Jackson Mayor Frank Melton, who refused to sit next to a "convicted felon" at a campaign forum back in April, is now a fan of granting second chances. Melton did a philosophical about-face last week when he hired former City Councilman Robert Williams as a mayoral assistant.
Williams was a Ward 5 councilman indicted in 1999 after an FBI shakedown of the City Council on allegations of extortion and bribery involving local strip club Stardust Cabaret and the Time Warner Cable company.
The investigation eventually culminated in the 1999 prosecution of council President Louis Armstrong and his son, Artie Armstrong, as well as an indictment and prison time for Williams, who was convicted in Nov. 12 of bribery and conspiracy to extort of $150,000 from Time Warner.
The cable company's contract was up for re-bid in November 1997, and Williams was accused of trying to extort the money to influence a city council vote—only four months after he took a seat on the council.
"He made a horrible mistake in betraying the public trust, but he did serve his time and go through his punishment. Now it's the time for rehabilitation," Melton told The Clarion-Ledger. "I just don't see the merits of putting him back in the community with no way to support himself."
Jackson Chief Administrative Officer Robert Walker told The Clarion-Ledger that Melton has had "the courage to step up to the plate" and prove his convictions.
Melton's compassion is a contrast to his views on "convicted felons" during his campaign, however, when Melton refused to sit beside James Covington at an April 14 Jackson Association of Neighborhoods mayoral forum at the Jackson Medical Mall.
Covington, a local businessman who holds a city contract for telecommunications hardware maintenance, was filling in for then Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., until Johnson could arrive at the forum. Melton walked out of the conference minutes after his arrival, however, asking the Jackson Free Press, "Do they really expect me to sit by a convicted felon?"
Covington's 1985 arrest for cocaine possession had not even led to a conviction, however. The reality did not faze Melton's campaign, however, which sent out a press release calling Covington "a drug dealer."
Melton campaign worker Bob Hickingbottom repeated Melton's argument that night, saying Covington was "nothing but a convicted felon."
"He used me to hurt the mayor, because that's the only way he knows he can win," Covington told the JFP that night. "Frank would make a terrible mistake attacking me because my credibility in this city is beyond reproach. ... I have four businesses in this city. Frank, as far as I'm concerned, hasn't invested a dime."
Covington was an unpaid supporter of Johnson while Williams was a field coordinator for Melton's campaign. Campaign records indicate that Melton paid $1,908 to Williams from January to April 2005. April was the same month Melton claimed he would not sit beside a convicted felon.
Attorney General Special Assistant Jacob Ray told the JFP that the hiring of Williams is legal. Williams, who is still on probation since leaving prison in 2003, is restricted by state law from seeking or holding an elected seat, but there are no legal restrictions to having a hired position with the city.
Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes said Williams should be given a chance to show his mettle.
"I always believe in second chances," Stokes said. "If you've paid your debt to society, then the slate should be wiped clean."
Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett Simon, however, said Williams' re-emergence in city government dredges up bad memories.
"The hiring brings up some unpleasant times that we've experienced when everyone who was employed by the city was being investigated," Barrett Simon said.
The city still holds contracts with companies that Williams tried to bribe. Time Warner Cable spokeswoman Francis Smith, who held the same position at the time of Williams' conviction, said he deserved a second chance, however.
"His working for the city will not affect our contract with the city at all," said Frances Smith, vice president of Time Warner Cable. "We have a really good relationship with the mayor's office. Robert was young, and everybody deserves a second chance."
Williams will serve as a liaison to the mayor, compiling complaints and violations on everything from unmowed lawns and hurricane cleanup to illegal mechanic shops, according to The Clarion-Ledger.
Williams will then turn the reports over to the Office of Code Services, which was recently hit with numerous terminations when Melton announced the firing of about 46 Planning and Development employees.
Williams told the JFP that his job description could be expanded to other duties.
Another very insightful article... Especially telling are the points that Covington was never convicted of anything while Melton and Co. tried to use this "conviction" against him and the mayor, along with the timeframes of when Melton stated he wouldn't coincide with a felon while actually employing one.
I don't trust this person that 60-something % of 33% of eligible Jackson voters elected as mayor. Period.
"Williams will serve as a liaison to the mayor, compiling complaints and violations on everything from unmowed lawns and hurricane cleanup to illegal mechanic shops”
Williams can start with the make shift truck stop that has sprung up on Robinson St.
- K RHODES
I meant Robinson Rd, specifically the lot between the Steak Shopee and Scurlock’s Donut Shop. There are at least two to three eighteen wheelers and or trailers parked there at any given time! During the holidays there were as many as ten to fifteen. Now if this is indeed violating city ordinance, certainly someone with the city has driven pass and observed this.
- K RHODES