We can see it from both sides—Mayor Tony Yarber, after running on a platform of transparency, has dipped deep in to the rainy day fund and then brought it up after the fact. And while the entire Siemens contract and water snafu isn't completely his fault, it hasn't exactly been managed with great alacrity.
At the same time, Yarber has a valid concern with the Jackson City Council, which is blocking some very important contracts that have legal timelines associated with them. Whether the decisions are "political" or the council is afraid to spend money, these may not be the swords to fall on. The sludge needs to get out of the water treatment facility; the EPA consent decreed work on water and wastewater needs to move forward.
As we explore this week in reporter Tim Summer's piece (see page 7), the foundation of these problems is distrust of contractors both outside and inside the city limits. The $90-million Siemens "performance" contract has netted the city very little upside, and we're still digging out of the poor implementation; the possibility of being fleeced again may be on all of our politicians' minds.
The current state of water bills is just one more excuse—added to infrastructure woes, lead scares and the smack in the face most folks get once a year with their Hinds car tags—that mobile professionals give for moving outside the city limits. And we don't need more of those excuses; we need fewer.
To tackle these problems, we need to get beyond distrust. The way to get beyond that is verification. And the best way to verify that tax dollars are being spent in the city's best interest is for the mayor and council to work together on a very open, transparent method for determining who should get the contracts and how they're going to report back that the work is getting done on time and on budget.
We're less than a year out from the mayoral election, and that worries us at the JFP, because the grandstanding may already be beginning. But right now, Jackson is in a precarious position; bond ratings are falling, rainy day funds are depleted, and key administration officials are leaving.
It also doesn't help that the Legislature seems hell-bent on hurting Jackson more, and, of course, can't seem to keep its own economic head above water, given recent indicators that Mississippi's economy is now the worst in the country.
The mayor and council have a tough task ahead of them—they're going to have to put aside politics as much as possible and govern the city very closely over the next six months. And citizens must telegraph that we will only endorse and vote for leaders who avoid obstructionism and lean into collaboration for the good of the community.
Start the campaigns in 2017; for now, the city needs its leaders to work together, manage these projects and get critical stuff done.