Wednesday, January 25, 2006
As much as I attempt to cover issues apart from city politics, I always end up getting dragged right back to the council chambers and good ol' Frank Melton, a mayor elected last year based on his pledges to clean up crime within 90 days.
No surprise really that the winner for best scandal turned out be none other than the illustrious Frankster himself. It had to be him, because committing big scandal takes big cajones—and Frank's got cajones to spare. After all, that's what got him elected.
I mean, who else could stand before a judge in Lauderdale County Circuit Court, and profess with a straight face that he had no idea that court depositions were legally required to contain facts.
The court case goes back to Melton's days as MBN director, when Melton released a memo to Clarion-Ledger reporter Ana Radelat that wound up in the newspaper as a story. The memo made some people look bad. The state auditor debunked the memo, and the incriminated parties sued both the paper and Melton, who denied being the one who ratted the memo.
Melton could deny leaking the memo for as long as Radelat refused to out her source. When Lauderdale County Circuit Court Judge Robert Bailey ordered Radelat to pony up a name, Melton took the initiative and admitted that he'd faxed her the thing after all. Bailey was flabbergasted and furious at the disrespect Melton showed to his court by lying more than once. Melton told the judge that because he was a journalist (while directing MBN), he believed he could lie.
Bailey didn't buy it, though, saying in his decision for the plaintiffs that Melton "has been a party to litigation in the past" and that he basically knew damn well what a deposition was by now.
Which brings us to Melton as a public figure. Melton came on the Jackson scene early in the 1980s—looking to make a difference by selflessly mentoring lads who were making a slew of bad life decisions. He's opened his home to countless teenagers. Some successfully changed their ways. Others, Melton says often, he "had to bury."
With Melton you get a mixed bag of nuts. Melton wasn't altogether sincere with the Jackson Municipal Democratic Executive Committee as far back as April 4, 2005, when he claimed he'd filed his homestead exemption in Jackson—and then offered to proffer the proof papers to the committee. Maybe the committee should've taken him up on that offer; he actually hadn't filed anywhere other than Texas since 1997.
Days after winning the primary in March, television reporters approached Melton to interview with him about his plans for the city and caught him in the middle of one city plan already—he was stealing water from a city fire hydrant to fill a pool at the YMCA. Nobody made a big stink out of it; this was our new mayor, after all—a diamond in the rough.
But despite the JFP's often-critical view of the mayor and his actions and often-unfulfilled and/or illegal promises, Melton qualifies in our poll as one of the most under-appreciated people in the city. We don't quite get why our readers feel the guy isn't buried under enough praise. He seems to get more opportunities to clean up his messes than anyone we've ever observed in public office.
Weeks after Melton entered the mayoral office, he demanded that the city's board and commission members virtually disband and re-submit their applications for his approval. The boards ignored Melton's demand—being that he did not have the legal authority to demand their resignations.
Nope, there's just no telling why our voters rate Melton as under-appreciated. Perhaps the love is getting held by the city's more than 1,200 employees—the ones that can't even talk to us on the record because they're terrified of their mayor. "You can't get me to talk, and you probably ain't gonna get nobody else in my department to say anything either," says yet another employee out of the countless list who hide their names. "This man has no heart. He doesn't care about your family. He doesn't care about your retirement or the years you've slaved on this job. He'll fire you just in time for Christmas, and Civil Service just lets him do it."
Indeed, Melton has already sacked a few dozen employees from Planning and Development (yes, just in time for Christmas) and about 20 from the police department, and some single mothers who worked for the now dismantled Community Police unit—all the while refusing to offer names or reasons for dismissals at every JFP reporter request. It seems odd behavior for a man who claims he lied in court depositions to protect a source out of a media obligation.
During his first seven months, Melton has indeed proven quite the community activist.
Melton has been working to find buyers for the now-defunct Winn-Dixie grocery stores littering the city. Just last week, Melton was proud to announce the recent conversion of a store in Ward 4, saving the building from life as a burned-out husk—which can't be said for the former Jackson Novelty Bookstore on Terry Road. It was only a porn store before Melton raided it twice, walking off with a wide variety of curly latex goodies and closing it down, but it was a tax-paying business. Contrary to some businesses in that community, it actually had customers, even if they did have a habit of slinking off and ducking hurriedly into their cars.
The store's been closed for months, now. A few weeks ago some locals got inside the empty building and set it on fire, and it's now a burnt-out husk sitting beside a family restaurant, looking ugly and attracting the kind of crowd that may not be an improvement over the last crowd.
Melton is working hard to keep things moving, though. He's worked to close down the Maple Street Apartments on more than one occasion, although pesky laws requiring local governments to follow procedures before evicting tenants keep stalling his efforts.
