John H. Jones Jr. is a highly educated and experienced administrator, and he wants to bring those qualities to the Jackson mayor's office.
At 58, Jones holds three degrees from Jackson State University: a bachelor's in industrial management earned in 1988, a master's in education/technology management from the following year, and doctorate in educational administration/administration of higher education earned in 1997.
Jones was born in Thornton, near Tchula, Miss., and graduated salutatorian in 1974 from East Flora High School. His technical experience began in the U.S. Air Force, where he was an air-traffic control technician, and he has taught tech courses in a number of colleges.
He and his second wife, Susie, live in north Jackson's Ward 1. They married in 1991. Jones has three grown children by first wife.
Why do you want to be mayor of Jackson?
I think that there are a lot of things going on in Jackson. Jackson has a lot of potential, but I don't think we're living up to it, because the people don't seem to have a vision for getting things done to make the city more than the status quo.
When you say the people, do you mean the administration?
Yes. I don't have anything personal against Harvey Johnson, but I don't think he's moving the city along at the pace that we need to be moving along. ...
I think Harvey has a vision, but it's not the vision that I would have.
Tell me about yours.
My vision is to make Jackson the premiere city in the state of Mississippi. We are the largest city in the state of Mississippi, but we're--I don't know--we're like stepchildren to Pearl, Ridgeland, Madison. We should be leadership for those people. We should be taking a leadership role. I don't mind working collaboratively with those cities, but we've got to take care of Jackson first. We've got to make sure that we're spending our money in Jackson rather than taking it across county lines.
As mayor, what would you do differently than what Harvey Johnson is doing now in terms of creating those relationships with those cities?
Well, as I say, work collaboratively with all of those people. We can collaborate and still be in competition with those people. And when I say "those people," I mean those cities. We need to do like a metropolitan consortium, or something of that nation. When an industry moves to Madison or moves to Ridgeland, they're moving (there) because of their proximity to Jackson. So, we just need to take a greater leadership role and be more aggressive in attracting new industry into the area.
Obviously, development is a big deal in Jackson.
Yes. Most people are jumping up and down about the infrastructure. Most people in the city are concerned about the infrastructure with the streets and the flooding and things like that that are going on. All of those can be taken care of, but it's not an overnight thing. We didn't dig ourselves into this hole in one year, and we're not going to dig ourselves out in a year, so I would make that one of my second priorities--the infrastructure. My first priority would be economic development, because I believe that if we have people that are making a decent living here in the city of Jackson, we wouldn't have the crime rate that we have. People don't go out and steal because they're innately bad people; they're trying to make ends meet just like the rest of us are. So if there were greater economic opportunities in the city of Jackson, I think we would have less crime.
As mayor, what specifically would you do in order to increase the opportunities?
Economic opportunities? Basically, I would do a better job of recruiting businesses to come to the city of Jackson. And also, I would expand our tax base by giving people enticements to move to Jackson.
We have a glut of housing that is unoccupied. There's no reason that those houses should be unoccupied other than we've got the highest taxes in the state and in the county. So, so one of my incentives would be to try and get some kind of tax abatement. If you were to, say, move into one of the target neighborhoods and you're willing to invest some money in there, we could give you a tax rebate for three or five years.
A lot of those properties are owned, so we may have out-of-state landlords and certainly out-of-the-city landlords.
I understand that. I think we should also have a database of all those properties, and if those properties are just sitting there vacant--a lot of these people from out of town aren't paying the taxes on them. They're going as delinquent tax properties. So I would definitely try to sell some of those delinquent tax properties, and get people in there that are actually productive citizens who are actually paying their taxes, and spending their money in the city of Jackson.
Are you saying to circumvent due process?
No. I believe in following the law. You don't survive in higher education if you don't pay attention to the ethics. I'm not trying to skirt around the existing laws.
Or seize properties...
Exactly. You have to go through whatever process it takes, but you have to have a list of those properties that are available, and we should make that list available to anybody that wants to relocate to Jackson.
