McMillin's Moonlighting Means Merger? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

McMillin's Moonlighting Means Merger?

Photos by Adam Lynch

Could 13 be the city's lucky number? Jackson Mayor Frank Melton named Sheriff Malcolm McMillin as the city's chief of police—the 13th chief to hold the seat since 1988. McMillin said he will assume the role immediately, but added that he will also retain his job as sheriff of Hinds County.

"I'm taking this position because I love this city, and I want to see it survive," McMillin told the Jackson Free Press after a press conference.

Melton announced last Wednesday that he would remove Shirlene Anderson from her post as police chief of Jackson, saying he plans to retain her as a special assistant to the mayor to coordinate the city's emergency services. Council members expressed doubt that the city, with its failing budget and $3 million budget shortfall, can afford Anderson's new position.

"I don't think we should be entertaining the prospect of a new position as long as our budget is in the state it is," Ward 6 Councilman Marshand Crisler told the JFP.

Anderson's contract extends from July 5, 2005, until June 30, 2009. Crisler said he is not sure how Melton's decision to replace Anderson will affect her contract, if at all.

A New Sheriff
Rumors began floating regarding McMillin's offer to lead the city department early Friday, though the sheriff would neither confirm nor deny the rumor until the 11 a.m. Friday press conference.

McMillin, Melton and Melton's attorney, former mayor Dale Danks—who defended Melton against a five-count indictment for burglary and other charges this year—announced the offer had been in the works for days. Danks argued that the sheriff could legally occupy both seats without issue.

"As to the legality … there's absolutely no prohibition in the law in the state of Mississippi that prevents what is transpiring today," Danks said at Friday's press conference.

The appointment requires city council confirmation, however. Crisler withheld his opinion on whether he would vote to confirm the appointment, though Crisler may face a conflict of interest in that vote. Crisler works for McMillin as a deputy.

McMillin said members of the Hinds County Board of Supervisors would not get to weigh in on his decision.

"The board of supervisors is not the sheriff's boss. …They have no say-so about whether or not I might be the chief of police, or hold any other office…," McMillin said.

Later on Friday, McMillin said on "JFP on WLEZ" radio program that he would immediately work to reinstate the use of COMSTAT, an electronic crime-monitoring service that, together with weekly meetings with precinct commanders, helps pinpoint tactics for dealing with specific crime issues facing particular precincts. Anderson had discouraged the weekly COMSTAT meetings. McMillin also said he would release the weekly COMSTAT information to neighborhood associations and private citizens once a week, to help in community policing efforts. In contrast, Anderson often released her crime information two weeks late, if she released it at all. Melton argued that critics used the rising crime statistics as a weapon to tear down police morale.

Among McMillin's other priorities, he plans to reinstate an officer "sign-in" procedure, wherein officers visit local businesses and "sign-in" to confirm their visits.

Some police officers say the city's declining police force and subsequently choked schedules discourages the sign-in practice. The department only has about 400 police officers, as opposed to 650 recommended by the 1999 Linder Maple studies.

McMillin said reinstituting the practice, and many others, is only a matter of better management on the part of supervisors.

The sheriff's headstrong personality will likely prove a contrast to the spongy enabling of Anderson, who allowed the mayor to micromanage the police department as he saw fit.

Melton recently reassigned his personal bodyguards Michael Recio and Marcus Wright to assistant chief and police sergeant, respectively, despite their lack of credentials. The two combined salary increases are more than $40,000, which council members say the city cannot afford. Police union members complained that Melton bypassed more experienced people in the department to promote the two. Anderson made no statements to the JFP opposing the promotions.

Interim Chief Gerald Jones signed off on the salary increases last week, though council members wonder if Jones' authority as interim was valid, if Anderson held the position as chief until Friday.

"We're so lost on how fast all this is happening, we don't know where we stand, really," Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon said. "We have no way of knowing how legal any of this is this early."

"I don't care who signed off on those increases," said Crisler, who remains determined to oppose any new disbursements until the budget is balanced. "If I see them in front of me during a council meeting, I'm not approving them."

