Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The new Jackson City Council will be meeting for the first time today at 4 p.m. Leaving the council this year is former Council President and Ward 2 Councilman Leslie Burl McLemore, who announced his retirement prior to the Democratic primaries. McLemore is also retiring from his job at Jackson State University.
McLemore, a professor of political science, was one of the council's most adamant voices regarding incursions by the executive branch over the legislative branch, and occasionally sought opinions from the state attorney general on mayoral decisions that he felt impacted the council's ability to do it job.
Ward 2 resident and Jackson attorney Chokwe Lumumba will be replacing McLemore today. Lumumba could prove an equally passionate (or combative) council member with no foreseeable loyalties. Lumumba is an attorney who made news in Mississippi courtrooms for his outspoken opinions on judicial decisions concerning his own cases. In 2001, Leake County Circuit Court Judge Marcus Gordon held Lumumba in contempt after the attorney accused Gordon of deliberately parading his client before the jury while in chains, risking jury bias. The jury pronounced his client guilty, but during post-trial motions Lumumba suggested Gordon's decisions were for sale, saying: "Look, Judge, if we've got to pay for justice around here, I will pay for justice. I've paid other judges to try to get justicepay you, too, if that's what is necessary."
Gordon cited Lumumba for contempt, fined him $500, and ordered him to serve three days in the Leake County Jail. Still seething, Lumumba later said Gordon "had the judicial temperament of a barbarian," and was temporarily disbarred by the Mississippi Bar Association for professional conduct violations. There's no guarantee that Lumumba's sheer zeal won't manifest at council meetings.
Another new face on the council this year will be Ward 6 Councilman Tony Yarber, the principal of Marshall Elementary School, in south Jackson. Yarber is a Jackson State University graduate, a community activist and a preacher at Prayer Healing Accountability Teaching (PHAT) Church.
Notably absent from the council this year is Yarber's precursor, former Ward 6 Councilman Marshand Crisler, who eschewed his council seat (which he would have likely won) to run for the office of mayor against current Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. Crisler was one of the voices frequently standing against former Mayor Frank Melton on contentious matters between the council and the mayor's office. Yarber is still young and not likely to be as vociferous a councilman as his predecessor, who is moving into a consulting career this year.
Still sticking it out on the council this term are Ward 4 Councilman Frank Bluntson, Ward 5 Councilman Charles Tillman and Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes, three unerring followers of the late Frank Melton, who made supermajority votes impossible on the council. Melton died soon after losing the Democratic primary, likely leaving the three looking around for a new leader. There is no guarantee Johnson will fill that role, but Johnson already curries some favor with Stokes.
Ward 1 Councilman Jeff Weill will be coming back this year. Weill is an anchored, subdued personalitya professional legal moderator, by tradewho was well capable of seeing both sides of the argument during council/mayor skirmishes last year. Nevertheless, he found himself more or less gravitating toward the council's side of the debate around the end of Melton's term.
Weill is a stalwart fiscal conservative who will likely agree with Johnson on many issues, but could part ways with the new mayor on costly issues such as employee pay raises, tax increases for infrastructure work or the expansion of JATRAN bus routes, should Johnson pursue any of those endeavors.
Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simone is also making a return trip this year. Barrett-Simon is another member of the council capable of disagreeing with the former mayor, and who quickly gravitated toward Crisler's and McLemore's arguments on many debates. Barrett-Simone has no obvious predilections against the city's new mayor, and will likely side with Johnson on many issues, so long as they are sane and constitutional.
McLemore told the Jackson Free Press last week that he predicted Johnson would be able to maintain a super-majority on many votes.
"I think that after four years of Frank Melton, the people coming onto the council want to see some progress made and this city move forward. In spite of some differences, they will be very supportive," McLemore said.
This story was corrected July 8 to identify McLemore's academic field as political science.