Take the Time to Do It Right | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Take the Time to Do It Right

Last Sunday two Clarion-Ledger columnists expressed dismay at Mayor Frank Melton's string of public proclamations that turned out to be more hype than good, legal policy—telling city board members to resign, saying he would close the Maple Street apartments without regard to the rights of owners or the tenants, declaring he would demolish the King Edward in 30 days.

"Melton's problem, as it was in his campaign, has been speaking a little too loudly, too soon," David Hampton wrote, warning about "too many pronouncements and not following through. After a while, citizens will quit paying attention and he will lose credibility."

Stringfellow was upset over the press release that told the city's nearly 200 board members—through the media, not directly—that they were expected to "resign immediately." Stringfellow called that move "insensitive and inappropriate." He wrote: "Unfortunately, this tact (sic) could also be viewed as a power grab by someone hungry for absolute power. John Hardy of the Visitors and Conventions Bureau called the request an insult. That's bad."

I might, though, have to take Mr. Melton's side in a tug-o-war with The Clarion Ledger. After all, the man that newspaper endorsed and supported wholeheartedly in news stories, columns and editorials, with few real questions during the campaign, is doing exactly what his history in Mississippi shows he would do as mayor: Make rash public proclamations without thought to legality or effect on the people targeted. He does this, presumably, to look like a tough-on-crime public figure and get lots of TV time, to scare people into doing the right thing, as he defines it. The paper is getting exactly what it endorsed.

During Melton's 14-month tenure at MBN, he made a record-low number of arrests—a number that Gov. Haley Barbour, who fired him, uses to show how high his MBN's numbers are now. Referring to 2004 figures, Barbour said at the Neshoba County Fair that state law enforcement is "better and smarter" now: "Drug arrests are up 73 percent over last year," he said. "Last year" refers to 2003, the year Melton headed the state's drug-arrest efforts.

Worse is what Melton did do at MBN. As we reported two weeks ago in the JFP, Melton recently admitted under oath (after denying it under oath before the election) that he indeed took a memo about several drug agents—including National Guard Col. Robert Earl Pierce, by then retired for five years—from the man who wrote it (now JPD Assistant Chief Roy Sandefer) and immediately faxed it to a Gannett reporter who reported its contents in the newspaper the next day.

The leak was hasty at best. State Auditor Phil Bryant reported this spring (during the mayoral campaign) that the accusations were largely false and cleared the men of the wrongdoing that tainted their careers as drug-enforcement agents. Now, the accused have filed lawsuits against both Melton and The Clarion-Ledger for defamation caused by the rash leak and reporting.

"Frank Melton leaked the Sandefer memo to the defendants with the expectation that a news story would aid and abet his media image as an action-oriented public official and crime fighter," Col. Pierce argued in his complaint filed against The Clarion-Ledger on March 30, 2005 (which that paper still has not told you about). Mr. Melton has, so far, refused to give his side of the story to the Jackson Free Press.

If he did, I suspect Mr. Melton would make the same argument for his current rash actions. You must be aggressive. You must cast a wide net so the really bad fish get caught, too. But this is no way to run a city. And it's not exactly constitutional, or American, to assume that everyone is guilty until they prove their innocence to you personally.

That, so far, is Mayor Melton's way. Take the demand for the board resignations. Contrary to what the city says now during the backtrack phase we're growing used to, there was no wiggle room in that release. If you're on a city board—from the School Board to the Arts Alliance—resign "immediately." But you can re-apply. Mr. Hardy was right—this was "an insult," especially to the hard-working volunteers who give time and money and in-kind donations to help the city. They are not all guilty until Mr. Melton deems them not-guilty. Or politically in step with him. Or afraid to question his actions. Many may well decide to just put their efforts elsewhere rather than being treated like children ought not to be treated.

The funny part is: How can you not agree with much of the mayor's agenda, as presented? Most active Jacksonians want crime lowered, substandard housing replaced, young people nurtured, the city and county to get along better. The problem is in the implementation. How do we achieve the goals while respecting people's rights and keeping our new mayor from spending our time in a civil courtroom?

I, personally, could really groove on Mr. Melton's ideas. I, too, promote mentoring and love the idea of someone dedicating their life to helping young people. I—like evidence shows about Mr. Melton—don't think arrests are the be-all-end-all, nor is locking kids away from their potential.