McMillin assured the City Hall audience that Melton would butt out of the department with him in charge.

"I've been assured by the mayor that he wants to do mayoral things and that when he appoints this sheriff to this job of chief of police that he intends to let me be the chief, and we had that understanding before I accepted this position, and that's the way it's going to be," McMillin told a crowd of about 100 in the City Hall council chambers.

Six minutes into the press conference, however, McMillin had to fend off Melton's infamous micromanagement of the police department when a reporter asked if McMillin planned to retain Recio as assistant chief.

"We're not going to discuss personnel issues. … As of five minutes ago, Sheriff McMillin is in charge of the police department, and it's a city policy that we do not discuss personnel issues," Melton began, ignoring the fact that the council must first approve McMillin. McMillin cut off Melton, in any case.

"I would like to address that," McMillin inserted, as the audience laughed. "I think that I need to evaluate all personnel and all departments before I make a decision about moving anything. There needs to be a time frame where I take those things under consideration."

McMillin told the JFP on Monday that his assistant chief would be Cmdr. Lee Vance. He said more staffing announcements were pending.

The End of Autonomy?
McMillin's new role as police chief could be the first critical step in the eventual consolidation of city and county services—possibly even the beginning of the end of city autonomy from the county. McMillin assured the audience that he had no intention of putting the city on the road to a greater merger with the county.

"This is not a consolidation of budgets or departments. It's a consolidation in that the same person who is the sheriff of Hinds County will be the chief of police. So there's not going to be a consolidation of budgets or departments. There's just going to be one vision of what law enforcement is in this county and city," McMillin said.

Danks, who is possibly the real driver behind McMillin's nomination, took a different stance.

"After this appointment is made and confirmation of (McMillin's) appointment is accomplished, then … I and other attorneys will be working toward the various increments of consolidating budgets, personnel, things of that nature," Danks said. "We need time to address our various issues dealing with the uniform consolidation of resources that will include budgets from Hinds County, that will include budgets from the city of Jackson."

Some local representatives said they approved of McMillin's new post.

Rep. Credell Calhoun, D-Jackson, said he wasn't sure if giving McMillin jurisdiction over the city of Jackson would require legislative approval, though he added that he would not be above granting such approval if asked.

"I don't have any problems with it. Anything that helps the city of Jackson," Calhoun said. Calhoun's wife, Peggy Hobson-Calhoun, is on the Hinds County Board of Supervisors, and routinely favors McMillin's proposals to the board. Hobson-Calhoun did not return calls.

Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, also had no knowledge on whether legislative input would be required, but said he would support the move, if asked.

"It might be a good idea to consolidate law enforcement in Hinds County in terms of cost savings, and I can't think of any law on the books that would prohibit that, since they are in the same branch of government. I don't know whether or not the city council would confirm it, of course," Frazier said.

But, Is It Legal?
Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said he had "no problem with McMillin's ability," but was nervous about the legality of it.

"I think he would do a fine job, but I think that if they start combining the resources of the sheriff department and police department, then there are issues regarding the separation of those two forms of government," Horhn said. "I'll put in a request for a legal opinion with the attorney general's office to explore this matter from a practical standpoint. I think the sheriff mentioned that there would be no combining of resources between police officers and the sheriff's department, but I don't see how you could not have some sort of overlapping and that's what we're concerned about right now."

Attorney General Jim Hood said the state had no legal precedent against McMillin occupying both positions.

"This does not pose a Separation of Powers problem since both positions are in the executive branch," Hood said in a Friday statement. "Although we've never been presented with a sheriff serving as chief, these prior opinions appear to be applicable to this situation. The prior opinions state that the individual cannot be paid twice for performing the same activities; however, he could receive additional payment for performing additional services."

Hood went on to catalog other examples of law enforcement heads holding multiple posts.

"For several years now we have also approved an interlocal agreement between the City of D'Iberville, Harrison County and the Harrison County Sheriff. This agreement allows the Sheriff's Department to perform the functions of the city police department in D'Iberville. So, there is precedent for some 'consolidation' of services should the city and the county decide to consider that."

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