In this long excerpt of JFP editor Donna Ladd's interview with Frank Melton in February, he talks about why he's running for re-election, dying with dignity, the City Council, his two police chiefs—and being hired by the Obama administration, or the U.S. Marshals, if he loses the race. (Note: much of this Part V segment does not appear in the print edition.)
Are you going to run again?
Donna, you know I've heard this before I ever got into politics. I do not like politics; I come from the same world you're in, where you have to make a payroll and run a legitimate business where you have to take care of your customers. The main reason is that I really want to stay close to the people. And I have to have something to do with my life. A lot of people look forward to retirement, and I know if I went that direction, I'd be dead in six months. I'm just used to being around people and doing the things that I can do. It took me three years to learn what the job was all about, and in that three-year period, certainly mistakes were made that will never be made again. But I didn't come in here the first day with all the solutions and knowing how to fix everything. I think I went through the same thing that President Obama is going through right now, and that is very high expectations that were put on him that were put on me. I know there are people disappointed, but the mistakes I made were from my heard. I thought they'd asked me to do a job, and I came in and tried to do it the best way I knew how. Now I have to do it the right way. And I have to clean the culture up and the system up to make sure that it's done right. And I feel good; physically I'm fine. I think I can handle another term. If that's not the case, Donna, I'll tell you what. After 23 years, the o nly thing I'd ask of the voters of Jackson is that if I'm not going to make it health wise, please let me die with dignity. Just let me have my dignity in death. Let me doing something to help other people, and if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. But I'd really appreciate being able to move along with my dignity intact.
Is that up to you, do you think?
No, it will be up to the voters, and that's the only thing I'll ask of them.
And how do you think they would not let you do that?
I really don't. It's asking a lot, but I know the other side of it is that if I don't have something to do, if I don't have challenges, it's just not going to work out for me. I don't have anything to get up for in the morning.
What would you do with your life or with yourself if you're not re-elected mayor?
Would probably get with the new (Obama) administration and take an administrative position with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). Or the U.S. Marshals. The best job I ever had in my life was MBN (Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics where he worked for 14 months until Gov. Haley Barbour relieved him from duty because drug arrests were down).
I got a chance to help people all over the state and break some stuff up that had been going on for years. It was a very interesting time in my life.
Can you assure voters that you're going to run a clean campaign against opponents?
Well, I'm glad you asked that. That's a great question. In terms of a clean campaign, Donna, for the record you've never seen me in the last three and a half years say one negative thing about a City Council person, although I get bashed ...
... Except when you pointed to Marshand Crisler's picture last week on my cover (and said loudly how ugly he was, while sitting in the open courtroom).
(Laughs) Well, that was off the record. I don't do that publicly, it serves no purpose, people don't want to hear that. Secondly, I think America is sick of mud-slinging. What I'm going to focus on are the things we need to continue to do, such as education, economic development, housing, the crime thing, and the streets and infrastructure. I don't know all the candidates that are running, but I don't have anything negative to say about any of them. I mean, I just don't. I mean, it's just such a waste of time. I will never do that. I don't like that.
Now some of them may have something negative to say about you.
That's fine. I'm used to that. They can say whatever they want to do say. But what I'd rather talk about is streets, infrastructure, crime and that sort of them.
Are you confident that your record, and I don't mean just the dramas, but your record in the city is strong enough?
If the people would really look at it, Donna, if they'd look at the economic development, and while one publication is saying in spite of Melton, we've had this great growth, and that's so unfair because I've negotiated the majority of those deals. The hotels that are going to put downtown, I personally negotiated that. I raised so much hell about the King Edward Hotel that I shamed them into doing something, you know that. The Roberts brothers, (I) negotiated with them to buy the Standard Life Building. It didn't work out, but then they turned around and buy the Edison-Wathall, and a TV station and a radio station here. All the homebuilders, like South Jackson and the Maple Street area, the Lanier area over there off Bailey, I've negotiated all those deals directly with investors. And I'm negotiating a deal now to build houses at Town Creek and where we've taken down the Maple Street apartments. I've played a heavy hand in most of those.
Who do you think you'll be able to call on as your big supporters? Last time, you had quite the line-up, and I know that some of them are now supporting other candidates. Is there anybody you've sat down and had a conversation with?
You haven't done that?
I don't have one sign up. Not one. (Melton does have signs up now.)
Do you think you can win?
I don't know, but I do know one thing: Last time I ran, you know that $700,000 raised for the campaign, I'm not going that route anymore. I'm just not going to do that. I mean, name recognition, I certainly have to worry about.
(Donna giggles.) Sorry. That's a true statement.
But then I'm caught between two issues. One is my health, and the other is the legal stuff. And the legal stuff is well timed, trust me.
You mean, purposefully?
Yes, without question.
Now: Are you happy?
(Long pause.) No. No.
What can you do to become happy?
Get more done.
You mean, in the city?
Yeah, more housing. More development. Umm, more employment for people.
Do you have a good support base around you?
One of the things that, well frankly, we've accused you of in the past is having too many people around you who don't challenge you.
Are you changing that?
Tell me about that.
