Mayor Frank Melton is looking to correct a mistake he made about a year ago when he refused to renew the contract of lobbying firm Winston & Strawn LLP. Months after Melton came into office, he outraged the council by not renewing the firm's $74,000 contract with the city. Winston & Strawn lobbyist John Waits, in particular, had netted the city more than $111 million in federal money since 1995, funding projects such as the Metro Parkway, Union Station, the brickwork for Farish Street, the Linder-Maple Study and the Mobile Command Center. Melton dismissed Waits last year to make room in the tight city budget for Chief of Staff Marcus Ward, who makes $70,000.
This week, the council voted six to one in favor of an order authorizing the mayor to "execute a contract with Winston and Strawn Law firm to serve as the Washington, D. C.-based lobbyist for the City of Jackson."
"I've always felt passionate about Jackson and I'll do my best to help the city," Waits said later that day.
Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes voted against the order.
— Adam Lynch
Jail Still a Go, Mayor Says
Jackson Mayor Frank Melton is still supporting Police Chief Shirlene Anderson's plan to open a city misdemeanor work camp for offenders accused of non-violent crimes such as traffic violations, drug offenses and prostitution.
"It will be a 150 to 200 (person) misdemeanor work camp. We don't want to refer to it as a jail. It's a misdemeanor work camp," said Melton, explaining that the city's police department is hobbled by its inability to detain misdemeanor offenders at the Hinds County jail, which is routinely filled to capacity.
Anderson says the arguments coming to her from police officers is that repeat offenders have no fear of being arrested because they know the jail cannot detain them.
"The only thing we can do is arrest them so the jail can just let them go again," Anderson said. "These people know we can't do nothing with them until they commit something worse than a misdemeanor, and that's a problem."
Anderson said she and the mayor are following the suggestions of prisoner's rights attorney Ron Welch in locating and building a work camp in the hopes that the city can dodge whatever legal issues may try to bushwhack the project.
Welch says that while he can see no legal problems with the work camp this early on, he considers the concept of the misdemeanor jail fiscally wasteful, and suggested the city construct a new jail from the ground up, rather than renovate an older building.
"I told them you cannot take a local building and convert it to a jail. It's not going to happen. You can try, but you can't do it in a safe and secure way. By the time you put what you need into a renovated building it'll cost you more than if you started from scratch and did it right," said Welch of the proposed building near the downtown area. "I've seen the building. The roof is leaking like a river in places, and they've got to get rid of all the walls. You can't have residential piping and sewer in a place with jail-type needs. But then again, I'm not a bookkeeper."
Welch said that a new jail will likely involve other expenses, such as new staff and insurance for the detainees, for which Anderson says she does not yet know the cost.
Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin said he would be discussing the project with council members and said he would hold off on public comment until he has spoken with the council.
"It's not just the lack of money. You need to have a plan," McMillin was willing to say. "We've drug our feet for so long and haven't addressed the problems that have been evident for years."
— Adam Lynch
The More the Merrier?
Mayor Frank Melton has been hit with yet another lawsuit, this one brought by Ron Christmon and filed in District Court on Oct. 20. The suit involves the murder of Harrison Hilliard, who was killed at Christmon's business, Triple C Body Shop, located at 2121 Gordon St., in 1998.
Melton and Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agents charged Christmon with conspiracy to commit murder on Oct. 22, 2003. In two days of raids, MBN agents arrested Christmon, Richard Butler, Lataisha Clark, Terry Moore, Terrell Donelson and L.C. Coleman in connection with the murder.
On April 12, 2006, Hinds County District Attorney Faye Peterson dismissed all charges against Christmon because the principal witness against him, Christopher Walker, had been tainted by financial compensation from Melton. Now, Christmon accuses Melton of wrongful arrest.
Christmon was originally charged with Albert "Batman" Donelson, who Melton accused of ordering Hilliard's murder as retaliation for Hilliard buying a kilo of cocaine with $10,000 in counterfeit money.
Weeks after the case was dismissed, Walker was again arrested, on May 8, 2006, for repeatedly failing drug tests that were required by his probation. The cases against Donelson and Christmon fell apart when defense attorneys revealed that Melton had provided Walker with an apartment, a credit card, cash and a car.
