October 6, 2015

Initiative 42 Campaign Asks Secretary of State to Review Ballots for Errors

By adreher

The 42 for Better Schools campaign has asked the Mississippi Secretary of State's office to review ballots across all 82 counties in Mississippi after finding errors on ballots in Hinds county. A Mississippi voter in Hinds County found the errors when the voter went to complete an absentee ballot, according to 42 for Better Schools spokeswoman Patsy Brumfield.

The same errors found on the absentee ballot are also visible on the Hinds County sample ballot. The letter "A" is removed from the Initiative 42-A choice, so voters can vote "FOR Initiative Measure No. 42" or "FOR Alternative Measure No. 42". Without the letter "A" to designate the alternative, voters might vote for the wrong initiative Brumfield said.

The wording of the voting language also changed. The wording to vote against Initiative 42 incorrectly reads, "AGAINST APPROVAL OF EITHER Initiative Measure No. 42 OR Alternative Measure No. 42A". It should say, "AGAINST BOTH Initiative Measure No. 42 and Alternative Measure No. 42A."

The original sample ballot did not contain these errors and supporters of Initiative 42 are calling on the secretary of state to review all other counties' ballots for the same errors. In a press release, co-campaign manager for 42 for Better Schools, Jonathan Compretta said: "These gross errors will lead to additional confusion on a ballot already made confusing by the legislative leadership. The Secretary of State has a statutory duty to ensure that ballots in each county are correct in every aspect."

October 1, 2015

Petition Drive to Remove Confederate Emblem from State Flag OK'd

By R.L. Nave

Jackson resident Sharon Brown has received approval to start collecting signatures on a ballot initiative to remove a Confederate emblem from the state's flag.

“Today we received our official ballot title and summary from the state and are excited that we are one important step closer to giving the citizens of Mississippi the opportunity to have their voice heard on this important issue. I appreciate the Secretary of State and the Attorney General for working expeditiously to get our initiative ready for circulation. It is exciting to know that we are one step closer to addressing this issue once and for all. We will be holding a press conference on October 9th to announce our next steps. Additional information will be forthcoming," she said in a release.

The ballot summary states:

Initiative Measure No. 55 proposes to add the following language to the Mississippi Constitution: “The flag of the State of Mississippi shall not contain or include any reference to the Confederate army’s battle flag or to the Confederacy.” As an enforcement mechanism, a Mississippi citizen may petition the Mississippi Supreme Court for a write of mandamus requiring the State, its political subdivisions, their agents, officers, or employees to comply with the amendment."

Read our coverage of the state flag debate at www.jfp.ms/confeds.


September 30, 2015

JATRAN Rebranding Survey Under Way

By R.L. Nave

What's in a name?

Well, a rebranding of the local the mass-transit system, JATRAN, got under way quietly with a press release from the city this morning.

The Transit Services Division wants public input on what to rename the authority. The public-comment period last through October. Citizens can vote through on online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ST7X9ZZ.

From the survey, you can suggest your own name (e.g. "Jumpin Jack Flash," "The Ripper," or some such) or pick from one of these pre-fab/suggested names:

• Jackson Jazz • Jackson Area Express • Jackson Metro • Pearl RiverRunner • CityBus • CityLink • Beat • Blues • CAT (Capital Area Transit) • GoJackson • JBus • The J • Magnolia Ride • The Ride

The results of the survey (which, face it, will probably be Jumpin Jack Flash) will be shared with the Jackson City Council at their Tuesday, November 17, 2015 meeting.

According to the city, "the person who suggests the best name for JATRAN and is approved by City Council will receive a special prize." (Editor's note: should be free bus rides for life).

Happy voting.


September 28, 2015

RePublic Schools Inc. Receives $9.6 million Federal Grant

By adreher

RePublic Schools Inc., the charter management organization that opened one of two charter schools in Mississippi, received a $9.6 million U.S. Department of Education grant. RePublic Schools was one of twelve organizations selected for a Charter School Program Grant this year.

The grant will be issued over a five-year period, and RePublic Schools Inc. was allotted $1.76 million in Year One. The Mississippi Charter Authorizer Board approved two more RePublic Schools, Smilow Prep and Smilow Collegiate, earlier this month. The schools will open in Jackson in August 2016.