And where would you get the money to fund that?
It's like anything else. We have finite budgets, so you've got to allocate the money appropriately, and you've to got to possibly steal from Peter to pay Paul, but you've got to have your agenda, and you've got to have your strategic plan in place there. That's what I'm talking about.
We just basically willy-nilly, "We're going to do this."
I was at a meeting with Councilman (Quentin) Whitwell last night. He's my councilman for the city. And he was talking about the situation with the, I think it was the street pavement or something like that. But the mayor wanted to spend all of the money in one year and not be able to repair streets for 10 years. That's asinine! You've got to build your maintenance into the budget, and it should be ongoing. It shouldn't be just at election time that you think about paving streets. That kind of thing has to be built into the budget, and it has to be ongoing for the next 10 or 20 years.
You said economic development would be your top priority?
Yes. Getting new business into Jackson. Getting more people in Jackson that are spending money and paying taxes.
What do you think is the best way to attract businesses to Jackson?
The same think I was talking about earlier: Give them a reason to come. Give them tax incentives. Give them some tax rebates. Did you hear about what's going with Toyota? They're expanding their plant in Alabama. Alabama is giving them something like a $125 million tax rebate, but that's going to make $500 million for Alabama. So, I think that's a wise investment. Those are the kinds of things I would do.
What about the business that are already here? How would you support local businesses and small businesses?
I think small business is the key to it. Those are the people that area actually generating jobs. You could get a large corporation to come in that's going to hire 50 or 100 people. But you have people in the community that's willing to make a startup business. I would try to find some support for those.
Right now, I'm going to be honest, I don't know where we would get that money, and it has to come from somewhere. It has to come from existing budgeted items, But those small businesses who are the ones who are actually employing people--the mom-and-pop stores on the corner.
We don't have neighborhoods like we used to. I've lived in Jackson for the past 40 years, and I can remember when you could go to Westland Plaza, when you could go to Southpointe, you know different subdivisions, and you could shop in those subdivisions. They've all closed now. Is that because we don't have a business-friendly atmosphere or what? Or is it because of crime?
You tell me.
I think it's because we don't give people any incentives to go ahead and start businesses. And we tax them to death when they do.
Now, as mayor, I can't do a whole lot about the taxation, but I can advocate for it. As far as the Legislature (goes), but I can, as mayor, whisper in their ear.
The city of Jackson and the state of Mississippi, the Legislature have had a pretty ...
That's a good way to put it. How, as mayor, would you seek to resolve some of those issues?
I would try to form some coalitions. Get some people who are like-minded who want to move the city of Jackson forward. I would even advocate for some kind of a commuter tax. We have all kinds of people who are coming in to the city of Jackson. Those people are the ones that are tearing up the streets and using the resources, but they don't pay anything. They want to charge an extra-high tax in the city of Jackson, but who pays that tax? Those of us who choose to live here. Because we pay that tax every day. Those people only pay it Monday through Friday. We pay for it Saturday and Sunday, 24-hours a day. Those other people go back to their bedroom communities.
One of the things I would advocate is a commuter tax. It wouldn't have to be an exorbitant amount. It could be something like a sticker on your vehicle--$5 a year. And that would be used to build up the infrastructure and take some of the tax burden off of the residents of the city of Jackson.
So this would be a fee that you would charge for people who work in the city, but live outside it?
Yes. If you work inside the city of Jackson and don't pay taxes in Jackson or Hinds County, probably if you don't pay taxes in Jackson, you'd be liable for that fee.
Now, I know that's controversial, and I've talked to some of the powers that be and you've got to be at least 300,000 residents of the city to have a commuter fee. But those are the things that could be changed by the Legislature. And that's the kind of think that I would work onl.
People will always tell you what you can't do, and I'm trying to say that you can do anything if we collaborate and get people to buy into the ideas. And they're good ideas.
You talked about the fact that people want to increase taxes in the city. I'm assuming you're talking about the 1-percent sales tax.