Still, he made a big impression. Showing up in full crime-fighting regalia with a bulletproof vest, the mobile crime van and a submachine gun was a hit with the locals. Ward 4 Councilman Kenneth Stokes would probably have burst a vein if the face behind that fake badge had been white, but who's to say? Stokes has been mighty quiet lately.
Melton said of the event that he was only preparing for the worst.
"When we get four calls that when we show up we're going to get shot on the spot, I'm gonna do what I've got to do, and I will continue to do what I've got to do," Melton said. A young boy threw a
rock at the retreating mobile crime van.
Say what you will about our esteemed mayor, you cannot deny that Melton has come to symbolize change. City government has already seen some very serious changes. Since taking office, he's worked to subvert the power of the council on numerous occasions. Consider the nomination of interim fire chief Todd Chandler. Chandler may or may not have been happy to lead the Jackson Fire Department. It's hard to tell if he knew the kind of opposition he was about to face from the council. Even Ward 4's Kenneth Stokes is hard pressed to favor the guy, so Melton has decreed that he has not yet put the confirmation of Chandler before the council. He says the council hasn't grown up enough in its views to confirm him—so he keeps the guy hanging on in limbo as interim, despite the fact that state law requires a council vote even to confirm an interim position.
Melton has also taken the council's power to confirm the city's next lobbying firm, replacing the hugely successful Winston & Strawn LLP, which netted more than $111 million for the city, with a personal assistant whose position does not require a council vote. Melton has also given back precious city donations to wealthy hospitals that were willing to give them and has dismissed Fire Department grant writers, who regularly garnered money for the JFD, all without council supervision. Don't even bother asking the council president whether the city's bond rating is in danger of being slashed. He can't tell you because Melton doesn't tell him.
Change is, indeed, in the air.
Best Local Scandal
Second place: FEMA
Third place: Gov. Haley Barbour
Best Public Figure
Second place: Haley Barbour
Third place: Pat Fordice
Most Under-appreciated Jacksonian
Second place: Harvey Johnson Jr.
Third place: Dent May
Second place: Donna Ladd
Third place: Malcolm White
Best Change to the City
Second place: Downtown redevelopment
Third place: Fondren
Best Visual Artist:
Everyone knows that Mississippi native Wyatt Waters is in love with his home state. It's especially evident in the way his heart slides down his paintbrush and bleeds beautiful positive bright blues, yellows and pinks in surreal images that depict the emotion of the moment. Waters' watercolors are masterpieces of his soul. And his soul is Mississippi. We love his wife Vicki, too.
Waters may be the most famous artist in Jackson these days, but the Mississippi native had to work hard to get there. On his Web site (wyattwaters.com), Waters tells the story of how he got started in the Capital City: "I went around to galleries and was met with the same response, 'No one knows who you are.' So I began working in the center of the capital city. The downtown. ... Buildings were being torn down and many of Jackson's buildings of personality were vanishing."
Thankfully, Waters kept painting.
Second place: Ellen Langford and Josh Hailey (tie)
Third place: William GoodmanGood showing: Tony DiFatta
Miss Welty's done it again — taken the most votes from Jackson's readers. It's no wonder. She painted Southern places and people with her words, leaving us with vivid memories of rivers, flowers, front porches, trees and the lives and loves of people who daily deal with their lives and all that entails. And guess what? You, those who hold Miss Welty in such high esteem, will be able to tour the inside of her house and the gardens that surround it this year, beginning with a special free preview of the house April 29-30, 2006. The gardens open for tours on May 3. If you happen to make your reservations to tour the house and/or gardens on the 13th of the month, you'll get in free in honor of Miss Welty's birthday, April 13. Put in on the calendar, 1119 Pinehurst in Belhaven. Call 601-353-7762 to make reservations. Go soak up Miss Welty's vibes.
Second place: Donna Ladd and Douglas Ray (tie)
Third place: Casey Parks
Good showing: Jill Conner Browne
Best Radio Personality:
Rock 93.9 Morning Wood
What's the best way to wake up in the morning? With a good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) case of Morning Wood.
This particular example of Morning Wood actually involves two men hard-pressed to get you to pop straight up out of bed in the morning and sit right in their laps. Proverbially, that is. What is their charge? Rock 93.9's Morning Wood team—Brad Stevens and Richard Cranium—want to be the "best" morning show team in a city filled with stiff competition.
Picture these dudes: Brad with his spiky orange hair and tattoos; Richard with his slick bald head and "I comes before u" t-shirt, and you'll know exactly what you're in for—a romp in the morning hay.
Just don't turn the dial prematurely; you don't want to miss the best part of your trip to the Wood shed.
Second place: Bob & Bender
Third place: Skyla Dawn
Good showing: Peter Christian
Best Radio Station:
Jack FM 94.7
Jackson has been begging for fresh radio since the legendary ZZQ left the local scene. What was most advertised got listened to, and satellite radio hasn't yet measured up to Internet radio or iPod archives.
