Jonathan Lee on the Defensive Over Business Judgments (Plus Audio) | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Jonathan Lee on the Defensive Over Business Judgments (Plus Audio)

Today Mayoral candidate Jonathan Lee answered questions regarding default judgements against his family's business.

Today Mayoral candidate Jonathan Lee answered questions regarding default judgements against his family's business. Photo by Trip Burns.

Audio clip

Jonathan Lee - Mississippi Products Interview

Jonathan Lee Hopes to Unseat Johnson

Lee's interview is the first in JFP's series with 2013 Jackson mayor candidates. They will be posted at jfp.ms/mayorsrace as the campaign progresses.

Lee's Legal Troubles Multiply

A fifth lawsuit has emerged against Mississippi Products Inc.

— A mayoral candidate running for office on his business experience told the Jackson Free Press this morning that the distribution of documents—showing that his family company, Mississippi Products Inc., is currently facing multiple default judgments in at least two states for more than $100,000 owed to vendors—is an attempt to "impede our momentum."

"We have an ongoing contractual dispute," Jonathan Lee said in an interview this morning. "… There's little I can say." He attributed the judgments to a disagreement between Mississippi Products, vendors and a former customer.

The JFP received 11 pages of information Tuesday about the business dispute mailed in an envelope with no return address. Lee was already scheduled for an endorsement interview by the paper's editorial board this morning; the board presented him the documents for a response.

The documents, which the JFP has confirmed are authentic, showed that Hinds County Judge Melvin Priester signed three default judgment orders against Mississippi Products Inc. for at least $123,296.71 to three vendors. On June 25, 2012, Priester awarded a judgment for $25,082.55 plus $879.61 in interest to Pitt Plastics Inc.; on Aug. 16, 2012, he awarded $74,518.13 plus $3,756.53 in interest to Georgia Pacific; and on March 14, 2013, he awarded 3M a default judgment of $19,059.79 plus 8 percent interest. In each of the three cases, Priester also awarded the plaintiffs $5,000 in attorney's fees plus court costs.

On March 14, 2013, Priester signed an "order allowing examination of judgment debtor Mississippi Products Inc." The judge granted Georgia Pacific lawyers permission to examine "all books, papers, documents and all other notes of any kind…" and ordered that a subpoena be issued and "served upon the above Judgment Debtor, Mississippi Products Inc., to be served on Jonathan Lee at 2457 Valley St." to appear on April 4, 2013, to be examined under oath.

At press time, the JFP is unclear whether Lee appeared in court on April 4.

The documents also contained a docket page from LaPorte (Ind.) Circuit Court showing that Filter Specialists Inc. filed a claim against Mississippi Products Inc. on Dec. 14, 2011, with a default judgment for $20,700 entered against the company on Jan. 17, 2012.

A default judgment typically means that one of the parties to a legal suit has not performed a court-ordered action, and the judge deems that the inaction prevents the issue from being resolved. Thus, the judge enters a default judgment settling the dispute on behalf the party that did comply with court requests.

Lee attributed the default judgments to the fact that his family business is a "middleman" between the vendors and a contractor that Mississippi Products Inc. supplies. The Lee business resells disposable products to medical, janitorial, administrative, industrial and filtration companies, and provides warehouse space, its website states. Lee said today that the company can get stuck with supplies that a customer won't pay for; he said vendors will not take products back because they want the money even if a product is priced too high in the first place.

When asked who is responsible for paying the company's vendors, he responded, "I have to pay the vendor," adding later, "We're in negotiation to handle this matter with all the vendors. … We don't think we're wrong." He would not, however, immediately provide the name of the company's attorney or provide more information confirming that negotiations are in process. He left the interview today saying he would consult the business' attorney for any additional statements.

Lee emphasized that the default judgments resulted from a typical "business dispute" and are all still "in negotiations."

"It's what happens in business. … I did not know in December 2011 that this was going to get to this point," he said today.

The candidate strongly emphasized that he was no longer president of the company when the judgments were rendered—saying that he stepped down from that position effective Dec. 31, 2011, and that current secretary of state documents would prove it.

