Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber has said the City would not patrol the fair this year because of the $324,000 price tag to provide security for the two-week event.
Photo by Imani Khayyam.
Update: The City of Jackson and State Fair Commission reached a compromise on Oct. 6 that involves JPD assigning 20 officers to the fair. Ten of those officers will be off-duty under contract with the fair commission with the remaining 10 city-provided from beat patrols. Chief Lee Vance said that the arrangement should not affect the department's overtime budget. The opened Wednesday, Oct. 7.
Ahead of a hearing on the matter, the City of Jackson has responded to a lawsuit from the Mississippi State Fair Commission, saying that the state has no authority to compel a municipality to spend money, especially when that City is strapped for cash.
In the City's 16-page answer to the fair commission's suit, filed in Hinds County Chancery Court over the City's refusal to assign Jackson Police Department patrols to the state fair, attorneys for Jackson spelled out their argument.
"This fiscal year, the City is undergoing budget cuts and furloughs of its employees. The Jackson Police Department does not have any extra expenditures (in) its budget to pay overtime compensation to its officers to man this State-sponsored event. To require the City of Jackson to pay this amount of unbudgeted overtime will violate a Mississippi State law which requires the City to operate with a balanced budget and could potentially expose Jackson Police Chief (Lee) Vance to individual liability," attorneys wrote on the City's behalf.
According to the fair commission's complaint, state law gives municipalities the power and authority to maintain police forces and that power "has been consistently interpreted as duty and responsibility." The complaint also states that municipalities may not withhold police protection from citizens. Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber has said the City would not patrol the fair this year because of the $324,000 price tag to provide security for the two-week event.
A hearing was scheduled at 9 a.m. today before Chancellor Denise Owens, but as of press time, it had not started, presumably as the parties worked out a compromise in Judge Owens' chambers.
The City also argues that Vance would suffer "irreparable harm" should JPD be forced to pay for security and cites a state law that says "a department head may not make expenditures in excess of the budget outlined and adopted by the City Council."
"Jackson Police Chief Vance is the official charged with the duty of creating and implementing a budget for the Jackson Police Department. As previously stated, the additional expense that the Plaintiff is demanding that the City absorb is not a budgeted expense. To force Chief Vance to make this expenditure in excess of the approved budget will expose Chief Vance to personal liability and the likelihood of irreparable harm," attorneys write.
The City also argues that "there is no statutory authority that will allow the City to issue funds to cover the Commission's request that JPD act as its private security and traffic personnel."
"The Commission has been on notice for months that the City of Jackson does not have the funds to pay for the costs of extra personnel at this State-sponsored event. Now, on the eve of the event, the Commission is requesting the Jackson Police Department order an unspecified amount of police officers to work security and traffic for a two-week time frame. Not only does this request create a logistical concern as far as staffing needs, but should JPD have to use its man-power to provide security to the Commission, the citizens of the City of Jackson would suffer."
The complaint continues: "As previously stated, the City of Jackson is undergoing budget cuts and furloughs to its employees. In order to operate within its budget and still provide the Commission with security personnel, other officers from other precincts will be pulled from their daily duties to attend this special event. This puts the safety of the citizens of Jackson at risk because precincts will be understaffed and unable to meet the daily needs in securing the safety of other precincts city-wide.
The City also states that the fair commission was placed on notice months ago that the City would not be able to use JPD at this year's fair, but "the Commission failed to make any provisions to secure police personnel for their event. Should the City now be forced to provide for and pay officers overtime to work this event, the City will be irreparably harmed because state law requires that a municipality operate with a balanced budget.