is not. Don't we gots one of dems too? I'm with you, Ladd. Conflict of Interest... Party of two....

Author
Lori G
Date
2006-06-01T22:45:07-06:00
ID
80002
Comment

There is already a system in place for open records. Melton just interfered with it. Now once again he is trying to make things look like he is correcting a problem. This joker is so self absorbed with himself until it's almost funny. I wish that we could put Melton, Danks, Anderson, Hood, and a few others in a sealed room for a few days and see what would happen. These nincompoops either believe that they are right, or that all of the voters are completly stupid. This circus is brewing to be a human version of Hurricane Katrina. Once it begins to unravel, the fallout will be devastating.

Author
lance
Date
2006-06-02T05:59:49-06:00
ID
80003
Comment

There is already a system in place for open records. Yeah, that's what bothers me. I'm not feeling that it us to The Clarion-Ledger and Dale Danks to negotiate on behalf of the public how open-records requests are handled. Am I going to have to shlep my butt down there and pitch a hissy fit?

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-02T08:54:55-06:00
ID
80004
Comment

Here's the Clarion-Ledger today on the proposed "settlement": Melton's cooperation is a dramatic turn from his position a few days ago, when he admitted tearing up some of the paper's requests, then launched into a scathing critique about the paper's coverage of him. The mayor said he had the right to deny a request if he could prove the person or organization making the request was not credible, and that he wanted to take the newspaper to court. "I think his attitude has changed tremendously," said Melton's attorney, former Jackson Mayor Dale Danks Jr. "We've had long discussions about this particular issue. He's still feeling his way around. Being mayor is a big job." The requests cited in the lawsuit sought documents on crime statistics, the mayor's security budget, his authorization to board a commercial aircraft armed, along with other information. The city initially provided only one written response - a heavily edited document involving homicides in Jackson during 2005. City officials have responded to two of the paper's 12 requests since the lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Hinds County Chancery Court. The requests cited in the suit were overdue by weeks. [...] City Council President Marshand Crisler, also named as a defendant, said Danks has a large role in the administration, and putting him in charge of records requests would be within the mayor's authority. "The only concern council would have is if (the deal) is legal, and I'm not sure about that. If there are any expenditures or Mr. Danks' contract is changed, it would have to be approved by council," he said. Danks, however, said he would do the work for free. He is considered an independent contractor with the city. WJTV-Channel 12 news director Richard Russell said his organization also has experienced problems with requests - but that the trouble is not limited to Melton's administration. "I have been the news director at WJTV since October of 2003. I cannot think of a single time that we have filed ... (a) request that it has been completed within the 14-day time period. And that's not just Frank Melton. That's (former Jackson Mayor) Harvey Johnson. That's the city of Jackson," he said. "In some cases, it was more difficult when Harvey Johnson was mayor to get certain records out of there."

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-02T08:59:34-06:00
ID
80005
Comment

Comments to this: 1. Danks offers to police our opens records for free? Again, they won't even provide his contract. I smile major conflict of interest here. 2. WJTV's comment about the Johnson administration is funny and kinda ignorant. They miss the part where if an administration just provides basic information without requiring a public-records request (which is what the Johnson administration was prone to do as we explain in this week's issue), then there isn't the same kind of issue. That is how the administration should work. Didn't mean they were perfect, but they put this administration to shame. Everyone knows that WJTV is still carrying water for Melton; too bad they're proving it here with statements like that. 3. The Clarion-Ledger has only filed 12 public-records requests of the city?!? Well, that shows that they haven't been working very hard to get it to be accountable. We've filed 25, more than twice as many. Betcha money they filed most of them in the last few weeks since we started interviewing him and their lover's spat started.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-02T09:03:46-06:00
ID
80006
Comment

Needless to say, the Jackson Free Press is going to oppose the settlement with Dale Danks as the arbiter. That makes no sense. Think that one through, ladies and gentleman, or we're going to go to a different defcon level of stink in City Hall.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-02T09:04:52-06:00
ID
80007
Comment

Also, Julie Goodman of The Clarion-Ledger called Brian yesterday from the JFP because she found public-records requests by him. She apparently did not see the "Jackson Free Press" on the form or know enough about Jackson media to realize that he is the one the public-records crusade in Jackson, nor had noticed his name on our cover story this week. They are so lost in space over there. And you will note that she did not mention our *25* requests in print after he told her who he is. Guess that would have shown them up a bit, eh?