Yes. There should be no reason that Jackson should have a higher sales tax than the surrounding area, because that's enticing people to leave Jackson and go to those other surrounding areas to make those purchases.
You said infrastructure was going to be your number 2 priority.
It may not necessarily be my number two. I plan to attack all of our--the 10 things listed on my platform, all of those things will be attacked, but some of them will be attacked more vigorously than others.
Well, we are facing a $400 million dollar bill over the next 17 years because of the EPA consent decree.
And that's because we didn't do what we were supposed to do for the last 20 years. But sooner or later, your chickens come home to roost.
We've got to pay for that. You talked about a commuter tax, but that would take Legislation. How do you plan to raise funds immediately?
We're going to have to pay that bill no matter what.
By expanding our tax base--bringing in new people and new businesses. It all kind of works together.
Clearly, but the city has been losing population for decades.
But we still have this massive infrastructure that we've got to support.
Now, I know this is going to sound controversial to some people, but we should actually consider reducing the area of the city. I don't want to give any specifics, because I don't want people in south Jackson, west Jackson, east Jackson saying that I want to let them move to another city and move out of the city of Jackson. But there are ways to do this. We have tons of streets that need repair. We have tons of streets that are unused. Now, why don't we close some of those streets.
Give me an example of streets that are unused.
Say in west Jackson where the population has declined a heck of a lot. Some of those streets could actually be closed down. Or, if we can't get people to move into those streets, you actually close the streets down. And it has been done in certain areas.
So how would that increase the tax base?
No. It's where you don't have to perform maintenance on those streets, so it reduces overhead.
Now, all of these things are suggestions. I'm always open to suggestions from other people. I plan to work closely with the city council. Because they are probably more aware of what's going on in their particular ward than I am as a visitor to that ward.
Let's talk about crime.
That's where my background in technology would come into play. I've been involved in technology for the last 25 to 30 years, and this is technology related to higher education, but some of those same aspects could carry over into municipal operations, things like surveillance. We're doing policing in the same way we did it 30 years ago, where you have a cop on the beat who's driving around looking at things. We should be able to have video surveillance wherever it's needed, and an example would actually be the (Boston Marathon) bombing that happened on Monday. (The FBI) was able to get pictures of those people. We're not using any technology similar to that here in Jackson on a wise-spread basis. Now, I realize it may be used in the Capitol or something like that with Homeland Security money or something like that, but I think that kind of technology should be more prevalent in the city.
We could even be using things like GPS systems to monitor our fleet of vehicles that are owned by the city. The city has the largest vehicle fleet in the state, as far as municipalities go. Now, how many of those cars are sitting there idle or running with the air conditioners on when it's hot? With a GPS tracking system, you could monitor and control all of that. That's a way of controlling cost, but has anybody got a vision for that? They probably don't know what GPS is, and it's been used in the trucking industry for the last 25 years.
You can collect all kinds of data--when the cars need to have maintenance done on them. That could extend the life of the vehicles that we buy. We need to be buying vehicles on a cyclical basis, not just say, "We have 30 cars that we need to get this year," to be economical in the process. That's strategic planning.
Do you know for sure that there isn't a plan to do those kinds of things?
Well, if I look at the numbers of raggedy cop cars that are out there on the streets, I believe that it's not. Now, they may be doing something similar to that--I promise you (that) I can't tell you all of the ins and outs of every department in the city--but if I'm elected Mayor, I will become very aware of what's going on in every department. The could be doing something like that, but I don't think so. We are more in the--how can I say it--the mom-and-pop way of doing things. We're doing things the way we've always done them. We're not looking at any new, innovative ideas as to how to accomplish the same end. Again, that's where my scientific and technology background comes into play, and that's what makes me different from the rest of the candidates, because most of those are political people.
