The 2009 JFP Interview with Frank Melton, Part II: Being Mayor | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The 2009 JFP Interview with Frank Melton, Part II: Being Mayor

Full JFP Melton Archive/Blog/Court Filings Here
2009 JFP Interview, Part I

Jackson Free Press editor Donna Ladd visited Mayor Frank Melton in his City Hall on Feb. 26, two days after his federal trial ended in a mistrial. In Part II of the interview, he talks about how he spends his days as mayor, and what he believes he has accomplished. The next part will go live Tuesday, March 17, 2009.

Let's get away from your health. How do you plan to spend your days? I know how you've been spending recent days, but now how are you planning to spend your days?

I usually get up about 5. Let's talk about the job for a second.

That's where I was going.
You know, there's this big mystique about this job. And quite frankly, it's boring to me, Donna. And I want to be brutally honest with you, OK? You sign documents, and that takes you about 30 minutes. You read 'em and you sign 'em. And trust me, I've been reading 'em. And you sign 'em. You have a few meetings with people. I've been restricting myself to meeting with investors and, you know, department people. From the guy who digs ditches to the department head if they need to see me. I'm certainly available for that. Beyond that, everything else is, if I didn't have the style I did, would be getting in somebody else's way.

And what I do is I go out to the public schools, two or three a day. And whenever I pass by the guys working in Public Works, I like to stop and talk to them, and kind of get educated on what they're doing. I'll pop into businesses and ask the people how they're doing, particularly on Highway 80 and other areas like that. But this job is a good half-a-day job, and I'm just being candid with you. Then there are the ceremonial things, which you don't control like, you know, openings and groundbreakings and things like that. You certainly make an appearance, and you do the mayoral thing. But if you surround yourself with competent people who know what they're doing, then it makes it a lot easier on this job. I like for people to make their own decisions.

When it comes to Public Works, Thelman (Boyd) has the final decision on that. When it comes to law enforcement, (Police Chief Malcolm) McMillin has the final decision on that. I may have some input, but if I'm going to put them over there to run those areas, then I have them the latitude to run it. The biggest job in my job as mayor, that doesn't deal with the public, is trying to change a culture within government. Trying to change a culture. There was corruption. And while it has been embarrassing when we uncover things, we are uncovering things that have been going on for years, such as the stealing of fuel. That is just been a common practice. I've brought an auditor in who is a retired Internal Revenue criminal investigator, and given her the right to report to the public and to the Council without having anything edited, and she's uncovered some things we have to deal with. And we've put some people in jail.

But it's a culture. They've done it so long they thought it was acceptable. But the overwhelming majority of city employees are good and decent, underpaid people. I mean, terribly underpaid. I've tried to get their pay adjusted four times, and four times it's been a 4-3 vote with the City Council, and we have the money to do it.

Talk to me about that "we have the money to do it." You were saying yesterday (at his press conference; transcript here) that "we're in the best financial shape we've ever been," and we have a surplus of $27 million.
No, ma'am. I said we have $27 million to do the streets. Let me help you out there ... I'm required to keep $5 million in reserves. I'm required by ordinance to do that. We currently have $8 million in reserves. OK. Then we took $3 million, leveraged it up, and did a bond for $27 million, $30 million actually to do the streets in Jackson. That's the most we've ever had. The example I'll give you: City Council appropriated $3 million for streets. That's one neighborhood and half of another one. That money is eaten up. So, we leveraged it up, bonded it out, and it ended up being $27 million, and I'm going to do all seven wards simultaneously at the same time using seven different crews. Then we did another bond issue that gave us another extra $12 million to $13 million. Now some of that money is earmarked. This last one, the $13 million, or maybe more, is earmarked for water and sewer. But it's still money we don't have to borrow. It's money that we have.

You know, you hear a lot of people talking about the city budget is in really bad shape.
It's not true.

So you just don't think that's true at all? Is it not true in any area of the budget?
No, ma'am. I've had (Director of Administration) Rick (Hill) to give the Council the numbers four different times. It's pure play politics, and I challenge you to talk to Rick Hill. He can give you the numbers whenever you want to. I stress that; I know at least five different I've said, "Rick, can you give us an update? What do we have in surplus? What are we required to keep? What do we have in street repair? And what do we have in water and sewer?" So it ends up to be about $32 million, money we don't have to borrow or anything like that. Plus, we got the double-A-plus bond rating, the highest we've had in many years.

