Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Jackson has its challenges from infrastructure to school funding—there never seems to be enough money to go around. Which is why on Friday, Sept. 1, during after-work hours as many locals were heading into their three-day Labor Day break, five of the city's seven city council members assembled in City Hall to quietly raise taxes. The vote was close, 3-2, but it passed with little outcry or public comment—largely because few people knew it was happening.
The city only put advance legal notice in the print versions of The Clarion-Ledger and the Mississippi Link. Other media outlets had no notice of the special meeting until a fax came late the day before.
Video recordings of the Friday night meeting show predominantly empty seats in the chamber, and save Sen. Sollie Norwood, D-Jackson, no one got up to give public comment. If the city administration had been more transparent in its plan, there surely would have been more public participation. And sure, some of them would have been against a tax increase—but such a people's assembly of diverse thought needs to be invited and welcomed.
Likewise, the media did not receive an advance fiscal explanation packet—we still haven't—explaining the tax increase in detail. That meant that misleading information went out to the people.
We understand the need to increase revenue, but everyone must have a chance to be heard in the process. While state law doesn't require the council to hold town halls or public hearings concerning issues, it would do wonders to increase trust and accountability between the public and the city government. After the promise of "people's assemblies" in Mayor Lumumba's campaign, it was easy to feel punked by this process, which seemed designed to shut out dissent rather than promote dialogue.
It is also vital to give factually correct reasons for raising taxes when asked. At the special meeting, the mayor cited a "$6 million budget hole" as a reasons the city needed the extra tax revenue—which we reported. Further reporting revealed that number is not correct. The 2-mill increase will increase revenue by $2.3 million. The administration also froze vacancies to help fill the budget hole, which is approximately $2.6 million—not $6 million.
We also noted a less-than-transparent move by the council at its special meeting about the long-controversial and changing gate ordinance. Members discussed an altered ordinance, but would not provide a copy, saying it would be voted on in a few days. This secrecy is no way to prepare the public for a vote that affects public safety and property values. If you meet about it, give out copies.
We expect the City's troubles to be presented accurately and in bright sunlight. We appreciate the vigor of the new administration and its apparent boldness to get things done, but in order to govern effectively, better communication is vital.
Not to mention, with the threat to JPS, we want to see the mayor fill vacant school-board seats post-haste. Without a full governing board in place, we doubt rallies will do much good. The campaign is over; it's time to start transparent governing.