JACKSON Campaigning from the Chair
Ward 4 Councilman Frank Bluntson said earlier this month that he will not officially announce his candidacy for the job of Jackson's mayor until next year.
The black Chevy Tahoe he has been driving around town with three large "Frank Bluntson for Mayor" decals on the windows seems to have beaten him to the punch.
Meanwhile, Bluntson has been priming anyone who'll listen about next year's mayoral campaign. In recent months, he has used nearly every chance he's had to criticize Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. during Jackson City Council meetings.
He was at it again Monday during the council's work session. When Johnson spoke about the new ADA-compliant bus stops, Bluntson wanted to know why the project was taking so long. Johnson then took a stab at Bluntson's late buddy Frank Melton by pointing out that the project had the needed funds when Melton took office. Bluntson quickly turned it back on Johnson.
"You've been back nearly four years, and you're still just getting this started," Bluntson said.
More than a couple of fellow councilmembers made it clear they didn't appreciate Bluntson campaigning from his council president's seat when they voted Tony Yarber, Ward 6, as the new council president July 10.
After that meeting, Bluntson told WAPT reporter Scott Simmons on the steps of City Hall that he could campaign from his seat all he wants now, since he is no longer council president.
Whitwell v. Panhandlers
Ward 1 Councilman Quentin Whitwell introduced an amendment in the Intergovernmental Committee meeting July 5 to a city ordinance that would triple the fine for panhandling and introduce second- and third-offense penalties that could include jail time.
The amendment passed in committee and will go before the entire Council.
How someone who is already begging for change could afford to pay a fine or where police would house panhandlers--the county jail is already tight for space--doesn't seem to be Whitwell's concern. He said a city ordinance against panhandling is already in place, which fines those charged with panhandling. He just wants to remind people that it is there.
At the council work session July 23, Whitwell indicated that homeless people come to Jackson because the city is easy on them.
"It's time people get their heads out of the sand," Whitwell said. "Our homeless population is burgeoning. It's becoming more enhanced and intense. There used to be a time when everybody knew old Joe down the road and what his situation was and what his story was and what the problem was. We've got people now that are coming here specifically with specific intentions."
Whitwell mentioned two Clarion-Ledger stories that he said clearly articulated the homeless problem, which the city must do something about. He also gave a shout-out, of sorts, to the Jackson Free Press.
"Mr. Fuller's paper wants to say I'm the most hateful, spiteful, mean person in the world because I want to go lock people up," he said. "I don't want to lock anybody up. I also don't want anybody getting hurt. We've got people being accosted. We've got people being yelled at and screamed at. Their personal space is being violated. We've got to do something."
Maybe the final draft of Whitwell's amendment will include a change in the definition of panhandling to include "accosting, yelling, screaming and violating personal space" and drop the jail part.
A New Place to Wait
JATRAN passengers may find themselves at one of several new bus stops around the city in the coming months.
The city council voted July 24 on an order to amend the city's contract with Integrated Management Services with about $900,000 in improvements to 25 bus stops. The main goal of the project is to make the bus stops compliant with regulations in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The plan was originally started during Mayor Harvey Johnson's first term. Johnson said when Frank Melton was elected and Johnson left office, the funds were in place to improve the bus stops. What happened to the project once Melton took over is unclear.
Now the funding is in place once again, and the project is close to getting under way. Johnson said with the funding, part of which came from federal stimulus money, all parts of the bus stops must be made in the United States. One part that IMS was using was not made in the U.S., they discovered.
So now they are purchasing American-made parts, Johnson said, and will soon begin construction.
The City Council sent the amendment to Jackson's panhandling ordinance back to the Intergovernmental Committee for more discussion Tuesday.
During the public comment portion of the City Council meeting, state ACLU Legal Director Bear Atwood raised concerns about the constitutionality of the ordinance. She said that it violates the First Amendment to make an ordinance prohibiting the content of someone's speech.
Whitwell said at the meeting it does not violate the First Amendment to prohibit "commercial solicitation."
"If we put our head in the sand, we'll run everybody out of the city and have nothing left but homeless holding the keys to the city," Whitwell said.
Bluntson said he doesn't think anyone believes panhandlers will run everyone but the homeless out of Jackson.
LaRita Copper-Stokes, Ward 3, said that homeless are citizens of Jackson, too. Charles Tillman, Ward 5, agreed and said that when the Council members took an oath to do what is best for all of Jackson, including the homeless.
Whitwell said he would be happy to take the issue back to the Intergovernmental Committee, which he chairs, for more discussion. At the request of other Council members, he agreed to get the Jackson Police Department and the city's homeless organization, such as Stew Pot, involved in the discussion.
The City Council approved an amendment 6-0 to a deal to build new, ADA-compliant bus stops for JATRAN. Chokwe Lumumba, Ward 2, was absent from the meeting.