In a press release, CEO Ravi Gupta said, "We are grateful to Secretary Duncan (the U.S. Secretary of Education) and his team for recognizing RePublic's efforts to expand high quality, 21st Century educational opportunities for children in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana."

RePublic Schools has opened schools in Tennessee and Mississippi thus far, but the press release mentions Louisiana as well.

September 25, 2015

City Official: Burke's Outlet Coming to Jackson

By R.L. Nave

A top city economic-development official says retail is alive and well in Jackson.

Jason Goree, Jackson's economic development chief, tweeted this afternoon that a Burke's Outlet store is coming to Jackson.

"It's gonna happen!!!!! Retail ain't dead in the Capitol," Goree posted to Twitter.

The city has struggled with attracting and retaining big-box retailers in recent years. Following the closure of Sam's Club, the Best Buy store on County Line Road announced this year that it would close. And after Jackson had been courting Costco, one of the nation's largest companies, that company is now in talks with the city of Ridgeland to build near the Renaissance.


September 22, 2015

Reeves Seems More Concerned About Initiative 42 Than Actual Department Budgets

By adreher

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves seems less concerned with creating a budget this year than he is with making sure Initiative 42 does not pass in November. During the Legislative Budget Office hearings on Monday and Tuesday, while most department heads were able to fend off taking sides, they were forced to answer obviously leading questions, primarily orchestrated by Reeves.

When the Department of Education presented their budget on Monday, they asked for the full funding of MAEP and funding for several additional programs including: the third grade reading gate, the MSIS system, state special schools and early education pilot programs.

Reeves asked state Superintendent of Education, Dr. Carey Wright several questions about the effectiveness of the additional programs in a way that indirectly asked about MAEP.

After questions from representatives and senators, Reeves asked several of his own. A small portion of the back-and-forth is below:

Reeves: How long have you been in Mississippi now? Has it been two years?

Wright: November the 11 will be two years.

Reeves: So you’ve had an opportunity to be in lots of school districts and a lot of schools across our state, my question is do you think Mississippi has an efficient system of public schools?

Wright: (Pause) Can you define efficient?

Reeves: Let me ask you a follow-up, can you define efficient?

Wright: Thinking about it from a superintendent’s hat, if I was a district superintendent, efficient to me would be am I utilizing funds the way they should be utilized, do I have an appropriate number of people at the school and central office level and am I efficient in my time and my management, and how I am executing my plans...

The verbal sparring continued, but few questions were asked about the extra $250 million that the department is asking for (over the FY16 Level of funding). Reeves' questions stem from the assumption that if Initiative 42 passes, the Legislature will be court-ordered to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Formula (MAEP), which has been fully funded only twice since 1997. Republican leaders, mainly Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, have vocalized what they see as the danger of Constitutional power transferring to the judicial branch of government.

For more MAEP coverage visit: http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/maep/

September 14, 2015

AG Jim Hood: Defense of Same-Sex Adoption Ban 'Procedural'

By R.L. Nave

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood defended his decision to defend Mississippi in a lawsuit against the state's same-sex adoption ban today, calling it a procedural issue.

The Campaign for Southern Equality recently sued the Mississippi Department of Human Services to challenge the constitutionality of the ban, the last law in the nation that still has an absolute ban preventing same-sex couples from adopting regardless of the couples' qualifications.

In a motion filed Sept. 11, Hood stated that Mississippi is not required to allow same-sex couples to adopt, maintaining that the state should continue to encourage adoption by opposite sex couples.

In an interview with the Jackson Free Press this afternoon, Hood said the plaintiffs should have gone through a chancery court and initiated an adoption proceeding. He added that it's his responsibility to defend the state in the case.

"That's who applies that law, not the attorney general not the Department of Human Services," Hood said, referring to chancery court. "There's a difference between gay marriage and gay adoption and they need to be in the proper forum, in state court."