Living in the only state where you can hear the public radio network no matter where you are doesn't hurt. It seems more JFP readers like intelligent public radio than Top 40, with MPB at No. 3. But they do like to rock out and bang their head more than they like classical flower- and bean-growing. WLEZ plays music from before many of our readers were born, with its low bandwidth starting to fill Jackson's need for college radio by adding some great local niche shows. Until Edward St. Pe offers me a radio show of my own, the only place to hear The Cure is indeed Jack FM (like their advert says). Sure, it's bad karma to follow Zeppelin with Kool & the Gang and Kajagoogoo, but wait a minute, and they will play something you enjoy, alas to be followed by something making you ill. We JFP'ers wait, and look on the Python bright side of life.
Second place: WLEZ and Rock 93.9 (tie)
Third place: Mississippi Public Broadcasting
Good showing: Y101 and Z106 (tie)
OK, WLBT won Best Newscast again this year. And as much as we think that Maggie and Howard are pretty cool, we are going to have to respectfully disagree with our readers this time—largely because the Station Previously Owned by Frank Melton seems very reticent to actually cover the city in a fair, balanced and complete manner since Melton took office (although they're improving in recent weeks, and probably did the best initial Maple Street apartments coverage). WAPT has really emerged as the station that does the best coverage of Jackson issues and politics. And we admire their efforts to get public information, despite stonewalling by the new administration.
Second place: 16 WAPT: The Jackson Channel
Third place: Newschannel 12
Best Local Musician:
Guitar player Barry Leach is kin to the Energizer Bunny. He keeps going and going. I doubt Jackson's music lovers could count the number of times they've heard Leach play since he won Best Musician in the JFP's 2005 Best of ballot. Now he's won it again. And I can't even begin to understand how that long, tall, red-head does it. It's got to be God-given-music-understanding-and-playing genes. I'm so glad Leach willingly shares them with us.
My most recent exposure to Leach's talent happened on a jazz-filled December Sunday afternoon at Fusion Coffeehouse in Ridgeland. As I walked through the door, I saw a room crowded with music lovers, leaning back in comfortable couches and chairs or sitting at tables, sipping their specialty coffees when they could take their eyes off the Leach and his fellow musicians, Raphael Semmes and eZra Brown.
Here's what you should do to experience Leach's virtuosity for yourself. On Jan. 28 at 8 p.m., for free, he's playing with Mark Roemer at Hal & Mal's. Sit up close so you can watch while you listen. In fact, you'd be well-served to do that with any of Jackson's multi-talented music-makers.
Second place: Living Better Electrically
Third place: eZra Brown
Good showing: Eric Stracener and Marty Smith (tie)
Best Local Columnist:
Orley Hood, Clarion-Ledger
Orley Hood comes across as the Yoda of journalism at the Clarion Ledger, every week imparting folksy wisdom he has attained over the years that he holds close to his heart and at his fingertips. Hood came back to The Clarion-Ledger in August 1976 after writing about sports in Memphis, Tenn., and has been doing the same thing ever since. "I never know what I think about a subject until I write about it," he said, emphasizing love and truth for his readers. Hood's columns have won the JFP's Best of poll three years running now, as the more hard-hitting and edgy columnists in Jackson split the vote. After 30 years, his reader base appears loyal and firm.
Second place: Donna Ladd, Jackson Free Press
Third place: Ali Greggs, Jackson Free Press
Good showing: Rick Cleveland, Clarion-Ledger
Stewpot Community Services
1100 West Capitol Street, 353-2759
Stewpot began as a soup kitchen in 1981—when a group of churches got together with a resolve to help the homeless of Jackson—and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. In that time, Stewpot has expanded to 17 different ministries, including shelters, after-school programs and programs for the elderly and mentally challenged.
Stewpot is an interfaith ministry that thrives on the support and cooperation of Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus, all of whom volunteer and keep the program going. "We couldn't work without volunteers," CEO Frank Spencer said.
Most famous at Stewpot is their noon meal, served every day of the year, to which everyone is welcome. More than 60,000 meals are served by over 7,000 volunteers each year, and more are always welcome.
Second place: Operation Shoestring
Third place: Salvation Army
Good showing: Catholic Charities
Best High School Band:
Murrah High School
1400 Murrah Drive, Jackson, 601-960-5380
Under the direction of Bryan Jefferson, Murrah High School is the 2006 Best High School Band. This year, Murrah's marching band, led by Drum Majors Chianti Woodfork and Diamond Harris, competed in three separate competitions: the Copiah Marching Band Festival, the Region IV State Marching Band Festival and the Hoover Invitational Band Contest in Alabama. Scoring all superiors in these three different competitions makes Murrah's band the definition of superior.
