The July 5 council meeting gave Jackson its first Republican council president since the adoption of the mayor/council form of government. Ward 1 Councilman Ben Allen, who walks away with easy or undisputed wins in his own ward every election year, found himself council president after a quick rundown of inter-faction debate. Allen blew no kisses at his success, and immediately predicted that his presidency would span a very hard financial year for Jackson.
"We're going to have a rough time for a year. If you look at 2008, regarding revenue streams and property tax, things will look a lot better, but we have a real financial crunch this next year," Allen said, explaining that though the city was "on the cusp" of some remarkable downtown development, that development would not be felt over this coming year.
Previous Council President Marshand Crisler said Allen's victory will allow Crisler more time to address issues facing his Ward 6. "This will be time I didn't have before, because I don't care what they say—that job as council president is a full-time job," Crisler said.
Supporting Allen's position were Ward 4 Councilman Frank Bluntson, who nominated Allen; Ward 2 Councilman Leslie B. McLemore; Ward 5 Councilman Charles Tillman and Ward 6 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon. Allen voted for himself.
Both Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes and Crisler, embattled after taking the presidency last July with a speedy agreement with a bloc of Tillman, Bluntson and Stokes, abstained from voting.
Stokes, who initially supported Crisler's re-nomination, could not bring himself to vote for longtime political nemesis Allen—whom he has threatened with violence in past council meetings under Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. However, public fights between Allen and Stokes have subsided since Melton took office, probably because Stokes is a Melton supporter.
Allen arrived to the post with a regret, correcting and apologizing for a statement that infuriated local Latino advocates like Mississippii Immigrant Rights Alliance President Bill Chandler.
Allen had referred to a group of Hispanic residents in his ward as "El Chico Mexican illegal immigrants," during an earlier work session. Allen told reporters that he'd meant to say "El Charro," in reference to the restaurant, which he said owns a home in his district that has gotten complaints about housing undocumented workers. He also admitting to not knowing whether the immigrants were illegal.
Allen assigned committee spots soon after ascending the presidency.
Chairing the Budget Committee is Charles Tillman, who held the post last time, and Leslie McLemore, who will vice-chair the committee. All five remaining council members are also on that committee.
Barrett-Simon will chair the Legislative Committee, with Bluntson serving as vice-chair. Allen, Tillman and McLemore hold seats on that committee.
Stokes will again chair the Planning Committee, a holdover from the last round of assignments. McLemore will preside as vice chairman with Allen, Barrett-Simon and Bluntson also occupying seats.
McLemore will chair the council's Rules Committee, with Barrett-Simon serving as vice chairwoman. Bluntson, Crisler and Tillman also hold seats.
Bluntson will chair the Transportation Ad-Hoc Committee, with Crisler as vice chairman. McLemore, Stokes and Tillman also make up that committee.
Crisler's sole committee chair will be the Water/Sewer Ad-Hoc Committee, with Tillman serving as vice chairman. Bluntson and Stokes also serve on that committee.
In addition to the regular committee appointments, Allen devised three new committees, explaining that new committees were needed to address specific city needs.
Though the new Quality of Life/Neighborhood Enhancement/Education Committee sounds like a name taken directly out of Mayor Frank Melton's "How to Be a Mayor" book, chairing that committee is Melton's hottest antagonist, Leslie McLemore. Barrett-Simon comes in second as vice chairwoman of that committee, with Bluntson, Crisler, Stokes and Tillman along for the ride as committee members.
Allen said the Quality of Life/Neighborhood Enhancement/Education Committee would help tackle problems directly disrupting neighborhoods. Allen said the two other committees would be the Inter-governmental Relations and the Contract Review committees, though Allen was not ready to name appointments to those committees at the July 10 work session.
The Intergovernmental Relations Committee will have to be off to a quick start. Hinds County Supervisor Doug Anderson has already come to the city with a proposal to sidestep the county's lawsuit against the city for unpaid bills regarding the county jail, penal farm and detention center, and Allen and company will need to have a quick reaction if the offer is to be adopted or rejected.
Allen's Contract Review Committee will also serve an immediate need. Newspaper reporters are still frolicking with the story surrounding local weekly The Mississippi Link's lawsuit against the city for what it considers Melton's illegal withdrawal of a bid to publish the city's legal ads.
Melton vetoed the council's decision to adopt the Mississippi Link's bid, which was based on the city's single prerequisite of being the lowest bidder, because he personally felt The Clarion-Ledger would reach a larger audience. That lawsuit, if following the pattern of earlier lawsuits regarding the city's legal ads, could drag on a long time.
Quality of Life/Neighborhood Enhancement/Education Committee
Phew. That's a mouthful. I think "Quality of Life Committee" would have sufficed, but hey, this ain't my rodeo! :-P
All these committees are great if they get of their tails and produce. they have things in some of these committees that have been there since Johnson first took office.
Go Ben, help us move ahead in spite of FM.