Hood's motion states: “While the Supreme Court’s decisions in Obergefell v. Hodges and United States v. Windsor recently established that the federal and state governments must recognize valid same sex marriages, and states must license them, over-extending those decisions to purportedly invalidate Section 93-17-3(5) through a preliminary injunction would be entirely inappropriate."

Hood leans on a decade-old decision from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court, Lofton v. Secretary of the Department of Children and Family Services, in which the court upheld a Florida ban on adoption by same-sex couples because LGBT couldn't marry at the time.

“Governor Bryant and Attorney General Hood continue to demonstrate that they’d rather continue legal discrimination against LGBT families than give children in need the best chance of finding a loving home,” said Rob Hill, state director of the Human Rights Campaign Mississippi in a statement. “Despite this discriminatory ban, Mississippi has one of the highest numbers of LGBT people raising children than anywhere in the country. Every major child welfare organization agrees that same-sex couples are just as capable of raising loved and well-adjusted children and their hetereosexual counterparts. Shame on the governor and attorney general for asserting otherwise, shame on them for not working in the best interests of children, and shame on them for continuing to keep the Magnolia State tethered to a discriminatory past.”

September 14, 2015

Initiative 42 Campaign Files Lawsuit to Get Full Text on Ballot

By adreher

Jonathan Compretta and Michael Rejebian, co-campaign managers for 42 For Better Schools, filed an 11-page lawsuit today asking a judge to order that the Initiative 42 ballot measure's full text be printed on the Nov. 3 ballot. Currently the ballot states the initiative title, the section of the Constitution being amended and the Legislative Budget Office Fiscal Analysis.

After a denied records request and the Legislative Budget Office analysis changing (since the March version) on the sample ballot released last week, 42 For Better Schools is hoping to bring clarity to the November election ballot by putting the full text of their proposed change to Mississippi's Constitution in writing.

The plaintiffs cite Section 273 of the Mississippi Constitution as the basis for their legal action. In this section, the Constitution states that:

"The sponsor of an initiative shall identify in the text of the initiative the amount and source of revenue required to implement the initiative. If the initiative requires a reduction in any source of government revenue, or a reallocation of funding from currently funded programs, the sponsor shall identify in the text of the initiative the program or programs whose funding must be reduced or eliminated to implement the initiative. Compliance with this requirement shall not be a violation of the subject matter requirements of this section of the Constitution. "

42 For Better Schools argue that the approved ballot does not contain the original initiative language proposing a multi-year phase-in to fully fund K-12 schools, which have been fully funded only twice since the 1997 passage of the MAEP, the funding formula. Initiative 42 proponents have previously stated that their intention is not that the Legislature fully fund public education immediately, and they understand that if excess funds are used, it might take almost seven years to fully fund MAEP. The House Appropriations Committee still met to discuss budget cuts, however, and have maintained that if the initiative passes, they will have to cut almost every state agency's budget.

September 14, 2015

Jackson Pothole Report: Sept. 14, 2015

By MayaLMiller

This is a verbatim statement from Jackson City Hall:

City of Jackson crews are patching potholes across the city.

• Crews repairing potholes on areas Oak Forest Drive & Haynes Street, Woody Drive, Monroe Street, Glenrose Drive, FDR Drive, Mayes Street, Meadow Road.

• Crews repairing utility cuts on Hanging Moss Road, Saratoga Drive, Farnsworth Street, Hialeah Drive and Briarfield Drive.

• Crews backfilling/repairing driveway on Meadowridge Drive and Village Drive.

September 11, 2015

City: Water 'Slightly Brown' But Deemed Safe to Drink

By R.L. Nave

Statement from Jackson's Department of Public Works:

Due to unforeseen, external conditions impacting raw water intake at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, the water in the distribution system has a slightly brown appearance. The Department of Public Works’ lab resources have reviewed the water quality and with further consultation from the Mississippi Department of Health, the water from the plant has been deemed safe for consumption.

Crews are in the process of flushing the lines to improve the aesthetic of the water and will continue the mitigation process through the weekend. The water is clearing up and full improvement is expected by early next week.


September 11, 2015

City Passes a $382 Million Budget Plan

By R.L. Nave

The Jackson City Council passed the compromise budget they worked out with Mayor Tony Yarber's administration.

