On Jan. 3, Hinds County Board of Supervisors Vice President Peggy Hobson Calhoun arrived at a meeting between county supervisors and executives of Central Parking Corp. over a proposed $14 million parking garage in downtown Jackson. At a Board of Supervisors meeting the previous day, she had expressed concern over the $14 million price tag estimated by Central Parking and announced to
board members, by e-mail, her intention to attend the meeting. Instead, she found herself locked out of a Chancery Court boardroom the next day by Supervisor Doug Anderson, who had arranged the meeting.
Anderson refused to allow Calhoun to attend the meeting, and when three executives from Central Parking arrived 15 minutes later, Anderson told them Calhoun's title as vice president "doesn't mean anything," according to Calhoun. He urged the Central Parking executives to hold the meeting without her.
Bobby Stewart, Central Parking regional manager and one of the executives at the meeting, refused to comment. Central Parking, based in Nashville, bills itself as the largest parking services company in the world.
Anderson told the Jackson Free Press that the reason he prevented Calhoun from entering was in order to avoid a violation of the Open Meetings Act. "If three members of the board cannot meet together—two members are already present; I'm the one who called the meeting—for me to tell her that she could not meet with us was not being rude, it was following the law," he said.
Brent Cox, public education coordinator at the Mississippi ACLU, said that the Open Meetings Act exists to prevent, not enforce, exclusion from public-policy meetings. "To construe (the Open Meetings Act) to mean that it's a law that's now meant to exclude is contradictory in the most offensive way to transparent government that I could imagine," he said.
Anderson seems to base his position on a 1999 attorney general's opinion finding that no meeting can be "official" unless a quorum is present, but the Open Meetings Act is clear that all "public business" must be conducted in public. It excludes "chance meetings and social gatherings," but states that "public policy is public business and shall be conducted at open meetings."
Calhoun, who one day earlier had pressed Anderson on the $14 million price tag, again asked him for the source of the figure at the next supervisors' meeting on Jan. 16. "We have not authorized any court member to go into discussion for negotiations in reference to a $14 million price tag, nor have we hired any consultants or any professionals in reference to the garage," she said in an interview. "Finally, after insisting that he tell us, he then said (on Jan. 16) it comes from Central Parking and that my (Calhoun's) only reason for challenging the price was because I was so upset because I
had been locked out from the meeting."
Former Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. said the nature of county government makes inclusion of supervisors important. "It's my understanding that Ms. Calhoun is vice president of the board, so I would think that from that perspective that she would be included in such meetings because the leadership of the board would be counted on to make such projects happen," Johnson said.
Calhoun said that the original plan for providing parking to jurors and people doing business downtown was to purchase land, not construct a garage. The $14 million price tag now comprises most of $26 million in estimated county expenses, including constructing a penal farm and repaving streets. The Board of Supervisors voted last month to issue a $30 million bond, which will lead to a
1-mill increase in taxes in 2008. Calhoun, along with Anderson, voted in favor of the
bond issuance on Dec. 4, 2006.
"When the supervisors were presented with this $14 million parking garage, the board more or less accepted it, without asking, 'Where did you get this information?' As a matter of fact, we don't even have any information about how many spaces we need, because we have not done a feasibility
study," Calhoun said.
When asked about a feasibility report, Anderson replied: "We've got the foremost learned people in the world in Central Parking. They have done a feasibility study at no cost to us. We could have paid someone else to go out and do something; then Peggy Calhoun would have complained about that,
spending money when we could have had the foremost authority on parking garages in the nation to give us a study."
Anderson added that Central Parking has "very little vested interest in this."
Calhoun suspects otherwise: "Surely they didn't come back on Jan. 3 to reaffirm a free cost estimate. They knew that they had started negotiations, and that's not legal. If the Board moves forward and selects Central Parking, then that's definitely going to be illegal."
"All this stuff that (Calhoun) is talking about doesn't exist—it's just plain jealousy," Anderson said. "She feels that I happen to be more informed about what the board is doing than she is. But she can't attend a meeting I call, that I haven't asked her to attend. That's just plain stupid."
This story has been corrected from the print version.
Does Mr Anderson think we're idiots? Anyone, given the scene above, can plainly tell that Central Parking will be the ones who get the parking garage when it's finally built. Stuff like this should be broadcast next time they want our money and taxes. We'll start voting "NO" to their crap.
Anderson is a clear example of the problems we have in Hinds Co. The guy is a first class snake-oil salesman! I think the irony of all this is that those who supported Melton, especially the NJam'ers, basically endorsed the likes of Anderson, Stokes, and SORE! But, most of them can afford to stay in Jackson while the Co. and City raise taxes to unlivable levels for the middle class, and working poor.
I don't expect Anderson to ever change his ways; but, it sure would be nice to see some of our City officials speak up about how badly the County is screwing the citizens of Jackson.
It's time for Anderson to GO! He and melton should be on that Mid-night train to somewhere. Or better still, they don't have to GO: They just need to get the he!! out of Jackson/Hinds County political structure.
"I don't expect Anderson to ever change his ways; but, it sure would be nice to see some of our City officials speak up about how badly the County is screwing the citizens of Jackson.
It's time for Anderson to GO! He and melton should be on that Mid-night train to somewhere. Or better still, they don't have to GO: They just need to get the he!! out of Jackson/Hinds County political structure."
Tell it like it is. I've always wondered why Hinds County borrow so much of the tax money I pay to Jackson when they don't even provide me services but the Justice System to begin with. Can't they do something right?
Stuff like this should be broadcast next time they want our money and taxes. We'll start voting "NO" to their crap.
Well, we're officially on the beat now. Wish we'd been there sooner, but hey.
Let the sun shine in.
I am glad somebody is on the beat...
I've been mad about this for along time.