In his State of the City address last week, Mayor Tony Yarber promised "momentum" from the City of Jackson. This, of course, may be difficult for many Jackson residents to believe, considering the problems with contracts, infrastructure, potholes, a budget crisis and too much in-fighting between the mayor and council, not to mention the mayor's political supporters and detractors.
In interviews with the Jackson Free Press recently, Yarber emphasized that his administration inherited many problems. They did: the infrastructure has been crumbling for years; Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. used to talk about it constantly, but it wasn't sexy enough then for many residents to care about. And none of us paid close enough attention, or were provided full information, in order to monitor the so-called solutions to those problems, including the Siemens contract and use of 1-percent sales-tax funds—problems that the Johnson, Lumumba and Yarber administration have shared.
Yarber also talked about a fall in crime and gave the Jackson Police Department full credit for it. We were reminded of a recent ride-along with Yarber through west and south Jackson when he talked extensively about how our violent-crime challenges—which a 2016 BOTEC report boiled down to 225 most-at-risk young people in Jackson Public Schools—can't be met by elected officials or the police alone. We contend that falling crime cannot be credited to the police alone, either.
The mayor also talked about the need for systemic organization and long-range planning on all fronts, pointing to efforts by former Public Works Director Keisha Powell to develop a smart infrastructure plan that didn't just respond to the typical uninformed gotcha journalism that dominates much city coverage. We had grown to appreciate Powell's approach after an in-depth conversion with her, but she left for greener pastures in Atlanta, Ga.
We agree with the mayor that Jackson needs to get organized. As we have unfolded our ongoing "Preventing Violence" series (jfp.ms/preventingviolence) to look closely at causes and solutions for crime, especially for those 225 young people, it strikes us that many of the solutions, although well-meaning, do happen in what Yarber called "silos." We also agree with him that Jackson residents have a really bad habit of believing that our elected officials should fix all our problems for us.
What we actually need is leadership, organization, transparency, and a whole lot less defensiveness and infighting from our leaders. We need to see independence from their campaign supporters from day one—a public struggle that clearly hurt Yarber's ability to lead the city from the beginning.
We like a lot of what we're hearing now from Yarber—and the fact that he has put his own defensiveness aside and developed a tougher skin for real questioning that goes deep into solutions. We can see that he is trying to lead his own administration on that front as well and focus on what needs to happen rather than allowing his team to lead with ego and get their feelings hurt by criticism.
As the mayoral election unfolds, we want to see more of this—from Yarber and his opponents. The only mayor any of us should elect is one with a laser focus on getting our city organized to solve our problems together. We need real leadership now.