"This budget is as barebones as it gets," Yarber said after the council voted 5-2 on a nearly $400 million spending plan Thursday morning.

To close a $15 million deficit, Yarber initially proposed the tax increase along with furloughing most full-time workers one day each month.

Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps and Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes voted against the budget, which still relies on furloughs.

"I don't think we should balance the budget on the backs of the people," Stamps said in the meeting.

Last week, after a very short public hearing last night on the proposed millage rate—the amount per $1,000 used to calculate local taxes on property—the Jackson City Council approved a millage rate of 58.03 with anticipated revenues of $1.14 million per mill.

Nonetheless, the city will rake in at least $926,000 less in property taxes because the overall assessed value of property in Jackson went down, officials said.

Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon, who had been hospitalized, did not attend but participated in the meeting via speakerphone.

September 10, 2015

New State Testing Rules Released

By adreher

Mississippi public schools will administer new assessments for 3-8 grades called the Mississippi Assessment Program (MAP) this year, and the Mississippi Department of Education released blueprints for the tests today.

The MAP tests will be conducted primarily on computers, with the exclusion of the English language portion which will be handwritten. Tests will be administered at the end of the 2015-1016 school year and will include multiple choice, constructed response, writing, technology enhanced, and performance task questions.

The tests will be administered by Questar Assessment Inc., a Minneapolis-based assessment provider who won a $122 million contract with the state in April. The tests are aligned with the Mississippi College and Career-Ready Standards (MCCRS) for English language arts and mathematics. MAP will replace the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Mississippi is no longer a member of the multi-state consortium, according to the Mississippi Department of Education's press release.

Third graders are still required to take an English language arts assessment this year, and in the 2016-2017 school year, superintendent of education Dr. Carey Wright said she will recommend to the Mississippi Legislature in the 2016 session that the law be amended to make student proficiency the goal and keep testing third graders in following school years.

In the MDE's press release Wright said:

“If the goal is to ensure that our students are successful in 4th grade and beyond, we need to set high expectations for them to be proficient readers. The current law doesn’t say that students need to be proficient in reading to move to the next grade level. The students who met the minimum passing score last year will still need instructional support this school year."

September 9, 2015

92 Percent of Mississippi 3rd Graders Pass 'Reading Gate' Test

By adreher

92 percent of Mississippi third graders in public schools passed the so-called "3rd Grade Reading Gate" assessment according to the latest results released by the Mississippi Department of Education. Over 35,000 students statewide scored high enough to pass the test, and the average state test score was higher than the minimum score needed to pass.

Only five districts had over 20 percent of their students fail the test, and statewide, 2,907 students did not pass. Jackson Public Schools, the district with the most schools and third graders assessed, had an 86 percent passing rate.

To see how your school district scored, view the full report here.

September 2, 2015

Two More Charter Schools Coming to Jackson

By adreher

The Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board unanimously approved an application for two new charter schools to open in Jackson. RePublic Schools Inc. will run both schools: Joel D. Smilow Collegiate and Joel D. Smilow Prep. RePublic Schools Inc. is the charter management organization that opened one of the first charter schools in Mississippi this year, Reimagine Prep.

Smilow Collegiate will be serve grades K-8, and Smilow Prep will serve grades 5-8. The schools will grow by a grade level each year until they reach 8th grade. The two charter schools will be located on the same campus at Northside Drive on the old campus of Wesley Biblical Seminary. By 2023, both schools could have an enrollment of 1600 students.

The two charters will have to pass all of the requirements and inspections as prescribed by Mississippi's charter school law of the board before officially opening. Any student within the Jackson Public Schools district will be welcome to apply, and applications will go into a lottery only if the number of applications received exceeds the number of slots available.

September 2, 2015

Dan Aykroyd: Mississippi Gun Violence Exceeeds Most of the Entire Western World

By R.L. Nave

Dan Aykroyd, best known for his work as a ghostbuster, Canadian vodka mogul, and supporter of outgoing Sheriff Tyrone Lewis, still wants to help end gun violence in Hinds County.

