On Nov. 17, Mayor Tony Yarber participated in Operation Shoestring's annual Conversation About Community, which focused on ethical leadership. Today, Yarber, unprompted, responded to rumors that he or members of his administration are under scrutiny saying that he has not spoken to federal investigators.
Photo by Trip Burns.
The meaning behind several cryptic tweets from Mayor Tony Yarber on Friday came into focus today as Yarber addressed rumors that he and other city hall officials could be targets of a federal corruption probe and that Yarber himself was arrested Friday afternoon.
"Thought they had some news cause they listen conjuring fools! smh," said one tweet from the mayor, who says he was in Austin, Texas, at a National League of Cities conference that several members of the city council also attended. "Wonder if they're all still gathered at City Hall?"
For weeks, rumors have swirled in local media and political circles that a federal law enforcement agency is taking a hard look at City Hall contracts, possibly dating back to 2012.
"My team will not focus on rumors that come from a small group of insignificants," Yarber told reporters this morning in his ceremonial city hall office.
Yarber explained that, when he took office in April, he invited state Auditor Stacey Pickering to conduct an audit. Specifically, Yarber said, the auditor would examine the city's "major contracting departments," including the departments of administration and finance, public works and planning, as well as the police and fire departments. That audit is underway and findings, if there are any, have yet to be issued, Yarber said.
Asked pointedly if the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into improprieties in the mayor's office or his mayoral campaign earlier this year, Yarber said no.
"If they have, they've done it without me in the room," Yarber said.
Numerous sources in the Jackson legal and political community suggested that the city's $90 million Siemens contract could be a target in the investigation, Yarber, who voted to approve that contract, when he was city council president, said today that his administration has "not been any part of any major contract negotiations" in the seven months since he took office and that while he served on the council as the Ward 6 representative, and as council president, he "didn't have an opportunity to participate in contracting."
Recently, at Yarber's urging, the city council approved a contract with Charlotte, N.C.-based Raftelis Financial Consultants Inc. for $200,000 to look at the so-called performance guarantee of the Siemens contract. Even though city leaders, including late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, have wondered aloud if the contract can be terminated, Yarber said ending the Siemens agreement is not within Raftelis' scope of work.
Sources have told the Jackson Free Press that several computers were taken from city hall that may be part of the federal probe. Yarber dismissed those claims today, saying that a city employee donated computers, which were not city property, to a local church's youth programs. Yarber said the transfer, which happened in city hall's back parking lot, was not illegal or improper.
Yarber declined to name the church that received the donated computers and, because nothing improper took place, he said he has not ordered any policy changes to avoid future appearances of impropriety.
The mayor could not confirm to reporters if other city hall officials have spoken with investigators. "I will only answer questions that I have knowledge," Yarber said.
Email news editor R.L. Nave at [email protected] or call 601-362-6121 ext. 12.