On a tape made by then-MBN Director Melton, Walker spoke of conducting kidnappings and violent murders on behalf of the "Wood Street Players." However, Melton and other agents turned off the tape several times, leading defense attorneys to speculate that Melton was coaching Walker, which he has denied.
Walker lived at Melton's residence on and off from October 2003 until his arrest.
Christmon declined to comment through his attorneys.
Melton did not return calls.
— Brian Johnson
Melton Trial Begins
Judge Tomie Green issued some unwelcome news to the jurors who will decide Mayor Frank Melton's fate on gun charges as the Jackson Free Press went to press. "Go home and pack a bag that will last you for three days," Green said, announcing that she had decided to sequester the jury for the duration of the trial.
Green accepted no excuses from potential jurors, telling them that she would send deputies to bring them back to the court if they failed to return with baggage. There were 60 potential jurors in five panels, though only 14 will become members of the jury (there will be two alternates).
Earlier in the day, several new witnesses were added to the trial, including former FBI agent and Melton's No. 2 at WLBT Joe Jackson, Jackson Police Sgt. William Gladney, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agent Willie Watkins for the defense, and Nicole Bowman and Lauren Brooks of the Mississippi College School of Law.
The state subpoenaed JFP Editor-in-Chief Donna Ladd last week to testify about articles she has written about Melton, but Tuesday morning, Green said that Ladd would be called only if needed for rebuttal.
The state also subpoenaed Scott and Susan Johnson to testify on Melton's misdemeanor charge of carrying a weapon in St. Andrew's church, along with Judy Waters of the Mississippi State Parks and Recreation Department.
There was a flurry of excitement just after the lunch recess that Melton was ready to make a plea deal. Beverly Kraft, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, hustled members of the media into the balcony of the courtroom, warning them that something important was in the works.
The rumor fell flat when Judge Green began the long process of screening jurors.
If Melton considered a plea deal, he backed out of it.
See jacksonfreepress.com for up-to-the-minute coverage of the Melton trial.
— Brian Johnson
Beer OK at 2, not 3?
Councilman Kenneth Stokes wants to add yet another alcohol regulation to Jackson's alcoholic beverage code. He proposes prohibiting the sale of beer after 11 p.m. or midnight on weekdays, and 2 a.m. on weekends.
Mississippi, as the first state to prohibit alcohol (in 1907) and the last state to repeal prohibition in 1966, has always had a love/hate relationship with booze. More than half the counties in Mississippi are dry, yet alcoholism and drunk driving remain serious problems. Perhaps the real problem is lack of education and enforcement, not lack of laws.
— Ronni Mott
No doubt on the alcohol education and enforcement. Stokes has no clue how to manage the entertainment of the City.
If Jackson is to compete with Madison and Rankin then they need to act fast to become the entertainment center for adults who want to let loose on the weekends. Let the cottage communities be the "no-fun fairies" in this entertainment strapped metro area.
And the Rez. needs to allow for another person to open a "Dock" like lounge on the water. You know a lot of these people who are trying to stifle any type of adult fun are the same people that you saw 20 years ago puking off the side of the Dock or swaying (staggering) to the music. WOOOooooo!
Some people grow up and grow lame.
Good news on the lobbyist! Figures Melton is getting sued again.
That damn Stokes...
In one week, he was the sole vote AGAINST the lobbyist that brought in millions for the city AND is the force behind this ridiculous beer sales thing.
I can't imagine how he can say he wants what's best for this city and then vote against the Washington lobbyist. Maybe it's a gesture for Ward. Dunno. But it's senseless.
And, somehow, I think the beer sales deal would be a huge fiasco. I'll bet that we'd see rashes of people stealing beer from convenience stores after 11 PM. That would be irony at its finest.
I do think that this would be about as effective as shutting down all gun shows. Another rash, stab in the dark by Stokes. It's fitting that the C-L all but endorsed it today.
I wish that people in Ward 3 cared enough to pay attention and either show up to vote or at least vote against this man. I can't see that he brings anything to the table, where the city of Jackson is concerned. I know he's well liked in his community, but if we had a council full of Kenneth I. Stokes's.... I can't even imagine.