Well, it's a two-headed sword. First of all, when I was elected, people here were too afraid to make a decision because they had never been allowed to make one. And I don't know anything about public works, Donna. I don't know how to go out and repair a burst pipe or something like that, but (public works director) Thelmon Boyd does. So I have to give him the latitude to make those decisions. And since I have no other issues in things like that, such as the contractors or who's going to get the job or anything like that, I don't have any vested interest in that, I know what the issue is. And I have concerns about the way we do it. I know we want minority participation, and I don't have a problem with that. But
at the same time there comes a time when a company ought to be able to stand up to bat and bid for itself based on its own performance. So I've seen some waste there if you know what I mean, and I talked to you about that during Katrina. So, that's kind of that part of it. But to see people have a better way of life would be the main thing that would make me a little bit happier. There are a lot of frustrations in this job, not stress but frustrations. You think things are being done ... I'll just give you an example. I went to the Atmos Building yesterday, which we purchased. I was assuming we were moving into that building on Capitol Street, and I didn't see any action.
So what'd you did?
I directed them to start the process of moving. People like Rick Hill ... I don't care how good or bad it is, City Council asks you a question, just openly answer it. Don't look at me. Answer it honestly base don your belief and your knowledge. They have that freedom with the City Council, and they've always tried to filter things in the past. I can tell you right now, Donna, I don't know the questions that are going to be asked, and I don't know what the answers are going to be when Valerie (Nevels) gets up there on an audit, or Rick (Hill) has to give, and I had this conversation with Rick. They'd ask him something, he'd look over at me, and I'd say, "No, no. You're the chief financial officer. You tackle that one." Some of it's been gone; some of it's not been good. Same thing with Thelmon—if there's a question that I have, I'm just like the City Council person. Just like I was telling Thelmon at Tuesday night's meeting, you know I'm getting kind of bored with Fortification Street. We should have been getting after that. And Woodrow Wilson.
And the other thing that's been disappointing to me is some of the behavior of the Council.
(Let's) talk about this yes-people thing. We essentially have a Council right now where there are certain people who will vote with you no matter what you want and then some who essentially won't. And that's frustrating.
Yeah, it is because the things that I want would be another $500 raise for the city employees. We have the money, and that's a no. I wanted to bring the abatement of drug houses out of committee, and it's been sitting there. Only the president can bring that out. He promised me he'd bring everything out by the 15th. But I sit, and I look, and I see the comments they make about me, and it hurts because I'm not that kind of person. And Donna, the thing that's so strange is three-and-a-half years I've been in this office, I've gotten less than two or three calls from Council members. What I've learned ... none of them have said, "Frank, why don't you think it through this way, or why don't you do it this way. Or here's a better way of doing it." It's just let's wait until he makes a mistake, and let's chop his head off.
Let's talk about the other side of it, though. I see that, but then there are also Council people who will vote with you for what you want even—
Yeah, yeah, but that's where the balance comes in. Those people know me, and this is different. You know what's so strange about it, Donna. I respect all seven of them, but I just can't, it's hard for me to function when there's a different agenda on the table, and I'll give you a perfect example because you're int he private sector. When I was in the private sector, we had a board of directors. And we agreed that we were going to make a profit, we were going to be benevolent in the community, and were going to put a good news product on the air. Everybody agreed to that. It's easy for me as CEO to walk out of that room and say, "OK, we've got three things we've got to," and all of us unanimously are on board on that. When I go to City Council meetings, there are seven different opinions. Like the other night—it was totally unnecessary to blast Butch Brown's operation—what do you call it over there, the highway people—MDOT. I have a great relationship with MDOT. They've done everything they can to help me,f rom cutting grass to everything else, and it serves no purpose to say anything about them other than just getting the exposure on television. And there have been maybe in three-and-a-half times, maybe three or four times when I've really kind of lashed out. But when I go down there in that room, I have no animosity. It's been "yes, sir" and "no, sir" and "Mr. President" and that sort of thing, and I mean that sincerely. Personally, I care very deeply for all of them. When I have personal conversations, they are quite different than what they say in public. I've been worried to death about Dr. (Leslie) McLemore because he lost his brother. Where Margaret (Barrett-Simon) is concerned, the biggest thing in her life is Fortification Street so I've really been trying to facilitate that. And then there are those who would give the impression that "I'm closer to Frank than anybody." And the truth of it is that the closest people to me are these kids in Jackson. The closest people to me are the kids. That's who I confide in; there's where my comfort level is. And Donna, I get caught up in a lot of things, not because it's necessary because I be there, but they just want to prove they can produce me to make a public appearance. And I resent that, but you get used to it.
I guess part of what I'm asking here is if you would be willing to urge even your supporters to challenge you. Like Obama: One of the things we hear about is that Obama has people around him who will challenge him.
Well, he has put an excellent group of people around him. I looked at his speech the other night,a nd I was so proud when the people were walking in. You had Caucasians, you had African Americans, you had females, all who have impeccable credentials, and I think they're good. I've got a young chief of staff who's a Republican who was raised by (Sens.) Thad (Cochran) and Trent Lott. (Note: Melton likely meant that the senators "raised" Ward politically, not literally.)