Aykroyd, whom Lewis deputized into the reserves last year and hit the campaign trail for Lewis earlier this year, made a plea on his Facebook page yesterday:

"Congratulations to the new Sheriff Elect for Hinds County Mississippi. When he persuades enough Supervisors to alter the by-laws so that 'Gas for Guns' can proceed then I'll free up my $10,000 but not until it's perfectly legal as per stipulations pointed out by state Representative Gibson (sic). I believe this initiative and more like it are essential in a state where gun violence exceeds most of that in the entire Western world. I believe in the future of Hinds County."

As a point of clarification, Victor Mason, who defeated Lewis in August still has to get by Les Tannehill to be the sheriff for real for real.

But the stipulations Aykroyd is referring to came a few months ago when Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, and chairman of a House judiciary committee, put the kibosh on a plan for Aykroyd to provide $10,000 in gasoline gift cards in exchange for guns. Gipson intervened, issuing a statement saying that gun buyback programs are illegal. In 2014, after a few years of trying, the Legislature passed a bill outlawing gun buyback programs.

"I think it's a dangerous thing," Gipson, who sponsored the 2014 bill, told WLBT last year. "As we have seen in other states, it has the potential for corruption, the potential to increase crimes with stolen guns to be brought in. That's the reason we have the law."

It was a bill that legislators like Gipson and Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, chairman on the House Insurance Committee, filed that the National Rifle Association has pushed for years. The JFP reported when the bill was going through the legislative process:

Doug Bowser, president of the Mississippi chapter of the NRA, told the JFP in 2012 that such programs are a "swindle" and "a feel-good thing" that do little to deter violent crime.

"I think the worst part is that people bring in unserviceable guns, and they get money for them," Bowser said. Bowser said he believes local governments should put more resources on imposing harsher penalties on criminals.

The 2010 report "Trace the Guns: The Link Between Gun Laws and Interstate Trafficking" determined that Mississippi supplied 50 out-of-state "crime guns" per 100,000 residents--triple the national average of 14.1.

In 2011, the NRA has also weighed in against a proposal for a pilot gun buyback program in Delaware in a statement at the time: "This legislation is nothing more then an expensive solution in search of a problem.

"While proponents of this bill claim it will reduce crime in Delaware, it will only serve as another drain on taxpayer money that could be better used by police to ...

August 31, 2015

Mayor Yarber Issues Statement on Best Buy Closing

By R.L. Nave

This is full, verbatim release from the office Mayor Tony Yarber:

“The Administration has been in communication with Best Buy regularly since June 2014 and was advised sales were strong and that the Jackson store would not close. Under Best Buy’s current business model, the company has shifted its focus from “Big Box” stores to smaller locations and online sales. We look forward to working with the Best Buy team to find a smaller location within the city. We’re also actively strategizing to “backfill” that retail space. We’re always disappointed when a business closes in Jackson, but our Economic Development division continues to aggressively recruit companies as evidenced by the more than 1,000 jobs created since May 2014.”

August 28, 2015

Jackson State University Has Housed All Students on Wait List

By adreher

Jackson State University has announced that all students who were on the waiting list for housing this semester have been placed, after an initial scramble. The incoming freshmen class is the largest the university has ever seen.

There are a few spaces available to accommodate late arrivals or those who might still need to complete their registration or resolve financial matters, according to JSU's news release. “We appreciate the students, their families and the public’s patience and help in resolving this issue that was caused by record enrollment at JSU this year,” said university president Carolyn W. Meyers.

The university has enrolled almost 10,000 students this year, and according to James C. Renick, provost and senior vice president of Academic and Student Affairs, this year the university placed nearly 3,000 students in campus housing compared to 2,400 students last year.

August 26, 2015

$14.6 Million Tax-Forfeited Property Sale Starts Aug. 27

By R.L. Nave

Bidding on 360 parcels of tax-forfeited property will begin tomorrow, city and state officials said today.

The Mississippi Secretary of State holds properties when owners fail to pay ad valorem property taxes, which provides funding to city and county governments as well as local schools. Of the approximately $75 million in forfeited land the SOS holds, almost $15 million of it lies with in Hinds County, according to a Jackson city press release.