But the other significant thing, Donna, that people–I don't know if they're missing it because they can see it, but I think my issues have overshadowed some things—you know we're in the biggest growth period we've been in for years. And the deal that I made with the Chamber of Commerce and Leland Speed and Ben Allen was, "Look, you guys take care of downtown; I'll help you negotiate the deals and get the incentives, but you all kind of design it and take care of it. I'm going to focus on the inner city, because it doesn't make any sense for us to spend a billion and a half dollars in downtown and don't do anything for the surrounding neighborhoods. So my focus has been on inner-city housing and quality of life issues along Bailey Avenue and South Jackson certainly and places like that. I want the people in the inner city to get the same benefits that the people in downtown Jackson are getting. I think because of all the other issues, that has been somewhat overshadowed.

The biggest thing that I've learned, Donna, in the last four years, and I'm very serious about this, I have learned recently that I have to evaluate every decision that I make. Because I have to ask myself, "How will this affect other people?" I haven't used that discipline before. If I see something that's wrong, like the dopehouse that was behind Barr Elementary School right there at the playground, you know it has to come down. ... And the frustration is, if I can drive by and see it, why can't all the neighbors see open refrigerators on a playground where children play, a burnt-out house with all kind of rodents in it right there on the fence. And this is what the kids see when they go out to recess. It took me a couple of days to get that down, but that's just the obvious. What I'm afraid of is that people in the inner city have become so complacent and so used to those types of structures being in their neighborhoods that they just kind of ignore them. Not only is it in a neighborhood, but it's right next door to where we are educating our elementary school lids. But the house is down, and (Code Enforcement Director) Joe Lewis did a good job there.

[Editor's note: Hill is out of town, and cannot be reached yet to comment. Joe Lewis resigned soon after this interview and is running for City Council; he also testified against Melton in his federal trial, saying that no one had tried to demolish 1305 Ridgeway St. legally.]

You said a couple times about the "biggest things you've learned," and during the trial you said to me a couple times, "live and learn."
Yeah.

Without talking specifically about any of the trial stuff, in a big picture kind of way, what have you learned?
That some of the problems I brought on myself because of my passions and my heart. That's that part of it, Donna. The other part of it is using the system doesn't work, so I'm going to have to come to a compromise there. So, for example, if I see a particular house in a neighborhood that's a problem, it takes months and months and months to get something done. I'll give you an example: the pallet company on Fortification. It doesn't belong in that neighborhood. I filed to have it taken down and demolished and that sort of thing. They're suing me in court so that delays it. There are no people working there, it's an eyesore, and in a neighborhood where we're trying to spend $35 million.

[Editor's note: Reached by phone, A-1 Pallet owner Charlotte Reeves responded: ""What difference does it make how many employees I have working at any time, so long as I'm paying my taxes? ... There was no requirement when I filed my license to have a certain number of employees working at a given time." Reeves is running for mayor against Melton as an independent.]

Aren't they suing you in that case as much as anything about what you said and threatened to do rather than just the procedural part of it?
I think you're probably right. I haven't read the suit, but I'm adamant about having it closed down. That's not going to change.

So I guess my question there is: Will the way you do it change?
Yes, ma'am.

And how's it going to change?
I'm going to have to change the system. In other words, I'll give you an example, Donna. There's been an issue in committee for two years now. And they will not bring it out. It gives the city the authority to go through certain procedures, and then take down known houses where narcotics are being distributed. I mean, there's a procedure you have to go through. It can be a $10,000 house, or a $200,000 house, but there's an ordinance in there that would give the city the right to confiscate the property if it's a continuing criminal enterprise.

Even if it's occupied?
Yes, ma'am, even if it's occupied. CCE—a continuing criminal enterprise. It's been sitting in committee over two years because they won't bring it out of committee. That means after we go through certain procedures, and I'm not saying go there one time and find drugs being sold. But if we go there four or five times and the behavior is consistent, and we're getting the same complaints from the neighbors, this ordinance would give us the opportunity to notify the owners that we're going to confiscate their property.

Follow the full interview series on the JFP's Melton Blog. Click here to read Part I and Part III

Previous Comments

ID
144614
Comment

How is this the same guy who thought he could overrule a City Council no-vote majority, or pulled over a school bus on I-220, or raided gay bars, or went after dildos, or screwed up our grants process, or tore up a house with a sledgehammer, or [etc]? He sounds VERY sharp here. How is this the same guy?

Author
Tom Head
Date
2009-03-12T02:48:12-06:00
ID
144618
Comment

Maybe he suffers from multiple personality disorder?