You're talking about Marcus?
Yeah, Marcus Ward. And I thought, "Well, what I represent is opportunity. Let me let him get in here." And I've given him a lot more latitude now to get in there and do it. What I need more than anything else, Donna, is one, two, maybe three senior people to me. They need to find what I'm talking about; I miss that right now. It would be someone like, that doesn't have any vested interest in what's going on in the city. Bishop Coleman played that role for me until he died. I've always had mentors. In Texas, I had a senior United States federal judge, William Wayne Justice, who was a mentor to me ever since I was in college. It wasn't a formal mentoring program. It was just that I'd go to him when issues came up in my life that I needed to talk to him about. He's very much like me; he's probably 80 years old now. He integrated the state of Texas, got the prison system straightened out, and when I was in college I remember stories where his wife couldn't go to a beauty shop in Tyler. They hated him because he was doing the right thing, and I wanted to know how he sustained himself through all of that pressure. He ended up being a hero at the end of the day. He's in San Antonio right now. (Jim) Barksdale would be one person from a business standpoint point of view. I need three: one from business, one from benevolence, and one from a social perspective. Business would be someone like Leland (Speed) or Barksdale. Leland has some vested interest so I'd have to be careful there. But then, Donna, you know Leland's thing is downtown, and my thing is the inner city. It works out well for both of us. He handles that; I just support him. I do the inner city. I invite him to all the things we're doing in the inner city because he does play a vital part in that, too. I'm tryign to cut out this white-black, downtown inner city drama that we kind of have going on. Bob Buford would be a mentor for me on the benevolence side.
I've read up on (Buford) a little bit.
Yeah, he's a great guy. He gave me my start in this business. And I think some for the things that you look at and you wonder about would be a Stephanie Parker-Weaver. You know, let's just be honest about it, OK? Just be honest about it. She's a friend of mine; I care very deeply for her. But she was an antagonist for the city. So I thought the best way for me to deal with this is to bring her close to me and let her meet the players, and let's see if we can't get some things done together. And hell, I look up, and she and Leland Speed get to be best friends. She's connected, they're connected with downtown, and nobody was listening to Stephanie. They just weren't listening. I don't agree with everything she says, and I have some issues with her that I have the courage to discuss with her. At least I've got her int he system now where she can be more effective in a positive way.
I don't want to belabor the point, but I do think it's an important point—there are a lot of people out there who perceive you as having certain Council members and supporters around you, and especially when Chief (Shirlene) Anderson was here, who didn't challenge you nearly enough and maybe you wouldn't have gotten in as much drama—
She didn't challenge me. The reason I was so active then was she didn't challenge me, she didn't know the dynamics other than what she had done at MBN. I want to be very honest with you, Donna. Shirlene has been mistreated most of her professional career. You know, when I went to MBN, they had her in a closet somewhere, and she has a lot of knowledge about drugs. She almost lost her life in the Delta doing undercover stuff. I have a real sensitivity for Shirlene and always will have. She's like a sister to me; I will never deny that. And I think over time, she would have been OK. I really wanted to do something different over there. She made some really tough decisions involving Fuelman and officers and that sort of things, and we disagree on some issues. It was something I wanted to try that was different. Then when I wanted to make a change, I sat down and I thought, "Now what is the best thing to do in the interest of Jackson?" And I thought, "Why don't you just walk right across the street and get a person that's been duly elected by the people three times, very popular, and let's put both our agencies together. That doubles our numbers so we can stop screaming about we need more people and let's see if this works."
Do you think it's working?
Uhhh, we could do better. But Malcolm inherited, just as Shirlene did, a culture that really needs to be dealt with. (Went off the record.)
Read the first four parts of the 2009 JFP interview with Frank Melton on the JFP's Melton Blog, where you can read the full archive of our coverage of the mayor. Part VI will publish online Tuesday, April 6.
I think I went through the same thing that President Obama is going through right now, and that is very high expectations that were put on him that were put on me.
Yes, and if Obama gets drunk and nukes Belize, he will not win election to a second term!
- Brian C Johnson
Well, those Belizians...Belizites ...uhhh people from Belize have been asking for it.
Melton is going to fire Chief McMillin today. Film at 11.
- golden eagle
Now that I think about it, I think this is an April Fool's joke.
- golden eagle
Chief Mac resigned. CL reported it.
Now I'm waiting for the JFP to report what actually happened. :D
- Lady Havoc
WAPT is reporting it now. Maybe it's not a joke.
- golden eagle
The JFP broke the news that Melton is announcing that Tyrone Lewis is taking over, first on Twitter, then on top of the site. (The Ledger got around to that news an hour and a half later. )
If it's a joke, it's elaborate. But, hey, it's Jackson: all bets are off.
Well, that explains a lot. I can't get Twitter right now. :D
- Lady Havoc
Lady, to get our Tweet updates, just keep this JFP page open in your browser, and it auto-refreshes!
Goodbye now. I'm OFF-duty. Everybody, behave. ;-)
Bookmarked! Thanks, Donna!
And behave? Why? That's NO fun! :D
- Lady Havoc