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.