William Bright spent the last 13 years as an officer in the Jackson Police Department. Now he's left the force and is asking the citizens to promote him ... to mayor.
A native of McComb, Bright is the son of a cost-control engineer. His father's work moved the Bright family around the country, but Bright said he spent most of his childhood in Mississippi.
After graduating from high school in Joppatowne, Md., Bright joined the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served for seven years including stints in Okinawa, Japan, and Seoul, South Korea, among other posts. While in the Corps, Bright received his only post-secondary education at Craven Community College in Havelock, N.C., where he studied science and English, but didn't earn a degree.
Bright moved to Jackson in 1999 and joined JPD. There, he rose to the rank of sergeant before he resigned in 2012 to, as he said, focus on his mayoral campaign.
He now lives with his wife, Sheekas. Bright has two grown children from a previous marriage who live in North Carolina.
Though he seems less informed about some ongoing development and economic issues than many of the 2013 mayoral candidates—including incumbent Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., city councilmen Chokwe Lumumba, Ward 2, and Frank Bluntson, Ward 4, and businessman Jonathan Lee, Bright has a vision and believes he can implement that vision.
From casinos and a NFL team to improved incentives for police and extracurricular activities for students, Bright wants to build a Jackson that looks far different than the one that exists today.
The Jackson Free Press sat down with Bright and his wife in their home Oct. 19 to talk about what he will offer Jackson voters for the future of the city.
When and why did you decide to run for mayor?
Well, you know, I went to so many community meetings and neighborhood watch association meetings. When I'd get up and be talking in front of the people, sometimes they would ask me if I ever thought about running for mayor. The biggest thing about that was, we were sitting in a restaurant in the UMMC hospital, where (Sheekas) used to work. She just looked at me one day and said, "You ought to run for mayor."
After my wife told me that—and a lot of citizens had told me that—it was confirmed probably 10 times. Other people came, and they didn't ask me, they told me to run. I think they did it because they know what kind of person I am. If I say I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it. I'm an honest guy and fair. I'm not going to lie about anything. I'm just straight up.
From what I've seen, especially in the 13 years on the police department, talking to people, being around these citizens (and) knowing the problems, I've done a lot of research... There are so many problems that shouldn't even be problems right now, that are fixable problems. I can take care of it. When I say "I" can take care of it, it's because I'm running for the position, but in my campaign, it's all about "we," meaning the whole city, not "I." I want the position as mayor. You could call it the leadership position, but it's going to take the whole city combined to make any change. That's the way I'm running.
Give me three specific examples of what you'll do differently than the current mayor and how that will affect Jacksonians.
I have a youth foundation (plan) that I'm working on right now. I know that the city has a youth foundation program, but ... first of all, the kids are kind of being left out quite a bit. In mine, I've done research, and I've got some people doing research for me about what's going on in the other big cities. Some of those ideas that I'm getting from there, if we put them here in Jackson, and give it a name that we've come up with, I think that we'll be a lot better off. That's going to give the kids a lot of motivation. You have to let the kids know that they are important.
One thing that I never did understand: I don't have a problem with the kids setting up a basketball goal and playing basketball. If they're in the middle of the street, I have a problem with it, but if they're not in traffic (or) blocking traffic, I don't have a problem with that, but that's a violation of city ordinance, you know that? If you take something small away from them, when they really don't have a lot else to do, what's going to happen?
Just like the police. You take everything they've got away, you take everything the kids have away, what's going to be left? They're going to get up with the wrong crowd, and something's going to happen. Burglaries are going to happen. I think that we need to give the kids a whole lot more to do. I'm not going to totally go into my whole idea, but my youth foundation program that I've actually come up with, with some of my staff members, Jackson will love it.
I had a meeting last night with some people. I asked them, "Tell me some things that y'all aren't happy with." Of course, crime came up. Of course crime came up. Crime can be a hard thing to deal with. It can go up one day. It can be down the next day, but when you do something or you implement something to take care of a problem, and it's working, why get rid of it?
What are you talking about?
While I was on the police department, some ideas would come out. As a supervisor, we would pass out what we got to the officers. Well, just like the DART* program (an operation that concentrated officer patrols in high-crime neighborhoods) that they put out, it lasted two weeks and, all of a sudden, it's gone. It was working. If something's working, why do you want to get rid of it?
If somebody's going to be a criminal, they're going to watch for (lowered police presence). Criminals aren't stupid. They are stupid because of what they're doing, but they're going to watch what the police are doing. You know, you start a program, like the DART team, then for some reason, two weeks after it started, it's gone. They took it apart.
They took officers from all the precincts, took like 10 officers from here and here and here. Then they took up cars from the shifts, making shifts short on personnel and cars. Then they put something together, and it was working. I talked to a bunch of (the DART team). It was working. They were getting guns off the street. They were making a lot of arrests. It was making the criminals think, "Do I need to do this? No."