The 2012 corporate annual report, dated Oct. 8, 2012, for Mississippi Products Inc., lists Jonathan J. Lee as president, Jean Lee (his mother) as vice president; and Kyna A. Lee as secretary—with his mother's name on the signature line, implying that she approved the report. The second page of the document does not list a name for president, only vice president Jean Lee and three incorporators as of October 2012. A year before, the report listed all those names plus Jonathan Lee as president.

Contrary to Lee's statement today that secretary of state documents would show that he resigned as president effective the end of 2011, the documents only indicate that Lee resigned as the company's "registered agent" on Dec. 21, 2011, a week after the Indiana company sued the company. A "registered agent" is not necessarily the same as a company executive; often the "agent" is the attorney or corporate officer who handles a company's corporate paperwork.

The secretary of state's website does not indicate any other possible change to Mississippi Products' corporate hierarchy or officer status until Oct. 25, 2012, when R. Jean Lee, (Ruby Jean Lee: Jonathan Lee's mother) filed to become the registered agent, nearly a year after her son removed his name as agent. It is written in by hand that her position is "president," even though the secretary of state's site still lists her as vice president. Lee said today that the company kept corporate minutes that show when he stepped down as president, but said he is not willing to show them to prove the date. He said he would not provide further details because the dispute is a private business matter.

Lee emphasized to the JFP editorial board that he has never been an owner of Mississippi Products Inc., and that he received a paycheck from it like anyone else would. He said he has not worked for the company since he resigned as president in late 2011 because "this is a full-time thing, running for mayor." He said he does check in on the business from time to time, though, and has "been aware" of this dispute, although not involved in it. He said his mother would not be willing to be interviewed about it.

When told that "default judgments" imply that the company has not been defending itself in court proceedings, Lee reiterated that the outcome was still in negotiation, adding that he is not aware of every detail that has transpired. "I am not intimately involved in that; I have not been there," he said.

The candidate said he had heard about the anonymous mailing before the meeting today, saying that other media and campaigns had received it as well this week. He came prepared with a statement, blaming it on political chicanery.

"With my campaign for mayor picking up a tremendous amount of steam and just two weeks left before the Democratic Primary, this is no doubt another attempt to impede our momentum," the statement said. "This is an ongoing business issue, not a personal one, and it is totally unrelated to my campaign for mayor."

When asked why he did not reveal the legal dispute with the business sooner, Lee said it is "not germane" to his campaign for mayor, also saying that he did not believe that a story about it is "fair." He also said that he did not alert donors and supporters about it in advance of the documents being distributed this week.

Candidate Lee, who was chosen as chairman of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce about a year after he moved into Jackson in 2008, has long touted his experience running Mississippi Products Inc. as a primary reason to elect him mayor of Jackson. On his campaign website, Lee said he took over the family business after his father, John Lee, died; he was 24 when he took the helm. "Jonathan not only became the head of his family—but also the head of his father’s business," his campaign site states.

"Remembering one of his father’s most important lessons, Jonathan built a highly qualified team of experts to help navigate through the transition. Today, the South Jackson business continues to grow—and remains committed to the area. Jonathan knows how to help Jackson businesses and communities grow."

UPDATE, April 24, 2013, 5 p.m.:

Jonathan Lee returned a call the JFP left this afternoon about several follow-up questions. He did not directly answer the question of whether he appeared in court on April 4, 2013, in response to the subpoena, saying instead: "I have worked it. We are working on that. ... We are aware of that, and it's been handled." He then added as an afterthought: "I did not break the law and not appear. ... There's no warrant for my arrest."

When told that the JFP has not found secretary of state documents that indicate that he removed himself as president of Mississippi Products Inc. in late 2011, he said that he wasn't sure why it wasn't there and that he would have to look and see if he can find the document. But, he added, "at the end of the day, it's my family business, and I am aware. ... At this point, that is a moot issue," he said, referring to whether or not he was president of the company during 2012. "It's an ongoing legal issue."

Lee said that until about January 2012, he managed the company day-to-day and is still involved in a smaller role.

He still declined to name the attorney who he says has been helping Mississippi Products Inc. negotiate the legal dispute over the last year and a half. He said he talked to the attorney earlier today and they decided to let the JFP "roll with what you've got."

