In an odd turn of events last night, Ward 3 Councilwoman LaRita Cooper-Stokes balked at a chance to bring her own motion to "unauthorize" the Jackson Redevelopment Authority forward, even though all she had to do was second a fellow council member who had already moved to adopt her motion.
When the motion was read, Margaret Barrett-Simon (Ward 7) moved to adopt the proposal, and Quentin Whitwell (Ward 1) immediately gave it a second. That opened the door for discussion and for Council President Charles Tillman to call a vote.
That's when Cooper-Stokes launched into her prepared speech on JRA, which began with a history lesson.
When she got to the end of sentence number one, Barrett-Simon interrupted.
"Oh wait, I'm sorry, I thought we were on another one," she said. "I withdraw my motion."
Tillman acknowledged her withdrawal, and said he needed a motion to adopt to go with Whitwell's second to bring the motion forward for a vote. Whitwell asked Cooper-Stokes if she would like to make a motion. "No, I just want to comment," she answered. At this point, Barrett-Simon let out what sounded like the tiniest of giggles.
"You can't comment unless we bring the item forward," Whitwell said.
"I just want to make my comment," Cooper-Stokes again responded.
Seconds passed before anyone spoke again. Whitwell finally agreed to withdraw his second, and instead moved to adopt the item. Tillman again acknowledged and asked if there was a second. Everyone in the room is looking at Cooper-Stokes, but she just stares straight ahead without changing expression.
After Tillman pronounced the item dead for lack of a second, he told Cooper-Stokes the council would then entertain her comment.
Her comment was about a three minute speech on JRA, without specifically going after the board or its leadership. It was more about what Jackson doesn't have commercially than JRA shortcomings.
"Where in the world is our economic engine?" Stokes asked. "I believe it has fallen apart, as we listen on a daily basis to cities all around us. Cities that are less-endowed than us that we can build, manufacture and have activities for their children. It's ridiculous what we're living with in the city of Jackson."
When she finished, Whitwell took the opportunity to really go after the JRA board, then used it as a jumping off point to criticize Cooper-Stokes for not standing behind her own agenda item.
"Well, since we're going to allow comment without a motion and a second," he began (Lumumba, seated to his left, is grinning). "I'm not suggesting that this order is perfectly written, but we have a crisis on our hands in the city of Jackson, because we have incredible opportunity for economic growth, yet we have a redevelopment authority that is completely inept. I have said this over and over again, and, you know, quite frankly I'm a little shocked and astonished, because we have a council member willing to bring this forward and put it on the agenda. I was prepared to stand toe-to-toe to bring this up today. It's on the agenda, lets bring it up. I'm disappointed that the author won't bring it forward. I'm prepared to stand for it at any time at any place. as the public now knows, The committee structure can work, unfortunately for me, I love my colleagues and treat them with respect, and they tend to treat me with respect, but because I voted for the wrong person for president, I'm not on any of these committees other than the budget committee, which everyone is on."
He continued on JRA, specifically.
"They've missed their opportunities over and over again," Whitwell said. "Everyone wants to criticize Farish Street because it hasn't opened, well, the state of Mississippi put their money forward, and JRA was supposed to put their bond money forward, but they didn't ever bring their bond money to the table. So the MDA money went to the infrastructure, when it was supposed to be the JRA money going to the infrastructure and the MDA money was supposed to be for build-out... They continue to embarrass us publicly, embarrass our city publicly with their actions, their foolishness, their selfishness, the way that they operate and the way they just stir things up instead of getting things done. We need to get things done. I'm prepared to vote today, but obviously it will have to wait for another day."
Just when you thought it was over. Council Vice-President Melvin Priester Jr. defended he and Tillman's choices for council committees.
"You chose not to participate in the other committees that you were assigned to because you were not named chairman of those other committees," Priester said to Whitwell. "So if you want the record to reflect accurately what was done, the public is free to get the committee assignments as they were posted, and they reflect those other memberships."
"That's not an accurate statement, either," Whitwell responded. "But I'm not here to argue with you right now."
Along with the Budget Committee (on which all council members serve) Whitwell is listed on the roster for the Economic Development Committee and serves as vice-chair of the Legislative Committee. He is not, however, on the Planning Committee that will mull the JRA "unauthorization" proposal. Cooper-Stokes serves as Chairman on that committee.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said the Jackson City Council does not have the power to dissolve JRA. That was incorrect. A reader has provided a copy of an opinion from Attorney General Jim Hood, in which he says "A municipality may unilaterally dissolve its redevelopment authority by repealing the ordinance creating it and the municipality shall retain any personal and real property obtained by the redevelopment authority during its existence."