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-02T09:08:27-06:00
ID
80008
Comment

I have filed for some info with open records also, but I guess that when you ask for certain records, your requests get put in the pantry with the rest of the toilet paper. It still amazes me thought that even the city employees are miffed by this latest shenanigan of Melton by putting Danks in charge of open records. Talk about letting the fox watch the henhouse. Ronnie Agnew has no clue to the craftiness of Danks. IMO this move will only insure that we are getting info that is "harmless" to Melton's administration.

Author
lance
Date
2006-06-02T10:03:39-06:00
ID
80009
Comment

"IMO this move will only insure that we are getting info that is "harmless" to Melton's administration." lance No doubt! I think the pdf's of the expense reports are suspect at best. First it is handwritten in a font that looks a bit more "girlish" then if Melton (or a man) had wrote it. Which is fine, the mayor is a busy person. Also, there is NO DATE for when it was signed. This leads me to believe that in haste Marcus, Frank, and the "unknown writer" forgot to back date it to early April. Lastly, Marcus Ward is who signed off on it. This guy carries more then "the water" for Melton, so how are we supposed to accept this expense report? Without credit card slips, hotel receipts, and airline tickets (which are required and included in 99.9% of all businesses expense reports) to back up the claims, how can we trust the report he provided?

Author
pikersam
Date
2006-06-02T11:35:39-06:00
ID
80010
Comment

I share Donna's and others' concerns about Dale Danks being put in charge of open records. In particular, I am uncomfortable with "outside counsel," as Danks describes himself in the Arena memo (see Public Eye), on contract being in charge of public records. Outside counsel on contract is not accountable. Then there are potential conflict of interest issues, which have never seemed to bother Danks in the past. (The Berryhills, the suit by Byram.) On the other hand, it would appear that Danks has talked some sense into the mayor's ear. "When the lawsuit was filed, I had a conversation with the mayor and we both agreed that we felt that it was not prudent for the city of Jackson under the circumstances to attempt to expend additional time and taxpayers’ monies to resist something which, by and large, should be provided under the law," said Melton’s attorney, former Jackson Mayor Dale Danks Jr. Furthermore, something has to change. City Clerk Cedric Morgan has never seemed to take the problem seriously; when I confronted him this week on how many requests from us his office has ignored, he seemed surprised. He also admitted that he did not know what was in his "log" of rejected requests; there might be filled requests in there, old requests, it might go back six months or ten years. Of course, this was just before Goliath sued, but one of Morgan's responsibilities is to follow the law and keep the city from being sued in the first place. I would not necessarily put all the blame for this at Melton's feet, though he deserves no slack since, a) we tried to work with him and got nowhere, and b) why would the clerk take records requests seriously when the mayor is open in his contempt to the extent of tearing them in two? But couldn't the mayor simply order Morgan to produce the records, if he has had a change of heart as Danks suggests?

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-06-02T11:35:49-06:00
ID
80011
Comment

***Yeah, that's what bothers me. I'm not feeling that it us to The Clarion-Ledger and Dale Danks to negotiate on behalf of the public how open-records requests are handled. Am I going to have to shlep my butt down there and pitch a hissy fit?*** <---ladd You might need to go ahead with that hissy fit, Donna. First of all, the City must already have a formalized Public Records Policy, otherwise they're required under the statute to make such records available within **one working day after a written request is made...**. Secondly, that being the case, their formalized policy must also specify to whom the request should be made, which apparently is the City Clerk's office. Moreover, the policy itself--in order to be valid--must have been approved by the City Council. Thus, adding Danks to the process is a departure from its written policy; therefore, it can't happen unless the Council approves a revision to the policy.

Author
Kacy
Date
2006-06-02T12:37:41-06:00
ID
80012
Comment

Why should there be *any* middleman between the public and the records that belong to us besides the one that's already provided for in the law?

Author
Darren Schwindaman
Date
2006-06-02T13:03:20-06:00
ID
80013
Comment

Good question. I call it one more barrier to access. And I truly don't want Dale Danks standing between me and, well, anything.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-02T13:07:14-06:00
ID
80014
Comment

Good question. I call it one more barrier to access. And I truly don't want Dale Danks standing between me and, well, anything. ---Not even a Ronco food dehydrator? ;) Thus, adding Danks to the process is a departure from its written policy; therefore, it can't happen unless the Council approves a revision to the policy. ---if this is true...has it been discussed by the Council at all?