Update, April 24, 2013, 6:53 p.m.:

After the above story published earlier today, the JFP checked the cover interview that Jonathan Lee did with our paper last June, around the time he announced that he was running for mayor. In that interview, he said that he is a small business owner. This morning at the JFP, he contradicted the earlier interview, saying he has not been an owner of the company. He told the JFP last June:

I think it's fair to point out, too, that I'm not a corporate guy. I run a business on the corner of Valley (Street) and Raymond Road. I have employees that take the bus. We have known them and are intimately involved with them for many, many years. The perspective of being a small business owner, (and) a black business owner is a lot different from a corporate guy. I think that's one of the divisive tactics, the ugly things that happen during the election cycle to really take our eye off the ball.

Yes, I've sat at the table. I've learned a lot. I've learned some things that I want to do. I've learned some things that we certainly don't need to do, or do again for that matter. I'm definitely not the business candidate.

Update, April 24, 2013, 7:45 p.m.:

The full complaints and attachments of Georgia Pacific, 3M and Pitt Plastics are now scanned and linked above to the left. One of the documents shows that Lee was served a subpeona at his home July 1, 2012, at 2 p.m.

Attorneys for the four companies that got judgments on Mississippi Products Inc. have not returned phone calls.

Update, April 30, 2013, 7:32 p.m.:

Added additional documents showing lawsuits from Diversey and and Filter Specialists.

Comments

thabian 6 years, 2 months ago

Wow!!!! Is this the kind of person you want managing your tax dollars? Really???? He can't even manage his own company's finances!

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jacksonvoter 6 years, 2 months ago

Doesn't seem someone that can be honest and straightforward with voters or handle the business in a timely manner!

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jacksonvoter 6 years, 2 months ago

Karma is an interesting topic I find from this article. Mr. Lee appears neither certain, willing to be certain, or forthright in his version of the stories. He needs to come forward to the voters of Jackson whom is he asking to represent. Mr. Lee has already contradicted himself in his interview and subsequent phone call back. Now to the part of Karma. It was interesting that a number of people said about Regina Quinn early that she does have past issues but she is being honest coming out of the gate. Since I met them both Regina has always stood out to me as someone that is honest, forthright, and forward moving. I am glad for once we have a candidate in a race that is willing to be honest before the job starts.

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Tom_Head 6 years, 2 months ago

I don't mind the business judgments, but I do mind the lies. He has been describing himself as a business owner for the duration of the campaign; now he's suddenly saying he's not a business owner, and hasn't been for years. What's more, he has been very carefully hiding this pretty significant part of his story, re the default judgments, rather than handling them in a transparent way—and seems to be giving as little information to the media as possible.

I wish some of these young candidates would read King Lear and realize that the people who come to them with legitimate questions and honest concerns shouldn't be treated like their enemies just because they're not giving them the fawning, uncritical acceptance they think they deserve.

I asked Lee a few questions about his views on some civil liberties policy issues a few weeks back, which would have given him an easy way to promote himself as a progressive, and was pretty bluntly dismissed (as a "biased observer") by his campaign because I had previously been critical of his decision to advertise on a local right-wing blog. That's unfortunate. When you've got a long persona-non-grata list before you've even made the runoff, much less been elected to office, that's a recipe for cronyism down the road. We saw it with Melton, and we'll probably see it with Lee if he's elected. Not looking forward to that.

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donnaladd 6 years, 2 months ago

WJTV has http://www.wjtv.com/story/22070662/jo...">a story up about Mississippi Products' property taxes. We haven't seen anything on this, and the story doesn't provide a lot of info. It mentions an email with "disturbing information," but we don't have that one.

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donnaladd 6 years, 2 months ago

And, Tom, I agree. This is no time to play the victim, whether you're the candidate or his supporters. He made a mistake by not getting in front of this and explaining it before other people found out. And I have no idea what to think about the whole discrepancy over whether or not he has ever actually owned the business. Completely befuddled by this turn of events. And very surprised.

