City: Make Smart Decisions on Contracts, Department Heads

Most people know it: Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, while wildly popular, was not perfect. Even his son admitted that some of his hiring decisions for department heads might not have been ideal.

From where we sit, mayors put too many people into key city roles, such as Planning and Public Works, for political or personal reasons. They pay back supporters and donors by either appointing them directly or making appointments to appease them. This, of course, is an age-old practice—but it is not healthy or forward-thinking city governance.

Recently, we heard an intriguing suggestion by Dr. Mukesh Kumar, interim program director of the urban and regional planning department at Jackson State University. Kumar believes that heads of key departments, like planning, should not be political appointments who move on after a mayor leaves office. Instead, he says, the city should set up a search committee for people to put in those roles who will stay beyond a current mayor's term, if they do a good job, of course.

He suggests that the committee have elected officials as well as other knowledgeable people on it (we nominate him, for one), so that better suggestions go before City Council for final approval.

We urge Mayor Tony Yarber to embrace such ideas, focusing more on city health than appeasing campaign supporters, for smarter appointments. We also call on the new mayor to disregard his campaign support base when making any and all decisions about who leads city departments, as well as for whom he might suggest or support for city contracts. His top contributor, a developer and contractor, Socrates Garrett, gave at least $30,000 to his campaign, far surpassing any contributor for either man in the runoff.

While we appreciate Mr. Garrett's positive contributions to the city, his or anyone else's donations to Mr. Yarber's campaign must not present any kind of special influence over how city money is spent or contracts awarded. And we would be writing the same words about Chokwe A. Lumumba's tenure should he have won the election. A mayor does not owe an appointment or contract to anyone.

Having dealt with Mr. Yarber in his time as a Ward 6 councilman and council president, we know that he has displayed an independent spirit as an elected official, as well as a willingness to help city government be more transparent. We urge him to continue that tradition, and believe that he will.

The city has an opportunity to reset and move beyond bad habits of the past, whether in hiring or the awarding of city contracts. We look forward to seeing what happens and watch-dogging the process to ensure that it is transparent and non-biased toward political supporters.


Knowledge06 1 year, 2 months ago

I think that it is very disingenuous of you to ask of the City of Jackson what you haven't asked of any other City or the State of Mississippi for that matter. I don't disagree with the premise but why is Jackson different? In a perfect world, what you ask may be 100% possible. However, we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a world where the State of MS routinely issues contracts based solely on politics and repayment of favors. (Just take a look sometime on the Transparency Mississippi website at who is receiving the contracts....then follow the will be amazed!) The 'theory' of what you're asking should be applauded but extend those same requirements to the City of Clinton, Brandon, Madison, Ridgeland, etc and then perhaps you will garner more than token support. You're trying to change the process! In order to make a difference, you have to change the 'game'!


js1976 1 year, 1 month ago

Knowledge, you are aware that this is the Jackson Free Press correct? Not the Clinton Free Press, or the Madison Free Press.


donnaladd 1 year, 2 months ago

Knowledge, we want to expand our scrutiny to all the surrounding areas, but haven't had the resources to do great consistent reporting on the suburbs. And we don't want to water down our coverage of the capital city in order to do superficial coverage of the entire metro (or state).

That said, we plan to do more watchdogging of contracts statewide (with or without support), and with an expanding editorial staff, hope to do more around the metro as well.

So, point well taken. ;-)


multiculturegirl 1 year, 2 months ago

Besides Knowledge we live here. What is stopping Jackson from becoming a model city?


socratesgarrett 1 year, 1 month ago

the idea of tracking who gets what contracts could be very beneficial to small minority contractors who get less than 5 percent of the contracts awarded by local government. Hemphill and white engineering firms will be very upset though. If your purpose is to assure that small minority business get even less than they get, then shame on you.


notmuch 1 year, 1 month ago

Interesting statement: "white engineering firms will be very upset"? I am going to go out on a limb and assume that since I am white, and also the president of an engineering firm, my firm is a "white engineering firm". However, during time periods when the ownership of our firm has not included any "minorities", my experience has been that in order to secure any local government contracts, the typical requirement has been that we do the work, but "partner" with a "minority business", who takes a percentage off the top. It's hard enough to make any profit on government work without starting out in the hole like that.


Turtleread 1 year, 1 month ago

Socratesgarrett, While I would agree to allowing up to 10% of all city business contracts go to minority, small business enterprises within the city, I have found that over the years Jackson has not used good judgment and/or a good vetting system for choosing those firms with the expertise needed, equipment, or talents. In some cases, the firm hired was simply a "front" or a "face" that another non-qualified firm used to secure the contract. I agree that transparency in the contract process and contract letting should be readily apparent; however you, as a businessman, must then accept a fair decision when it comes down in a competitive contest and not resort to tying the process up in costly court fights.


Knowledge06 1 year, 1 month ago

js1976, the name of this paper notwithstanding....if JFP ONLY focused on City of Jackson news you would probably have a point. However, since the articles touch on subjects across the state your post makes no sense. I am fully aware of what I said and why I said it. Nothing you said has changed that. My point remains!


js1976 1 year, 1 month ago

The articles "touch" on subjects across the state, but how many times have you witnessed extensive coverage of political issues in the suburbs? My point remains, it's the Jackson Free Press!


multiculturegirl 1 year, 1 month ago

Except when if ever has the JFP covered the outlying areas the same way they cover Jackson? Do they cover their city council meetings, development, and mayor's races in the same as they cover Jackson? I don't believe they do. The JFP is essentially a local paper with statewide reach and coverage. So again I am not sure what you are getting at.


donnaladd 1 year, 1 month ago

We would never wish for minority contractors to get fewer contracts, Mr. Garrett. And thanks for commenting. Your voice is welcome here anytime. And our requests for interviews remain and always will be open to you. It would be great to get your insight, especially, about challenges facing minority contractors. Would love a good sit-down interview with you.

And to Knowledge and Multiculture Girl: Note the JFP's full name: JACKSON Free Press. That doesn't mean that we won't, and will increasingly as possible, cover what is happening in the suburbs—just that our focus is the state's capital city. It's a handful in its own right! ;-)

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