Author
Lori G
Date
2006-06-02T13:12:23-06:00
ID
80015
Comment

Working on it.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-02T13:19:17-06:00
ID
80016
Comment

With Melton acting like a new Hitler, is Danks now gonna be Goebbels?

Author
Rex
Date
2006-06-02T13:43:49-06:00
ID
80017
Comment

By the way, Pilgrim and anyone else interested, you can click on the link to Public Eye on the main page. There is a link to the public records request form on the left side. Or, on second thought, you can get it here, Records Request.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-06-02T14:18:14-06:00
ID
80018
Comment

So the FOX continues to guard the HEN house. This is truly treating the problem with the problem and the end product will be more problems for media, the city and its citizens. We can not keep on describing the box, we must look inside of it. I'm no fortune teller but I see blood and I smell trouble. This man is sick. This man is ignorant/unlearned. This man has been energized by the AG's report!!

Author
justjess
Date
2006-06-02T14:55:38-06:00
ID
80019
Comment

Dale Danks is a cagy old lawyer and Frank knows that. I had a run in with him in the late 1990's when I was self employed. I basically told him to screw himself and he went away because he knew I was right, not to mention I was willing to fight in a jack rabbit second. He will try to impose his will even when wrong but if you're right and persistent he will back down. He wil go all the way including court on only with the battles he knows he would likely win. Certainly, he wil try to impose his will on any situation. Like many lawyer I consider him to have more bark than bite, but he will bite when he can. He's one of the few people old and learned enough to control Frank.

Author
Ray Carter
Date
2006-06-02T16:01:14-06:00
ID
80020
Comment

Here's the Clarion-Ledger's agreement, or "consent decree," with the city. This has not been approved by the City Council, yet, so please let us know any concerns you all have with this. We will be perusing it this weekend to make sure that we agree with its terms. As you all know, it is not simply up to The Clarion-Ledger to negotiate on behalf of the public and other media outlets how public records are going to be handled. There is no language in this that designate Melton's personal attorney, Dale Danks, as being the "overseer" of public records, as The Clarion-Ledger reported earlier. For reasons already stated, we would be stringently opposed to this, and plan to ensure that it is not part of this agreement. Other questions I have right away are: The part about the plaintiff (meaning the CL) and the defendant (the city) examining the public-records process "through their respective attorneys." I assume those two parties are not going to try to shut everyone else out of those meetings to look at the procedure. It is safe to assume that we would consider such meetings to be open meetings with need of "sunshine," just like any other public meeting. And the CL does not have the right to speak on behalf of other media outlets and the public, or negotiate on our behalf. Then it says on page 3 that the city shall interpreted the Public Records Act "narrowly" (which is good) "upon the filling of a public records request by Plaintiff." Now, this couldn't possibly mean that they are going to treat the "Plaintiff" any differently than any other requester, right? They should change that language to reflect that it will *always* be applied narrowly. On the same page, they say that the Defendant has 14 working days to explain why the record is being denied. I'll have to check on this, but even the City Clerk told me they are supposed to tell us immediately why it's not being honored. It makes no sense to build in 14 days for them; the point is that the response is supposed to be on demand, and the 14 days used when it takes longer to *gather* the information. This is a concession that I'm not sure I can agree with. Will look into it more. I like the part about the city not charging more than the actual cost of copying. They charged us some $60 for 10 minutes of work copying the campaign finance reports for last year. They should give us a refund, and I will ask for one. That's all that jumps out for the moment. More soon. And please share your thoughts as well. Again, The Clarion-Ledger does not speak for all of us, so now is a good time to be heard, so that the community can figure out how the rest of us should respond to the resolution of the spat between Melton and The Clarion-Ledger. The public has not issued a "consent decree" of any kind.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-02T17:11:14-06:00
ID
80021
Comment

It's important here to understand that the government has to treat everyone absolutely equally when it comes to providing public information. They can't play favorites or (un-favorites) for obvious reason. So part of the concern here is that The Clarion-Ledger isn't making some sort of agreement here that is going to apply to everyone that not everyone can agree with (like Dale Danks being the overseer of public records). Then when other citizens or media go forward they quote this agreement to us that has nothing to do with us, and then we have to wage the battle all over again. That is why more than the Clarion-Ledger and Melton's attorneys have to be at any table at which they discuss how public information is handled. There are more than two interests at stake here. Some of this agreement sounds good, but some of it is uncertain to me, as I've explained. We've got to watch this thing closely, peeps. And, remember, this has to be approved by City Council, so the agreement reached by these attorneys does not have to be, nor should be, the final word on how public records are handled. That would raise a whole new level of concerns for the city, I think it's fair to say.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-02T19:43:23-06:00
ID
80022
Comment