“Our goal is to get this property back on the tax rolls to benefit the capital city and the State of Mississippi,” said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann through a news release. “By partnering with the City of Jackson, we are taking an aggressive step to return these dilapidated and abandoned properties to productive use.”

The available properties will be advertised for public bidding beginning, Thursday, Aug. 27 on the Secretary of State's website: http://www.sos.ms.gov/PublicLands/Jackson.

Shortly after taking office last year, Mayor Tony Yarber's administration tackled problem properties.

"Our Community Improvement Division has made great strides over the past year ridding areas of dilapidated structures that mar our neighborhoods. Now, this auction will give citizens the opportunity to purchase property and play a vital role in Jackson's revitalization," Yarber said in the press release.

August 25, 2015

Mississippi Colleges Ranked by 'Best Value'

By adreher

It's back to school time which means time to figure out financial aid, student loans and other expenses for most college students. Smart Asset, a financial advising website, has created a Student Loan Calculator for students to estimate how much they will owe monthly and in total by the time they walk across the stage. The website also ranks each state's colleges and universities by their best monetary value (think starting salaries for graduates, retention rates, tuition costs, etc.).

Here are Mississippi's Top Colleges and Universities ranked by 'Best Value':

  • Mississippi University for Women
  • University of Mississippi
  • Mississippi State University
  • Jackson State University
  • Delta State Universitiy
  • University of Southern Mississippi
  • Mississippi College

See how your college or university stacks up here.


August 20, 2015

City Council Offers $7 Million in Cuts to Avoid Furlough, Tax Hikes

By R.L. Nave

The Jackson City Council outlined more than $7 million in savings in order to avoid Mayor Tony Yarber's proposal to furlough city workers and raise local property taxes to fill a budget hole.

Yarber proposed a one-day-per-month furlough for full-time employees and a property tax increase of 8 percent to shore up a projected $15 million deficit.

Council President Melvin Priester Jr. presented an alternative, a 10-point plan consisting mostly of freezing job vacancies that are budgeted for but currently unfilled in addition to making other staffing cuts.

Council members say they're double-checking the numbers, and will provide final totals later. The plan, the details of which were outlined in a public meeting this afternoon at city hall, includes:

• Reducing the Jackson Zoo's requested allocation in half, from $1.2 million to $600,000

• Reducing certain reserve expenses, including $1.5 million for an expense related to the Jackson Redevelopment Authority that Priester said would not require assistance from the city.

• Freeze more than $2 million slotted for the police, fire, and public works departments.

• Cutting about $494,000 from city hall salaries, including: $200,000 from the city clerk's office, which the council oversees; $200,000 in constituent services, which the mayor's office oversees, $86,000 from the chief-administrative officer's office; and 5 percent from the salaries of city council members. (City council members earn $25,000 per year; the council president receives an extra $2,000.)

• Freeze $120,000 in unfilled positions at municipal court.

• Reducing expenditures on outside consultants by at least $115,000

• Reducing expenses on software and equipment

• Reducing travel, dues and memberships by $95,000

• Reducing expenditures on emergency contracts

• Reducing the Department of Parks and Recreation budget, including for maintenance at the city's golf courses.

In addition, the council plans to introduce plans to increase revenue, including for $20 million in outstanding water and sewer bills.

Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote has proposed using JPD to collect delinquent water bills and splitting the revenue with the department. Foote also suggested turning over management of the golf courses to the Jackson State golf program and letting an organization take over running the Russell C. Davis Planetarium.

Budget Committee Chairman and Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps said he wants the city to get into the asphalt manufacturing and water bottling businesses. He added that the city should charge the state for providing JPD security to the state fair in October. The city has unsuccessfully made the same request of the state over the years.

Yarber's office released a statement this evening: “The Administration will review the City Council’s budget recommendations and consider the proposals going forward. Council members have verbally proposed measures that will ultimately result in mass layoffs, which the Administration had hoped to avoid. I am deeply concerned about the impact on public safety, mainly because council members have proposed significant reductions in the Police Department and the Fire Department. The council has also proposed drastic cuts to the Department of ...


Archive by year

2012 2013 2014 2015