Author
golden eagle
Date
2009-03-12T07:44:18-06:00
ID
144622
Comment

TH, this is Campaign Time. The Roadrunner is back. Always been good at speeches and interviews and photo-ops. Trouble is that he's the Roadrunner and the Obsticles!

Author
Razor
Date
2009-03-12T08:13:26-06:00
ID
144626
Comment

He's always had a skill for saying certain things at certain times. That's how he got where he is. However, I'm not sure everyone would agree with the characterizations he's making. We're working on the factcheck, but if anyone has factual responses to any of this, feel free to post.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-03-12T09:24:04-06:00
ID
144628
Comment

Nothing is his fault. It's either City Council or past administrations. Even the house he tore down can be blamed on others. Delusional.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2009-03-12T09:34:39-06:00
ID
144632
Comment

If Melton would've tried to do things the right way from the start, not only would he be in the mess he's in now, but he probably would be more worthy of being re-elected. Even the house he tore down can be blamed on others. Not too long after the first trial ended, Melton had a meeting with the city department heads and he said that if they would share his passion, he wouldn't be in the trouble he was in.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2009-03-12T10:50:12-06:00
ID
144634
Comment

"You know, there's this big mystique about this job. And quite frankly, it's boring to me, Donna. And I want to be brutally honest with you, OK? You sign documents, and that takes you about 30 minutes........ And trust me, I've been reading 'em." This man after four years in office does not know the duties and responsibilities of a MAYOR. He is clueless. Again I say, melton has gone too far, too fast with too little.

Author
justjess
Date
2009-03-12T11:14:40-06:00
ID
144664
Comment

I saw a Frank Melton for mayor sign at Parham Bridges Park this evening. I wanted to knock that sign down so badly.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2009-03-12T20:44:05-06:00
ID
144666
Comment

GE, you should go back and staple a copy of the JFP to the sign. LOL

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2009-03-12T21:08:37-06:00
ID
144671
Comment

I have no stapler. Plus, after reading Maggie's column on this very subject, I decided against knocking it down.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2009-03-13T08:28:40-06:00
ID
144700
Comment

There are so many strange things in this interview, but first this: So, we leveraged it up, bonded it out, and it ended up being $27 million, and I’m going to do all seven wards simultaneously at the same time using seven different crews. Then we did another bond issue that gave us another extra $12 million to $13 million. ... But it’s still money we don’t have to borrow. It’s money that we have. Um, I'm not an economist, but issuing bonds is how cities borrow money. I think Jackson should borrow money for things live paving the roads, but does the mayor really not understand this?

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2009-03-14T08:28:32-06:00
ID
144701
Comment

Is ironic the word for Melton explaining how he lets department heads run the show? Melton meddled heavily in so many departments, in so many ways. He describes McMillan as some success of his, when the truth is that McMillan was brought in to save a police department Melton nearly wrecked through meddling. And all this talk about corruption when his was an administration of cronyism and inflated expenses, with meddling in construction contracts to boot. He is so full of self-praise, but his description of his administration is so at odds with what has happened. It's as if he imagines the entire city will forget all the last four years and vote for him in a trance.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2009-03-14T08:50:46-06:00
ID
144703
Comment

Brian, I think the word you are looking for is bull$#|+!

Author
WMartin
Date
2009-03-14T10:34:18-06:00
ID
144772
Comment

I think WLBT is trying to sway jurors by showing a story of narcotics being sold in jackson and doing another story of frank melton retrail and doing both of them together. The story came on tonight. WLBT dosen't want frank to go to jail because he has a relationship with them.

Author
NewJackson
Date
2009-03-16T21:11:05-06:00
ID
144788
Comment

NewJackson, my thoughts were the same as yours as I watched the WLBT stories being done simultaneously. I am amazed that after so much blood was shed, jobs lost, property burned, and scores of people killed to include Dr.Martin King, fighting for the CIVIL RIGHTS of BLACK FOLKS, that melton could get away with such. It should not matter the race of the person who violates one's civil rights: It should be about justice for all. There are some people at WLBT who do not support the station's participation in this type of "stacking-the-deck" activity. Word is, "One peep and your're fired."

Author
justjess
Date
2009-03-17T09:15:35-06:00
ID
144791
Comment

Sad they are tainting potential jurors.

Author
NewJackson
Date
2009-03-17T09:23:01-06:00
ID
144831
Comment

Melton has been disqualified from the Democratic Primary according to channel 16. I am digging for info. AGamma627

Author
AGamm627
Date
2009-03-17T18:18:31-06:00
ID
144832
Comment

Way ahead of you AGamma. Interview with Melton on it on top of the site. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2009-03-17T18:20:10-06:00

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