This whole issue of putting someone in charge of Open Records is a croc. It seems that even though the CL sued the city, I must wonder if there is something that is being missed in all of this dialogue? There already is a system in place to distribute these requests to anyone that applies for this information. Why is the city trying to re-invent the wheel? Mayby this is a good way to continue the practice of not keeping the media informed. Just my opinion, of course.

Author
lance
Date
2006-06-02T19:50:33-06:00
ID
80023
Comment

Yeah, I'm concerned, too, clearly. I don't like the tone that The Clarion-Ledger—which hasn't exactly shown that it's had the public's interest in mind when covering Mr. Melton to date—is going to negotiate on behalf of all of us. It's one thing to sue and demand that the law be followed, but to make themselves the decision-makers is a dangerous thing to allow to happen, and could just set up a situation where they'll be facing more lawsuits from people left out of the process or who don't agree with what those two parties come up with. I mean—Melton is suing The Clarion-Ledger in a different matter, and Danks is his attorney! Can we scream "mega-conflicts of interest" from the top of the Standard Life Building!?! So these two entites, that have been mired in back-and-forth legal fights for more than a year now are going to make decisions that affect everyone? (And, remember, public-records procedures have to be consistent, so there's a built-in problem there.) I'm assuming the City Council will take all this carefully under consideration. It kind of sounds to me like something that merits a public hearing at the very least before this thing is signed off on. I hope they're smart enough to do this right the first time, rather than have to keep dealing with problems that may arise if they rush into an ill-conceived agreement without reaching out to other parties and the public.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-02T20:33:11-06:00
ID
80024
Comment

"This whole issue of putting someone in charge of Open Records is a croc. It seems that even though the CL sued the city, I must wonder if there is something that is being missed in all of this dialogue?" What is being missed is the inefficient manner whereby the City disseminates information. When an open records request is required for any and all types of information, someone is being paranoid. That is why the City Clerk's staff can't meet the 14 day turn a round period. In past years, citizens and press could go to individual department heads or to someone on the Mayor's staff and request this information. The open record request was reserved for items that might take longer to assembly or find. Why not post critical info on the City's webpage, have regular press conferences dealing with issues of concern and have the mayor's sister-in-law do her job by releasing timely, informative press releases? This is the way most cities go about the business of keeping the public informed. And while they are at it, why not ask the Mayor to come to the City Council meetings and let them know what is going on? It seems to me Melton is having to be on the defensive because he refuses to grow up and be an effective manager. He is wasting time, and resources that should be spent elsewhere.

Author
realtime
Date
2006-06-03T09:54:04-06:00
ID
80025
Comment

You're right on the mark, realtime. They are so contemptuous of anyone asking for anything that they're putting every request through the ringer (or ignoring it altogether). It's a really stupid way to run city government.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-03T19:54:39-06:00
ID
80026
Comment

You're exactly right, ladd. And as a result of their stupidity and arrogance, it's gonna come back and bite us all in the a$$, one way or another.

Author
Kacy
Date
2006-06-03T23:10:23-06:00
ID
80027
Comment

Ramsey's cartoon today is funny, and very tragic at the same time. It shows what Melton has turned himself into in the public image. However, depicting Darnks as the calm, sane voice seems a bit naive. Danks has been there with him every step of the way. Melton's antics may well serve an agenda of Mr. Danks. Again, it is unacceptable to make Mr. Danks the "gatekeeper."

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-05T08:06:26-06:00
ID
80028
Comment

Kinda hard to go "Heal the City" if the city doesn't put out a press release to the public until minutes before it happens! What a croc!

Author
pikersam
Date
2006-06-05T12:12:50-06:00
ID
80029
Comment

City Council members tell us they will not vote on this "settlement" this week. So everyone has time for your concerns to be heard.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-06-06T08:44:12-06:00
ID
80030
Comment

THought I would post the C-L Settlement story here. Props to Cliff for posting it on another thread. Should be the first in a long list to hit the city in the next few years. Hope the Council is proud!

Author
pikersam
Date
2006-08-30T14:47:17-06:00

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