UPDATED: Council Drills City Staffers Over Lawsuits, Gets Few Responses | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

UPDATED: Council Drills City Staffers Over Lawsuits, Gets Few Responses

Vice President and Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon did not vote to go into executive session at Tuesday's meeting, stating that the questions she asked while the meeting was still open were important but never answered.

Vice President and Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon did not vote to go into executive session at Tuesday's meeting, stating that the questions she asked while the meeting was still open were important but never answered.

— Jackson City Council entered into an executive session during a special meeting this morning to discuss sex and race discrimination lawsuits filed against the mayor and the City of Jackson last week, both of which involve members of the legal department directly, including City Attorney Monica Joiner. Neither Joiner or Yarber attended the meeting today.

The only council member who did not vote for the session was Ward 7 Councilwoman and Vice President Margaret Barrett-Simon, with the rest of the council voting for it. Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes was not present.

"Usually, I am very understanding of the need of executive session; I think that we have asked very important questions this morning and never got answers, and for that reason I am not voting," Barrett-Simon said.

Ward 2 Councilman Melvin Priester Jr. moved to go into executive session after almost an hour of of not getting answers from the special assistant to the city attorney, James Anderson, to council questions about the lawsuits. Council asked whether the City had received any other complaints similar to those expressed in the lawsuits, whether the City had made written responses to the complaints filed or whether the administration is planning to hire outside counsel, due to conflicts with City attorneys who are named in the lawsuits.

"I move that we enter into executive session because it is clear that we are not going to get any of the information that I think we should be able to get in public, given how willingly and quickly public statements were made last week on the City's behalf," Priester said.

Priester had asked earlier if the statement the City released in response to the first lawsuit last week through its press representative Shelia Byrd last week had been cleared through legal or whether it was from the mayor's office alone. Anderson said he was not sure of the process for the statement.

Before the move into executive session, the council asked questions of the City's head of personnel, Denise McKay, as well as Anderson about the normal procedure for dealing with discrimination complaints.

"Ma'am, in the cases where there is an issue inside the mayor's office, and you receive a complaint, should there be an alternate flow or person to direct that since your sister is the chief of staff?" Stamps asked McKay. She said that normally the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer receives the complaint, which is then sent to the legal department.

Stamps continued, explaining that his constituents had begun to piece together the relations between some of the involved city employees.

"When they connect the dots and say, 'well, the chief of staff, her sister is the personnel director, and her cousin is the lawyer,' so you know, that leaves some room for some questions to be asked, and in this forum right here we need to answer those questions for the people," Stamps said.

"I take my job seriously, I would not do nothing to jeopardize the city. If there is anything to do with a relative, I recuse myself from the process completely," McKay said.

Stamps tried to make it clear why he was asking her specifically. "But in this case, it just makes you kind of step back from our normal procedure and our normal confidences because of the conflicts," Stamps said. "Under these circumstances it gives you pause, and that's why some of the uneasiness is here. I really wish the chief of staff, the lawyer, the city attorney and the mayor were here, so that you two wouldn't be in this, so that they would be able to answer just basic questions."

Mayor Tony Yarber issued a statement about the meeting through spokeswoman Shelia Byrd.

"This is now a legal matter. My private legal counsel will respond accordingly," Yarber said in the release. "I was unable to attend the meeting today as I had a conflict. We will continue to work with the Council on these and other issues. Indeed, now our focus is on crafting a budget and taking the necessary steps to keep Jackson on path to fiscal resiliency."

Lawsuits Roil Jackson City Hall, Metro

The City of Jackson, and its suburbs, are grappling with multiple sex- and race-discrimination lawsuits.

Byrd also contacted the Jackson Free Press, explaining that City Attorney Monica Joiner was at a bond meeting this morning that she was required to attend.

The lawsuit filed by former executive assistant to the mayor Kimberly Bracey was amended yesterday with a new version of the plaintiff's complaint. The first change is that in August or September of 2014—the lawsuit is not specific—Yarber and then Sheriff Tyrone Lewis went to Atlanta for a fundraiser that Democratic operative Mitzi Bickers hosted. The next day, it said, there was another event, this time at Bickers's house, where there were strippers covered in body paint. While the original complaint states that Lewis attended, the new one states that he did not.

In the amended complaint, the name of Aaron Banks, who the first complaint alleged attended the gathering with Yarber and Bracey, was removed.

As of press time, council was still in executive session.

Email city reporter Tim Summers, Jr. at tim@jacksonfreepress.com. Follow the unfolding City lawsuit story at jfp.ms/citylawsuits.

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