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thabian 6 years, 2 months ago

I saw the WJTV interview last night, and regardless of anything else that comes out, I simply am dumbfounded by any man who would throw his mama to the wolves!!!! I mean come on! This is a person who wants to be the mayor of the capital city, the largest, most populous city in the state. AND HE'S GOING TO REFUSE TO GO ON CAMERA TO DEFEND HIMSELF!!! BUT HAS NO PROBLEM LETTING HIS MAMA TAKE THE HEAT!!!!

Jackson's budget is something like $360 milliion dollars. We cannot have a guy who can't make his mind up on whether he actually runs, has ever ran or even knows how to run a small business take the reigns of city government.

And what's this "middle man" talk. I wanna know what customer his company screwed over! Are these Jackson companies? He lists them all on his company's website. It's the suppliers who sued him right? I have more questions! Trusting the JFP isn't going to let this one go quite yet! Thanks for breaking this!

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donnaladd 6 years, 2 months ago

BTW, I http://www.co.hinds.ms.us/pgs/apps/la...">just checked the property rolls. It indicates that the taxes on the Mississippi Products Inc. land is currently paid.

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Knowledge06 6 years, 2 months ago

Actually Donna, they are not paid. The building that houses Mississippi Products is in the name of his mother and the taxes for 2012 have not been paid. When you do the property search, do it with the address of the business: 2457 Valley St. Balance due on 4/25/13 is $6,320.31. In fairness, they actually have until August to pay before being placed on the list for a tax sale. Also, looking at their history, the payment is usually made by the end of June. Yes, penalties and interest are incurred buy they are usually paid.

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donnaladd 6 years, 2 months ago

OK, you're right, Knowledge06. I looked at it wrong. http://www.co.hinds.ms.us/pgs/apps/re...">The 2012 property taxes for the business don't look paid. Now, I thought WJTV was talking about 2010? Last year, Lee says he wasn't running the business, that it's all his mother's responsibility. I have no idea.

From what I understand, lots of folks pay their property taxes late, especially in this economy. And Melton never paid his on time, I suspect. Remember all that hoopla? So it is what it is.

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Knowledge06 6 years, 2 months ago

Memo to the Lee campaign: Clean up things of this nature before you put your candidate in the position to have to answer these questions. Surely you guys can do public records researches related to your candidate. This shows a level of ineptness that doesn't help solidify your candidate as someone who can be trusted to LEAD a City the size of Jackson. Also, stop using the fact that your candidate is a 'small business owner' to justify not paying his suppliers. As a small business owner who also uses suppliers for products to end users, I couldn't remain in business if I were like Mr. Lee. If he's running HIS business that way, what does that say about how HE would run the City of Jackson, MS?

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donnaladd 6 years, 2 months ago

Ross Adams over at http://www.wjtv.com/story/22082430/jo...">WJTV isn't letting this story go. It's essentially the story we reported yesterday. Oh, and somebody ask Ross if Barbara Dunn's office charged them $84 for 84 sheets of paper.

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jacksonvoter 6 years, 2 months ago

Jonathan Lee is claiming just a lawsuit when it is a judgement by 4 companies he failed to answer any of the lawsuits as he was served notice 4 times. Judge Melvin Priester who granted each judgement against him filed a summons for him to show up April 4th, 2013. It was for a debtor/creditor meeting. By Jonathan's failure to answer any of his lawsuits he waived the rights of himself and his company to any defense of the suits. Simply stated he owes the money and is not in compliance with the law. What competent business man wouldn't at least take the time and attention to hire a business lawyer to look into these matters. Instead Jonathan is throwing his mother under the bus as he wouldn't appear on camera. Jonathan as late as last week prided himself of his successful business which he took over when his father died. The document he filed with the Secretary of State Office CLEARLY shows he was PRESIDENT of the company on Oct 8, 2012. By Oct 8, 2012 all lawsuits had been filed while he was still the President of the company. Jonathan is trying to convince his big money donors he is one thing while he actually hasn't been who he has said he was and to be. It is time like another candidate did and come out front and discuss the real issues from the start. Days before the election he wants to spend tons of money on TV and Radio and it all has been lies. If in the past two days he had been honest and not lied in subsequent interviews/follow-ups he might have been able to save some pie in the face. He needs to bow out of the Mayor's race and take time and straighten out the numerous financial and legal issues he has and the over 100K plus dollars he owes.

