During Mayor Tony Yarber's campaign, he said he would be dedicated to working for the "everyday people of Jackson" if elected. His administration's failure to address the state Legislature's amendment of the 1-percent sales tax legislation through the passage of House Bill 787 is instructive as to how a Yarber administration makes decision without the input of the citizens of Jackson.
It is the administration's public duty to seek counsel and insight from the people before making a decision that has widespread implications for the future of our city; otherwise, who is he serving? The citizens of Jackson passed the 1-percent sales referendum in its original form. His failure to engage and educate the citizens of Jackson on this important issue is an affront to the democratic process.
In January 2014, an overwhelming 90 percent of Jackson voters voted to tax themselves so that the City of Jackson could afford the necessary infrastructure repairs that would help improve the streets, water and the city's sewage system. However, amidst the turmoil and contention created by the untimely death of our mayor and the special election to replace him, the state Legislature passed House Bill 787 in April 2014 that amended the original legislation.
HB 787 became effective April 24, 2014, the day that Tony Yarber was sworn in as mayor of Jackson. It exempts from the tax the wholesale sale of food and drinks purchased by vendors and alcoholic beverages. This amendment is beneficial to mainly business owners.
Unfortunately, this action by the Legislature may reduce the $15 million in projected revenue that the tax was expected to produce. This could mean that certain infrastructure repairs may be stalled or the city may have to forego certain repairs altogether if the city does not have enough funds to make the necessary repairs. The Legislature's action creates a conundrum because it altered the tax without consulting the citizens of Jackson and, based on reports from the Jackson Free Press, the amendment was made in a manner that was less than transparent with city government officials.
The Yarber administration's initial silence and failure to address the issue until a couple of months later is interesting. When Mayor Yarber did speak about the Legislature's actions at a public forum at Koinonia Coffee House, he said that he viewed it as a trade-off that he would not challenge because the city will have the opportunity to collect the tax for an additional three years.
The state's action may be an excellent trade-off for Jacksonians, but as an elected official and self-proclaimed public servant, Mayor Yarber and his administration have a duty to educate and consult the citizens of Jackson about how they felt about the state's amendment of the 1-percent sales tax legislation. The following are a few critical questions that the citizens need answers to regarding the future of the tax: 1) How much money will the city collect from the 1-percent sales tax legislation in its amended form? 2) Who was responsible for authoring and introducing HB 787? 3) How will the Legislature's amendment to the 1 percent tax legislation affect Jackson's ability to meet the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency's Consent Decree given to the City of Jackson in 2009? 4) How much money has been collected from the tax to date? 5) What other sources of funding is the city pursuing to ensure that the necessary infrastructure repairs will be made over time?
If the Yarber administration is one that is dedicated to ensuring that the will of the citizens be respected and that the voice of the "everyday people" is heard, it should have educated the citizens of Jackson about how and why the tax was amended, listened to how the people feel about the state's action, and based on what the citizens felt needed to be done, researched the next steps and identified avenues to address the state's actions.
The Yarber administration's failure to do these things is a prime example of devaluing the thoughts and opinions of the people that it serves when it really counts. Although Jacksonians did not have the opportunity to have a say in the decision to accept the amended version of the 1-percent sales tax, we must still take action to ensure our collective voice is heard at the doors of both city and state government on this critical issue.
Adofo Minka is a native of St. Louis, Mo., who moved to Jackson with his family two and a half years ago. He is a practicing criminal defense attorney and founding attorney of the Law Center for Human Rights and Justice. Minka is also a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and a founding member of Cooperation Jackson, an emerging network of worker-owned and democratically operated cooperative enterprises based in Jackson.