I'm not a politician. I may become a politician, but I am a guy that gets the job done. I've managed technology at the university center; I've managed technology at Jackson State University, and I managed technology at a three-campus community college up in West Virginia. In that capacity, I was in charge of all the technology, whether it was from the heating and air-conditioning systems to building access. I'm well versed in technology, and that is what I'll use to change the city of Jackson.
Now, I know it costs money--everything costs money--but you've got to allocate your funds.
Let's flip this around a bit, because what you're talking about is crime prevention. Talk to me about the causes of crime and how you would attack those causes.
As I said earlier when we were talking about economic development, people are robbing and stealing and breaking into house because they are poor. If we make more economic opportunities available, I think the crime rate would go down.
But you've also got a city where, in some schools, the dropout rate is nearing 50 percent.
That's another problem that we've definitely got to address. The school system in Jackson--again--is the largest school system in the state.
So what would you do differently as mayor?
The only thing the mayor can do is appoint people to the school board. I've been in higher education, and I've been in the education system long enough to know that the Department of Education sets the criteria for how a principal is hired and the criteria for a teacher to be hired in order to meet certain standards. So, what we're going to have to do is to do something better. I am in favor of charter schools, and it's not that I'm dissatisfied with the public-education system that we currently have, but when you're doing the same thing over and over, that's the true measure of insanity. You're doing the same thing over and over, but you're expecting a different outcome.
I am in favor of having some charter schools and trying some different things, some things that work. I mean, there's got to be a solution to keep people from dropping out of school. How we get there? It's going to take some innovate ideas and some innovative actions to do this. Again, the mayor can only appoint people to the school board.
What would you look for in your board appointees?
I'm looking for people who would have an agenda similar to mine, and I would make that perfectly clear to those people before I appointed them to the board. If you have someone who just wants to sit on the board for the prestige of sitting on the board, that's not even in my vocabulary. If you're not willing to do something once you get there, then I couldn't see myself appointing you to a board.
Do you think school-board members should be elected instead of appointed?
That's a hard question, because I don't have a problem with them being appointed, but when you get to the election, you're looking at a popularity contest, and I don't think that's a good idea. I don't think that's a good way to do business. So, I believe that the appointment is a whole lot better, because the mayor gets to evaluate that person to see if their agenda coincides with his agenda and if they have the same ideas. If you were going to vote for that person, it would be who could persuade the most people to vote for them, and they may or may not be a good person for that position.
You said you were for charter schools. What is it that you think charter schools are doing better at this point?
That's just it. They're doing some things different. They're teaching different ways. In order to be certified to be a teacher in Mississippi, you've got to jump through all kinds of hoops that don't necessarily make you a better teacher, that don't necessarily make you a better educator, that don't make students learn a whole lot better, but we're doing it simply because that's the way it's always been done.
What I'm saying is that we should have some incubators that are doing something different and compare them to what we're currently doing, and see if there's a difference in the outcomes. ... The thing is, we're teaching the same way that we did 30 years ago, the way we did 200 years ago. I'm into distance education. I've been manager of education at the university center. ... Our kids are growing up with computers, but our schools don't have the computers that they need. We're still sending people to computer labs. That's old technology. ...
First of all, we need to make sure our kids can read; that's the root of our problem. People can't read, and when they get to (grades) 11 and 12 and they get ready to go to college, they still can't read. There's something systemically wrong with our system that we're not teaching people how to read. I don't know what that answer is, but I'm willing to try some different things to find out the answers to that. ... Some people bloom earlier, and some people bloom later, and I think the educational system has to adjust to that. ...
Technology is not the only answer to our problems, but we need to apply what's appropriate.
How would you address the problem of low voter turnout?
I think it's apathy. People don't think their vote counts. It's a matter of educating people and letting them know that their vote does make a difference.
I've had people, good friends, who have said, "I don't vote." And I say, "Do you know that people died so that we could have the right to vote?" And I mean "we" as black people.
And they will say, "Well, what good is it going to do? They're just going to put whoever they want in there."
They don't have the understanding that their vote can actually make a difference in determining how we do things in the state of Mississippi.