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donnaladd 6 years, 2 months ago

Please note that we just added the full audio of Mr. Lee's remarks to the above story (near the top).

Also, a couple of people have asked if we have decided to endorse Mr. Lee because we call the interview an "endorsement interview." No, we will not make our decision about endorsement until Monday. We did endorsement interviews with five mayoral candidates and will discuss and decide Monday. Our endorsement will be in the paper and online Wednesday, May 1.

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justjess 6 years, 2 months ago

I just finished reading the CL's version of the Jonathan Lee/Mississippi Products, Inc's story. It is interesting that they were days publishing and after the JFP ran the story. After reading what they (CL) released, it sounds as if they were trying to do damage control.

It is my opinion that the CL was quick to report blame and such a BIG DEAL was made about "WHO" is responsible for the "LEAK". So, the question here is: Do we as citizens, voters, and stakeholders in our communities have the right to know the truth about the candidate's involvements in such matters? Lee's business history could have a very negative impact on his ability to manage the City's fianances. Haven't we gone through this before?

It takes more than quick, slick political tricks to manage a city: Slowly but surely, the world catches up!

I haven't any idea about how Lee's lies and half-truths surfaced; however, I do know that they are all evidenced in published public records. Mr. Lee has marketed himself as a shrewd businessman with experiences that will lead Jackson to heights unknown.

How can the public ever know the real truth about the candidate when they are constantly bombarded with half-truths, mis-information and just blatent lies?

Can anyone say, "TRUTH MATTERS"?

Just Asking?

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donnaladd 6 years, 2 months ago

I just read that story. It's a very strange story for a newspaper. It sounds like they are trying to go after a whistle-blower of accurate public information that could be important to voters in a mayoral race. That is a very strange position for a newspaper to take. Very strange. Media outlets usually try to discourage the dissemination of information. I'm astounded frankly.

Otherwise, it's pretty much a rehash of our story -- although Lee told us that he resigned as president in December 2011, and that he did not serve as president any at all in 2012, although the secretary of state's office indicates otherwise.

They do not mention that Lee has been running as a business owner, but said this week that he has never owned Mississippi Products.

It's almost remarkable that The Clarion-Ledger was so many days behind on the story that they say up top is the hottest political story in town. No thanks to them; my assumption is that they wouldn't have reported it had we and then WJTV not have. It reminds me of when they sat on the Melton duplex-destruction story for several days after we did it. It was a hot story, so they clearly realized that they couldn't ignore it on behalf of the candidate that they endorsed. I rather expect that is the case here.

Otherwise, Sam Begley posted this on Facebook about The Clarion-Ledger's implications about him and his motives:

In my opinion, Jonathan's misrepresentations about his business background, combined with the unfortunate state of affairs of MPI, disqualify him from being mayor. It is laughable that the Clarion Ledger would even devote one line of copy about me sharing truthful, public information, in the form of an email to a person I was obviously acquainted with, that is materially relevant to the suitability of a person seeking to become Mayor of our city. They ought to thank me for doing their job. I wonder if the prominent financial backers of Jonathan, many of whom rolled with Frank Melton in 2005, took time to check him out beforehand or, instead, thought they could pull the wool over our eyes one more time, with $200,000 in media buys. Oh, and as a disclaimer, Harvey and Kathy Johnson have been friends of mine for 20 years, and I am voting for Harvey for in the Democratic Primary for Jackson mayor.

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thabian 6 years, 2 months ago

Please tell me that the Jackson Free Press is going to look into this Jackson Police Association "endorsement". I hear that there are about 40 members and the spokesperson quoted in the release is Earnest Perry who is no longer an officer. Can someone find out if he did in fact retire from JPD just after serving a 90 day suspension and just before being fired for misusing city fuelman cards under Frank Melton's administration. Isn't this documented somewhere?

Does anyone else see a pattern emerging?

Also, how do you from a PAC like Jackson 20/20, pay your campaign staff the bulk of the proceeds (according to the JFP) and then announce that your own PAC is endorsing you for Mayor. SMH!!!