As for housing … well. I can't imagine a newspaper more willing to publish the names and histories of slumlords who collect money and tax relief off crumbling housing in Jackson and don't ever fix anything. If Mr. Melton would work with us, rather than run scared from the hard questions reporters are supposed to ask, I'd publish the scoundrels' pictures and rental histories in a heartbeat. Let's see if his buddies over at Gannett are quite as likely to do that.

However, my reporters and I will also ask real questions about both the rights of tenants and of landlords. We believe in due process. We will question sound bites and challenge the mayor to do better. The job of the media is to remind elected officials that they are, in fact, public servants and thus accountable for getting it right the first time and learning from their mistakes.

Previous Comments

ID
70469
Comment

One almost gets the sense that Melton does all this grandstanding to create the PERCEPTION that he's making changes, without having to do all the work that actually goes into making real change. As for aking for the resignations - if there are people who need to be fired, he needs to do the real work that it takes to fire people, and not just make a huge, empty gesture like asking for resignations, to make people think he's making lots of changes. He's either too much of a wimp to have hard conversations one on one and fire people, or too lazy to go through the process of documenting performance problems and get people fired. It is funny that the CL is already starting to complain about Melton's style, because, duh, this was not hard to predict.

Author
kate
Date
2005-08-03T14:50:17-06:00
ID
70470
Comment

You know, I was thinking about this Sunday morning... The C-L vs Melton. Maybe, and I'm giving them a lot of credit here, they endorsed him PRIMARILY because he would make news. Face it, the Johnson horse was dead. They'd beat it to a pulp and left it for boring editorial fodder. Melton now gives them juice... Gives them quotes (both good and bad). Gives them fodder beyond any they could have had with Johnson, the decreasing crime stats, and the progress going on downtown. WE NEED EXCITEMENT! WE NEED NEWS! Right? He's the Jekyl and Hyde they wanted Johnson to be... Communicates with them pretty easily... Commits actions that allow the editorial board to toss a few stones... Takes a few camera ops with a body, arrested teen, or at a fancy dinner... So many other opportunities on a daily basis. Face it, the man loves his picture being broadcast into your living room so much he grants WLBT interviews in his driveway nearly every day! Johnson had them figured out. He'd done all but piss on them to get them off his back so he could do his job and stop talking about those famous misquotes. I suspect many of those in the media knew this cowboy would be kicking up dust over the next four years and were and are waiting like rabid dogs. Still, remember that PERCEPTION is more important than REALITY with MOST of the Metro. He may just increase our tax base by changing their perception. I hope he manages to change the reality as well. Regardless, I think Melton has A LOT of potential if he'd just SLOW DOWN and be a little more deliberate.

Author
kaust
Date
2005-08-03T17:42:59-06:00
ID
70471
Comment

Agreed on all fronts, Knol. Melton is a media guy; he's obviously playing to perception, as the mayor's office gives him a bully pulpit he has never had before. I have no doubt that he sincerely believes that everything he's doing now will cut crime. I think a lot of it very well could, but one really bad move can screw everything else up. He needs to be more aware. Not necessarily slower, but more cognizant of what he's stepping in. But he's new. I think that, given a few months, he'll be able to do some real good. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-08-04T03:34:33-06:00
ID
70472
Comment

Wow. Even The Clarion-Ledger editorial board is taking the gloves off today over one of Melton's silly-isms, calling his solution to housing more prisoners "nonsensical": But Melton saying such things as "the city has enough abandoned buildings to house prisoners," and talking about the city taking on the responsibility is nonsensical. ... Rather than bluster, Mayor Melton should be looking at ways to work with the Hinds County Board of Supervisors, the district attorney, judges and state legislators to expand the county's jail facilities and hire more personnel. Good to see The Clarion-Ledger playing a real newspaper today. However, had they done this months ago, perhaps they wouldn't be so surprised at these kind of absurd statements. Again, there is no surprise here.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-08-05T08:36:05-06:00
ID
70473
Comment

To give credit where it's due, the Northside Sun this week is also criticizing Melton for going "half-cocked" and "going too far" for both his proclamation for bulldozing property and for asking for the resignation of all Board members last week. The editorial closes with: "[W]we canít abandon good procedures designed to protect the public." Kudos to the Sun. I would link to it, but you have that damn goofy PDF system they have over there.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-08-05T09:54:05-06:00
ID
70474
Comment