Then all of a sudden, I came to work one day, and it stopped. Officers were being placed back. Cars were given back to the shifts. We're back to what we had. Why? I don't have an answer for that, because I'm not in the upper command staff. All I did was what comes down hill.
What else can I give you here? The downtown parking, a lot of people have told me that downtown parking is a problem. It is. There is hardly none. You've got, what, two big parking areas. Then you got the Marriott Hotel; they've got their own right there.
Police, there's hardly no parking for them at all, none. You've got to find somewhere. That should change. There should be a lot more parking areas than we got. We've got places you can make that happen. I think that some of the ideas that are coming up, where they're spending money, they need to spend some money somewhere else.
I got out and talked to a bunch of the teenagers. You know, I like to do that. (I) asked them what are their opinions of things in Jackson. Well, they said, "We have nothing to do." OK, there are things you can do. There are government grants you can get. I've been doing my research now. There are grants that you can get that the government will actually fund for you to put things in a city for that situation.
Well, where's all that at?* I've never even known them to try that. I haven't. Now, I can't speak for everybody. Where is that?
Here's another thing (the teens) all told me. They go to the park. This lady I talked to at a park one day, she's been going to the same park (for) 10 years. They have five swings set up. Three of them have been broken five years straight, now. What's that? Nobody's going to go to something like that. That's the problem. Your parks department, how hard is that to fix?
Ever since I talked to that lady, I've been going around looking at stuff. They're not lying. You never really notice something, until you notice something. That's the way I look at it.
You mentioned the crime. It seems like a lot of the city leaders' only answer to fighting crime is more police on the street. How do we get to the root of the problem, to keep people from wanting to turn to the crime in the first place?
You know what? I've been thinking a lot about that, too. There are some things you can do.
I'd like to make a curriculum, in school, that teaches kids at a younger age, and keep it going all the way into high school, about crime, what it's like, (and) gun control. There's nothing in school. The parents teach their kids what they want to teach them, but I think we need to change our education program a little bit. I think we need to put something like that in there.
(We need) something more about, "This is what your life's going to be if you get involved with this. You're going to have one of two choices. Like drugs, you're going to either end up in prison or you're going to be dead." I'm not afraid to tell people that, because if you get involved in drugs, that's what's going to happen to you.
I've thought a lot about that, and I've actually talked to some people. I take my ideas out, and I talk to people about them. Me and my wife discuss that stuff all the time. I think we need to do something like that. I don't think it would be real hard to change a curriculum to that. The more education they have, the sooner they can get it and keep it going, because what your ears hear, your brain remembers. See, that's the way I look at it.
We have a school district that is on the edge of losing its accreditation. How is inadequate education related to bringing up people who are going to turn to crime?
Education is something that everybody needs; everybody gets a chance at it. You're going to go to school, because that's just how it is. You're going to go to school. What you do while you're in school in totally up to you. Nobody can make you do anything.
Coming back to school, I'd like to do something else. You know when you go to college, you have to have a certain amount of hours or credits, whatever it is, to graduate college, like working with the elderly, community programs. Most of them work with elderly people. I would like to make that a little bit earlier. I'd like to see that change and go into the high schools. You know what? I think if that was to be able to happen, if we put that in there and made that a class that you've got to have, that's going to give you a feeling of importance.
What you get there, just like my crime-education program, the earlier you get that, the better off you're going to be. When you do go to college, you've got to do that. You can't graduate without it. It's there. So why don't we push it down a little bit and put it in high schools?
They have their regular classes. They know they have to pass that, or they don't get the credit. Give them something that they have to do because when you go to college, of course you have to pass your classes to get credits. Give them that now, so when they get up there, they'll have that then.
You talked about the problem with the police officers' morale is that they don't have a lot of what they had before. Is there a problem that if you're putting too many out there that it spreads the funding too thin for the police that you have?
How can I talk about this? There's no morale problem between the police officers. That's not a morale problem. You know what you're going to get paid when you take a job. Did they tell you what you were going to get paid when you took your job?
And you accepted it?
The problem is, the things that (the officers) are supposed to get, now they're taking it all away from them. I spent 13 years with JPD. When I first got hired, we got an evaluation raise. In 13 years, I got two raises. That's all. OK?
I think the morale problem is: It's always the same people getting the same thing all the time. "You're going to move up." (Points finger as if talking to another person.) "You're never going to get anything." I've seen it. I don't really care about that kind of thing. I think everyone should get the opportunity, like a sergeant's exam. If you don't want to take that, don't take it. When I took it, I made it, and I was a sergeant for one year.
I think that some of the things that were taken are causing the morale problem. The only thing, when I was a sergeant, that they had to look forward to was a take-home car. The evaluation raise was gone. They took everything.*
The take-home car was actually for the patrol division, especially. That's all they had to look forward to, except having their job and a two-week paycheck. That's it, (now). Take-home car policy is gone. You only thing you have is your job. That's it.
Would the police force be more effective if it were a smaller force of officers who are compensated as they should be?