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donnaladd 6 years, 2 months ago

Thabian, I mentioned Fuelman to my reporters after I saw that release and told them to see if it's the same Earnest Perry.

We got a call from someone else about this endorsement last week -- Juan Cloy, who used to be head of the police union and who we've long been friendly with. He called Thursday, I believe, to urge us to endorse Lee and told me that the group wasn't interviewing Johnson for an endorsement. I'm told today, though, that they did.

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donnaladd 6 years, 2 months ago

Here is an http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/...">article we ran a while back that mentions Perry, if it's the same one. And for those who haven't seen it, here's the release that came today, and it's all I know right now:

JACKSON POLICE OFFICERS ASSOCIATION ENDORSES JONATHAN LEE FOR MAYOR (Download PDF Version of This Document) The Jackson Police Officers Association announces their endorsement of Mayoral Candidate Jonathan Lee for Mayor of the City of Jackson, Mississippi. "We need a visionary for mayor- a strong leader with a willingness to work with local and state government. Jackson needs and deserves someone who cares about the future of our city and the people who keep it safe," said Earnest Perry, President of the Jackson Police Officers Association. "This decision was not taken lightly. Over the course of the past month, we have taken the time to sit individually with many of the candidates for mayor. We spoke with them about the concerns we have for our city, our jobs, and our families," added Perry. Perry went on to say of Lee's plan for addressing the issue of crime, "Like Lee, officers have continued to say that there must be a comprehensive approach to fighting crime." He also believes that Lee will develop a documented career advancement path within the Jackson Police Department so that officers will not feel as if they are in a dead-end job. The Jackson Police Officers Association believes that Jonathan Lee will respond to their primary concerns, including: Ensuring officers are paid fairly for their efforts to keep our citizens safe Hiring and maintaining qualified police officers Developing a career path for officers Reaching a collective bargaining agreement with the Jackson Police officers Working with other city departments to identify and demolish abandoned and dilapidated homes and buildings that serve as havens for criminal activities Working with the Mayor's office to develop youth programs to keep them off the streets and from committing crimes Developing comprehensive neighborhood watch programs to involve citizens The Jackson Police Officers Association believes Jonathan Lee is the candidate who can best lead Jackson in the right direction.

Stand with the Jackson Police Officers Association in support of Jonathan. Pledge your vote for Jonathan Lee for Mayor right now! Paid for by Friends of Jonathan Lee | | info@jonathanleeforjackson.com |

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donnaladd 6 years, 2 months ago

OK, I just spoke to my friend Juan Cloy, former police union president. He clarified a few things. When he called last week, it was on behalf of another group that is endorsing Lee and didn't interview Johnson.

The police association (release above) did interview Johnson, too. Two different groups.

Also, Cloy confirmed that Earnest Perry is no longer a police officer, but is serving as interim president of the police union. Perry is the same officer who was investigated for the Fuelman controversy that I linked to above, but was later cleared by a civil service investigation, Cloy said. I have no way to find out more about that tonight, but I hope that answers your question.

The election-related questions are coming fast and furious; we're trying to answer what we can, and we appreciate factual information anybody out there would like to provide. Unlike The Clarion-Ledger, we don't pick and choose the sources of public information we publish. Sorry for the sarcasm. I'm tired.

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donnaladd 6 years, 2 months ago

Per the other part of your comment, Thabian, I will make this pledge. If any PAC or candidate does not file full disclosure this week in time for the voters to see everything, we will track it and report it whenever they do -- and make a HUGE deal out of the fact that they didn't file early enough for the voters to decide along with a list of every person associated with it. The public deserves information on who is backing candidates. Give it to us.

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thabian 6 years, 2 months ago

I'm being told by a Police Officer that the Jackson Police Assn did not take a formal vote to endorse any candidate. I'm told that group consists of about 40 or so officers (less than 10 percent of the entire force) and that fewer than a dozen (only those who interviewed candidates) voted informally on who THEY thought complied with their demands of the candidate(s).

I'm also told that this disclosure is going to be made to the media tomorrow.

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