‘Major Extortion'? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

‘Major Extortion'?

Photos by Brian Johnson & Darren Schwindaman

Council members Marshand Crisler, Ben Allen and Margaret Barrett-Simon told the Jackson Free Press Monday that city Chief of Staff Marcus Ward threatened Jackson School Board member Jonathan Larkin's re-appointment to the board if he does not approve a bid for a contract by a company supported by the mayor's office. According to the three council members and sources connected to JPS, Ward told Larkin that the mayor's office would not submit Larkin's name to the Council for re-confirmation if he did not approve a contract bid by Jackson business Integrated Management Services PA, for work related to the $150 million bond issue—a bid that is reportedly much higher than the next lowest bid.

"Marcus Ward has threatened Jonathan Larkin with the school-board appointment if he doesn't vote a certain way on the contract," Barrett-Simon said Monday.

"According to our source, this chosen contractor for project management is supposed to be IMS," Crisler said. "Allegedly, they will pull his re-appointment if he doesn't approve this contractor's bid, supposedly $2 million over the next bidder."

Larkin told the JFP Monday that he would neither confirm nor deny the threat. A source close to the JPS board confirmed that the mayor and members of his staff had contacted board members regarding this particular contract.

Allen promised a full council investigation. "We're talking subpoenas if there's something to this," Allen said. "This is major extortion here."

Ward denied that he threatened Larkin that night at the JPS board meeting where the issue was being voted on. "No, no, no and no. We talked about the mayor's agenda and his vision for doing business with the city of Jackson," Ward said. "(Larkin) interpreted very incorrectly. … That was twice this afternoon we talked. We talked one time for about four or five minutes. He was at the doctor's office, and he called me back. I was at the convention center commission meeting. We talked then. He made the allegation then, and I told him that was not the case. He said, 'Well, I withdraw that then.' And I said, 'Well, I'm glad you do because that's not within my character or the mayor's character.' I thought that was the end of it. Then, all of the sudden, you guys (the press) start calling me and saying all this other stuff."

Ward added that the council will be "hearing from my attorneys."

The board spurned IMS' bid, awarding the contract for program manager for the $150 million general obligation bond for district construction and improvements to a joint contract between California-based Jacobs Engineering and local business Preferred Management.

Larkin's favor would have made a difference on that decision. Supervisors opted in a close 3-2 vote in favor of Jacobs Engineering and Preferred Management, with supervisors H. Ann Jones, Maggie Benson-White and Jonathan Larkin in favor, and Sollie Norwood and Delmer Stamps opposed.

In another, unrelated, vote that night, supervisors elected Stamps as the new board president and Larkin as vice president.

Larkin admitted that some parties had lobbied hard to sway the board's decision in the bond management vote. "There has been a significant amount of lobbying efforts, both legitimate and what some of us would consider not so legitimate, on many sides during the last three or four months," Larkin said. "We're making sure that everything that's going to happen is clear, transparent and above board. We want to make sure that whatever's done … is for the sake of the taxpayers. It's critical because the taxpayers have spent a lot of money and they have a lot of faith in us."

Mississippi Link Publisher and Garrett Enterprises owner Socrates Garrett is one of the contractors entered into a joint venture proposal with Jacobs Engineering and Preferred Management. Garrett was a staunch supporter of former Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. over Melton during the last election.

Since he was elected mayor, Melton has moved to cancel Garrett's contracts with the city. Last year, the mayor vetoed the council's decision to award publication of the city's legal ads to the Mississippi Link—which was the lowest bidder—in favor of The Clarion-Ledger. In response, Garrett's lawyers successfully sued the city for about $50,000, calling the veto "arbitrary and capricious."

Also involved with the joint contract is Preferred Management Group CEO Johnny Crisler, brother of Ward 6 Councilman Marshand Crisler—a frequent critic of the mayor's decisions and policies.

Garrett said he knew nothing about the influence that council members say the mayor's office attempted to wield over the board decision.

"I really don't have any knowledge of that. That would be hearsay," Garrett said. "I was pleased to get the support of Mr. Larkin, and I trust everything was done above board."

John Calhoun, CEO and co-owner of IMS, said it was the mayor's responsibility to influence local governments to support local businesses. "The two choices were a company from California or IMS. You expect the mayor's office and the council to support local, minority-owned businesses. Who's going to pay back the school bond issue? Jacksonians. If Marcus sits here and says to a board member we need Mississippi businesses doing business in Mississippi, I would expect the council to be saying that as well. I mean, I'm not going to do business in California," said Calhoun, who added that he knew nothing about Ward's lobbying.

Calhoun said that it was the mayor's prerogative to submit board nominees sympathetic to his cause. "Whether it's the governor or the president, you want people on the board who support your philosophy and the mayor's philosophy is to support Mississippi business, and I don't think he would support members of the board who did not support that," Calhoun said. "If that's what they were doing, if they were advocating for Mississippi business, heck yeah, I support that."

Previous Comments

ID
67681
Comment

What wxactly is Marcus Wards's title? I know that he is not doing the lobbying piece for the City of Jackson. Since he (fm) terminated the tried and true, who exactly is lobbying is Washington for the City?

Author
justjess
Date
2007-05-02T12:43:06-06:00
ID
67682
Comment

What (E)xactly is Marcus Ward's title?

Author
justjess
Date
2007-05-02T12:46:41-06:00
ID
67683
Comment

it would get me banned for life from JFP.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2007-05-02T12:48:25-06:00
ID
67684
Comment

Come on King. Ladd doesn't throw us off for telling the truth. Can you back - it - up? LOL !!! LOL!!! LOL!!!!

Author
justjess
Date
2007-05-02T12:54:19-06:00
ID
67685
Comment

I meant the title I wanted to use. And I'm on my 12th live here.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2007-05-02T13:01:44-06:00
ID
67686
Comment

justjess, I see which end of the creek 'Fish is swimming toward. Don't encourage him. I might have to skin him. And John Waits (sp?) is back lobbying for Jackson, thankfully. Allen fixed that mess post-haste.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-05-02T13:01:59-06:00
ID
67687
Comment

yeah. I'm not interested in any farewell tours right now. ;-) Who knows what his title actually is. That can change by the day or hour with this mayor.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2007-05-02T13:04:43-06:00
ID
67688
Comment

What (E)xactly is Marcus Ward's title? Last title I heard was Chief of Staff.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-05-02T13:55:54-06:00

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