No. No. I heard somebody had said that JPD could be run with 200 police officers. With as big as Jackson is? No way that's going to happen. Two hundred police officers is four precincts. Where are your detectives? Where's the rest of the staff? They're not going to be there, or you're going to run so short that you're not going to be able to do anything. JPD's not going to run with 200 police officers; you can't do it. I don't care who said that. I don't know, but it's not going to happen.
The more police that you bring in, that means that the money should be there. What if they had five or six classes, lately, have come through in a row and we're getting some good officers. Once they get there, it's like, being able to talk to them as their supervisor, they ask a lot of questions like "Why is he leaving? He's got 10 years?" "Why is he leaving? He's been here for a year, and he's already ready to go."
What am I supposed to say to them? I've said, "I've been here this long, I like working here, and just because I'm a sergeant doesn't make me any better than you."
But there's a lot of things you have to put up with, but then there's a lot of things I believe police should have that (they) don't have.
If you're elected, you're going to inherit about $400 million in sewer and water improvements that have to be done that have been mandated by the EPA, that the city has been negotiating for a couple of years now. How will you look to fund that massive amount of improvement that needs to be done while keeping the burden light on the taxpayers?
I took a class on asset and liability, and it was a great class. There's ways you can come up with money inside a business or inside of a department that you didn't even know was there. I have a financial planner already, and I think me and him would have to sit down. Of course, city council will be involved.
I would guess we would have to come up with some money. I don't really know, I'm just going to be honest with you, I think about all of this stuff and I don't really know exactly what the city is actually doing in that situation. It's coming. I am finding out.
Well, none of us know quite yet because they won't release it all, yet.
A city can come up with money when they have to have it. Besides that, another thing I've been checking into, the government can provide grants for just about anything. Most of the grants you get you don't have to pay it back as long as the money goes where it's supposed to go. Now, I'm not going to sit here and say money's not going, when they do get a grant, where it's supposed to go, I'm not saying that. But I can assure you, in my position, if I were to receive a government grant that would cover this and a lot of problems out here because of the money being short, the money's going to go exactly where it's supposed to go.
I can answer that. The city can't use any federal grants to pay for this consent decree.
I would do everything I could without raising taxes. The thing I don't want to do is raise taxes. The city's paying enough taxes. ... We need to bring small business into Jackson. I'm not going to sit here and say that I can bring everything that's empty and fill it up, but I can do a lot of things along with the city's help. All the people in the city, it takes everybody to do all of that. We can bring small business back into this city by helping the crime situation, because I know a lot of business owners in the city of Jackson, and when I talk to them, what they tell me is (that) crime is a big thing whether we stay or go. And of course the tax situation—you know the economy's going to change more by bringing small business back.
What I'm actually thinking about is to see what the citizens say if we could bring a professional (sports) team to the City of Jackson. Our economy would be raised and, actually, I know some people who could actually do that.
Is Jackson big enough to support a large professional team?
It's not the smallest capital city in the world, in the United States even. I believe we could do it.
I don't know exactly everything that went down with (the Mississippi Braves), but if I had been the mayor, and I had had the opportunity to get that, I would have took it.
When you say a professional team, what are you talking about specifically?
Either a football team, a baseball team, a basketball team—one of those three. Really, I'd love to see a professional football team come in here. Our economy would rise extremely high.
We're talking about millions of dollars for a stadium and, also, it would be the second smallest market in the league next to Green Bay, Wis.
Well, let's look at it in other ways. The NFL: You can actually write to the NFL, and they can sponsor the money for what you need when you do that. I've got people looking into that.
I'm not trying to make people think I'm all about money, because I'm not all about money. In fact, I have found ways to save the city money. Some of the city's money is going places it shouldn't be going to ... and certain places where they're not getting what is needed.
I'm doing my homework, I'm running for the people, and I resigned my position as a sergeant with the police department to run for the people. So I am going to give them what they're asking for and what's necessary to bring this city back from what it was 30 years ago. Because the way I see it—and after talking to so many people for 13 years on the street, they see it the same way—things can't stay the same. We've got to have change. Me and my staff, and me and the citizens of Jackson, we can change Jackson.
With the improvements with what they are doing to roads, is getting those jobs and keeping them localized to Jackson something you will be focused on?
One of my big things is (that if) you earn your money in Jackson, you should be able to spend your money in Jackson, even for recreation purposes. We don't even have a theater in the city of Jackson.
I'm just going to let the citizens know I'm working on a program to bring a theater to Jackson. I don't know why it's so hard; it's not. If you want something you can get it. I've been asked about what do I feel about a casino in Jackson. If you earn your money here, I don't see a problem with having one here for you to spend it, plus the economy will rise.
The JFP has contacted the city of Jackson and the Jackson Police Department to request more information on grants for city youth programs, the former DART program and loss of incentives at JPD.
Due to the holidays, we made the calls on short notice and were not able to get responses to our messages prior to press time.
Comment and email Jacob D. Fuller at [email protected]