Likewise, the Sun calls for fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Another good one.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-08-05T09:54:39-06:00
ID
70475
Comment

Of course, they also have a front-page story about a purse-snatching at Home Depot by two black males (unidentified beyond race). Antiquated habits die hard. Oh, and if you see two black males wondering around North Jackson, turn 'em in to Mayor Melton. They surely did it. (Case you're wondering, this is a practice that violates national journalistic Best Practices, for obvious reasons.)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-08-05T09:57:25-06:00
ID
70476
Comment

With Melton in office, everyone but the alt.njam.biggov.neocon.com appears to be positioned as a little "alternative" to their original positions and blind hopes of the new administration... Well, of course, except for this lil' ol' weekly that could. ;-) You know, many of Melton's ideas aren't bad in theory and definitely seem to come from the right place... The problem is they don't seem built in reality regarding laws, codes, and ethical practice. He could probably stand to pull away from the media just a little, curb the showboating, and research things before jumping the gun. Not everyone gets to wear a bullet-proof vest to protect them from such quick draws.

Author
kaust
Date
2005-08-05T10:00:53-06:00
ID
70477
Comment

I think they just walked by my cube... What's the number to report two black males again? ;-) I saw two white ones too... Maybe their cooking meth in Flowood. Should I call them too? I feel the Friday funnies beginning... I'm closing my browser for now. ;-)

Author
kaust
Date
2005-08-05T10:02:39-06:00
ID
70478
Comment

Exactly, Knol. Truth is, David Hampton had it right, if a bit late in the process: He's going to lose credibility for ideas that should be good. BTW, when you say everyone but the alt.alan site, you forget that TV is still firmly in Melton's vest pocket, at least WLBT. It would be truly amazing to see that station actually do something critical of him. Wasn't the last one when they caught him stealing water from the city for the YMCA (a story I couldn't help but think of when I saw Roy Sandefer's big proclamation last week about arresting city workers who have been abusing fuel cards. The original story was a big one, but I think I saw a tiny news brief that two guys had been arrested. I was expecting a huge perp walk on WLBT; maybe it wasn't quite the Fuel-Gate they had hoped for.) And, yes, I adore "this lil ol' weekly that could." No question that we were out in front on this one. We were asking questions, and warning about, these kinds of issues during the campaign while everybody else was just wanting someone to kick and scream about crime. Now, they're backtracking. I suspect we all might as well settle in on this one, and try to resist saying "we told you so." Nah ... resistance is futile. ;-) All that said, I too believe that Melton has some decent ideas. They just need to go from the platitude stage to the LEGAL implementation stage, and he needs people around him trying to do that rather than trying to shield him from the questions that real journalists are supposed to ask. Funny thing is: the lamestream is likely to complete turn on him if they think that ratings will go up from it. We, on the other hand, will be fair to him and his ideas once he actually starts to try to tell us what they are specifically. Right now, we have to gauge our coverage on what he does publicly. And so far, that ain't pretty.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-08-05T10:07:50-06:00
ID
70479
Comment

Yeah, I'm a little saucy today. I need to get offline before I really stir up some hillbilly manure. (P.S. I think I just saw the purse snatchers out my window over at the Fondren Conoco. Somebody call the POOOO-lice, as Miss Jackie Bell would say.)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-08-05T10:11:26-06:00
ID
70480
Comment

When your name is Frank Melton and Dennis Smith of WLBT goes after you, you are officially having a bad media week. I just heard about Smith's editorial from last night. In part: This is in Vicksburg where they have excellent police public information. Here in Jackson it's now a different story. Mayor Frank Melton has sacked the best public information officer this city every had. His name is Robert Graham. Now when the media tries to get information for you, the police say virtually nothing. From my Point of View, the man who is the best known communicator in the state, Frank Melton, needs to send his new policy of letting all cops talk to the media, down to the street level. Otherwide don't fix it if it's not broken, Frank. Seems that the JFP isn't the only media outlet being frozen out by the new "regime." Real bad week, I'd say. Read Smith's Piece

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-08-05T11:24:20-06:00
ID
70481
Comment

What? Graham was sacked? What rock have I been under? Very sad.