"It is an honor to be considered by anyone as one of the best in the area," says Jefferson. There are 145 students in the band program at Murrah, including the Flag and Dance squad. Just recently, Murrah had 33 students to be selected in the esteemed All-City Band, more than any other school. The band program works hard to maintain the excellence for which they are receiving this honor.
Second place: Jackson Academy (4908 Ridgewood Road, 601-362-9676)
Third place: Madison Central High School (1417 Highland Colony Pkwy., 601-856-7121)
Good showing: Pearl High School (500 Pirates Cove, Pearl, 601-932-7921)
Best Church Choir:
First Baptist Church, Jackson
I love music. No, better yet, I breathe music. It's the soundtrack to my sometimes boring, other times drama-filled life. So, I was pleased to know, but not surprised, that the Sanctuary Choir at First Baptist Church Jackson was voted once again as the best choir. There are some 1,100 members of the church who participate in the ministry of music there. There is not only the award-winning sanctuary choir , but the senior adult, senior high, junior high and children's choir as well. And for those whose music abilities do not extend to their vocal chords, the church also has an orchestra and a handbells choir. All of these are under the leadership of the minister of music, L. Lavon Gray, who has only been serving at the church for about a year. With his help, the choir not only focuses on the perfecting their musicianship, but also their praise.
Second place: First Presbyterian Church, Jackson
Third place: Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church , Jackson
Good showing: Wells United Methodist Church and Pinelake Baptist Church, Brandon
Best Local Web Site:
Jackson Free Press
Well, it looks like we won. Thanks, Jackson. The JFP Web site houses plenty of things to do, from reading the latest articles to checking out different writers' blogs—including new ones by Council Ben Allen and Rep. Erik Fleming—even reading up on different clubs and venues, keeping a finger on the pulse of the Metro Area music scene. Read up on dining, subscribe to the newsletter or submit story ideas. Is your political view the best there ever was? Assert your intellectual superiority over the masses by posting on the forums. Events are separated into different categories, so read up on the Lounge Blog to find something to do. Speaking of things to do, check out the Personals section and meet a mate over at Metrodate. Or post a free classified ad. So what are you waiting for? Go check it out at http://www.jacksonfreepress.com Seriously. Stop reading and go.
Second place: Mississippi Dance Doctors
Third place: North Jackson Digital Confederation
Best Play of 2005:
"Chicago," Thalia Mara Hall
Thalia Mara Hall fit the bill as the cast of "Chicago" performed to a full house on a cold evening in October. Jacksonians enjoyed a professional Broadway show in the heart of the city. I found the live version much more electrifying than the film version, with the actors sang their hearts out to the old standards that we have come to love. Tom Wopat—yes, ladies, he's quite handsome in person—did an excellent job as lawyer Billy Flynn. The stage sets and lighting heightened the experience, taking you right out of your seats and back to the Chicago of yesteryear.
Jacksonians didn't forget Jackson's local theater scene in the voting, with New Stage's classic production of "A Christmas Carol" coming in second and their new classic "Santaland Diaries" placing third. A favorite production around the metropolitan area, "Always … Patsy Cline," took fourth. Get your tickets now for your next night out for live theater.
Second place: "A Christmas Carol," New Stage
Third place: "Santaland Diaries," New Stage
Good showing: "Always . . . Patsy Cline," New Stage
Best New Slogan for Jackson:
"Why the Hell Not?"
Most slogans submitted were topical or mayoral. Some were just plain difficult to fathom.
Among the topical slogans, several concerned Hurricane Katrina: "Jackson: The Best Port in a Cat4 Storm" and "At Least We're Not New Orleans." Then there are those that referred negatively to the city's problems: "It's where the crack's at," "America's Murder Capital," "City of Blights" and "Implosion is the Answer." Positive takes on those same topics did appear: "Crime Isn't That Bad, Move Back Now," "Tearing Down to Rise Up," and "Comin' Round!"
Mayor Frank Melton and metro-area citizens' perception of him put these on the ballot: "Jackson: Our Mayor Was Protecting His Source, So It's Not Really a Lie," "It's Frank's Way or the Highway," "Our Mayor Can Beat Up Your Mayor," "Welcome to Meltonville," "Who Needs the Law? We've Got Frank Melton" and my favorite "We're Melton Down Here." Would that those words don't prove prophetic in a non-hot-and-humid way.
I can't figure these out. Can you? "I'm a Hazard to Myself," "That's Just Wronger," "Come to Jackson Where You Can Eat All the Dirt You Want," "Remote Urban Sheik" (as in Rudolph Valentino?) and "We Are What Memphis Stole!" Huh?
I like the truthful, helpful slogans best: "At Least Some of Us Are Trying," "Making a Difference," "The Possibilities Are Infinite" and "Why the Hell Not?" Indeed.
Has Melton received his awards yet? Any commentary on that?