Author
kaust
Date
2005-08-05T11:27:57-06:00
ID
70482
Comment

Yes, it is sad. I just talked to him. Apparently, no one had been hired to replace him once he was re-assigned. So public information about the swash-buckling police department is officially in limbo right now. We've been trying to get certain basic information for weeks. They can't even figure out how to give us bios/resumes for the new chief and assistant chief. At least from where we sit, the city seems to be in a state of incompetence right now all around.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-08-05T11:31:44-06:00
ID
70483
Comment

Robert Graham has been a staple and a friendly face for the police even in its darkest days of "Perception-gate". I guess Melton didn't want the competition when it came to the media. Does Graham have future plans?

Author
kaust
Date
2005-08-05T11:35:02-06:00
ID
70484
Comment

Was anyone else bothered by Melton showing up at the recent hostage situation and getting his picture plastered all on the front page handing the infant back to its mother? Why not let the police, who risk their lives, get some of the well-earned credit? It's like Frank will do anything, including get in the way, to get on camera.

Author
Johann
Date
2005-08-08T09:47:19-06:00
ID
70485
Comment

Johann -- "Was anyone else bothered by Melton showing up at the recent hostage situation and getting his picture plastered all on the front page handing the infant back to its mother? Why not let the police, who risk their lives, get some of the well-earned credit?" Yes, I was bothered as well, who knew Melton could be such a ham.

Author
K RHODES
Date
2005-08-08T13:34:08-06:00
ID
70486
Comment

Being out of town, I missed this WLBT story Friday about how Melton hasn't done much his first month because he keeps running into "legal red tape." Jackson 's mayor has completed his first thirty days in office. And over the past month there has not been a shortage of news stories, with Mayor Melton's uncanny ability to often be where the news is. Many of the issues the mayor has brought to the forefront have been sidelined, leaving the city behind a pile of legal red tape, unable to take immediate action. ... "I've found out that government doesn't work for the people. It's very process oriented. People in Jackson need help right now. We'll have to cut out the bureaucratic process. It's a frustrating process," said Melton. Melton says his promise to knock down the houses still stands. It's just one of several city objectives being slowed down by legalities, like the Terry Road Adult Bookstore that was closed last week when Melton found prostitutes and illegal drug toys inside. Itís back open for business Friday. ... Melton says he hopes to take action on projects like the King Edward Hotel, which also rests in a 30-day holding pattern, in the coming month, so more attention can be put on Jackson 's infrastructure, economic development and crime. Mayor Melton says he also hopes to work closely with Jackson Public Schools to implement a mandatory drug testing policy. One man's "bureaucratic process" is another man's, or business', right to due process. Does Mr. Melton really not understand that everyone in the process has rights -- and that's why there is a process in the first place? As I say in this column, he's not being successful because he's not taking the time to do things right in the first place. What was it Warren Beatty said to Madonna in "Truth or Dare" about only existing for the camera? David Hampton is right: He is losing credibility because of all these false starts. And it makes so little sense why he doesn't just take the time to figure out how to do things right, what the processes are, what people's due-process rights are before he goes into businesses and such, or goes on camera and starts declaring what he's going to do -- that then he cannot do, and ends up with egg on his face!?! Nothing about that is good for the city. The weirdest thing to me, though, is that he seems to have no concept that due process exists, or that it exists for a reasonóto protect individual citizens from an over-zealous government. Maybe someone needs to sit him down and read him the U.S. Constitution.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-08-08T15:40:46-06:00
ID
70487
Comment

The only perception Melton is creating, is that he havenít a clue about city government or any regard for the government he swore to uphold! Which leaves one to ponder the fortitude of ineptness of those around him specifically (second in command) former Vicksburg Mayor Robert Walker.

Author
K RHODES
Date
2005-08-08T22:55:05-06:00
ID
70488
Comment

From a letter today in The Clarion-Ledger: I imagine that everyone is not crazy about Jackson's new mayor but I have to say that in a very short period of time, I have heard more positive snippets from local news channels about the things that this man is doing than I've heard from all of his predecessors combined. That is certainly a true statement. But one has to ask whether that is because the media outlets are not questioning the legality of his actions or following up to figure out what actually happened. The sex shop story comes to mind: Was anyone going to tell us that the shop wasn't actually closed down the first time or that the men allegedly having sex weren't actually arrested?

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2005-08-12T12:01:43-06:00

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