Wednesday, January 4, 2006
The second half of 2005 turned out to be the most interesting six months any of us have lived through in a while. On the positive side, the city continued its march toward greatness - with increasing numbers of younger people turning up in the "Bold New City" and finding that it was not the city they had left after high school, or heard negative things about from afar. Their energy, despite obstacles, keeps the city moving forward, and the Jackson Free Press is thrilled to be the forum where people who believe in the city turn for news and community-building.
Here in the city, we also got a new mayor, who immediately went to work earning his reputation as a "loose cannon" and presenting myriad challenges both for determined local media, as well as the citizenry. Then in late August, our state was dealt a blow like never before when Katrina turned her strongest wrath on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.
Through these best and worst of times, Mississippians and Jacksonians had to dig deep for our strength and resolve, and for the most part, passed the test. The challenges ahead are immense, but so is our resolve.
4 - New Mayor Frank Melton was sworn in on a hot day in front of City Hall. "You have taught me passion, you have taught me benevolence, and now you are teaching me grace," Melton told the crowd gathered with his wife, Dr. Ellen Redd Melton of Tyler, Texas, standing next to him. His biological children could not attend, but he was also surrounded by some of his adoptees. Melton also warned "thugs" that a new mayor was in town: "We are coming, and are coming strong," he boomed. "So to Big Al, Mr. Williams, Mr. Donaldson, Mr. Moore, Mr. Coleman, Mr. Taylor, Mr. Butler and all of your thug friends - pack up and get out. It is over." Later in the speech, he promised that any young person who wanted one could have a job with the city, as along as they attend church regularly.
Later in the day, sporting a specially made badge and a sidearm, Melton joined the police on a slew of checkpoints and neighborhood sweeps. The Hinds County D.A.'s office said most of the busts were misdemeanors that did make it to the district attorney's desk.
5 - Melton closed the Upper Level Sports Bar with a temporary injunction. Melton initially announced plans to permanently close the bar, but an agreement with the city - and the influence of lawyers representing the club owner's rights - halted the closing.
7 - The JFP reported on problems with the state's contract with Diebold Election Systems - and its lack of a paper trail to back up the machine tabulations. The Secretary of State's office would later announce use of paper ballots.
Adam Lynch reported on a pro-nuclear rally at the state capitol where people rallied in favor of expanding the Grand Gulf nuclear reactor near Port Gibson. When he asked for a show of hands of how many of the supporters actually lived in Port Gibson, no more than three hands of the 60-plus participants went up.
12 - Mayor Melton and his choice for police chief, Shirlene Anderson (his deputy at MBN, who was also deposed in the MBN lawsuit) showed up at their first City Council wearing cowboy hats. Melton press spokeswoman, and sister-in-law from Texas, Carolyn Redd, passed out cowboy hats to members of Council, ushering in a new era of cowboy chic in Jackson.
13 - Mayor Melton said he would immediately "evacuate, close down and tear down" the Maple Street apartments. As of Jan. 1, 2006, Melton was still trying to relocate the tenants.
1 4 - In the JFP cover story, Adam Lynch looked at plans for the Farish Street studio that Melton had promised members of the M.A.P. Coalition at a campaign appearance at The Birdland. His investigations found that the plan was already hitting roadblocks.
In her editor's note, "Deliver Us from Evil," editor Donna Ladd examined her feelings about the Killen verdict, juxtaposed with the image broadcast by TV stations of a young boy police held down on a car hood during one of Melton's "sweeps." She wrote: "We must get over our fear of young black males and join with them to help our city and our state to break the self-loathing cycle many of them - as well as the rest of us - suffer because we haven't faced our collective demons together."
Columnist Ali Greggs joined the JFP after The Planet Weekly ceased publishing as a weekly. In her first column, the social worker wrote about a young man who openly lived in a tent in Madison for several weeks with little assistance from residents. Columnist Kamikaze ignited more controversy on the JFP Web site from racism-deniers with his column, "The New Racism," which responded to a letter from Dr. Phillip Ley of Flowood defending Sens. Lott and Cochran's refusal to sign the anti-lynching resolution. Kamikaze wrote: "Face it, if you haven't lived in this skin, Mr. Ley, you have absolutely no idea what it is like."
15 - Gov. Haley Barbour called lawmakers back to Jackson for yet another special session, this one for $14 million in corporate welfare for Baxter Healthcare in Cleveland. This one lasted only 90 minutes.
20 - The M.A.P. Coalition and the JFP held a "Mix & Match" mixer at Hal & Mal's to help musicians of various musical types meet each other and organize.
21 - The JFP published "I Want Justice, Too," a narrative about the visit of Thomas Moore back to his native Franklin County looking for justice for the murders of his brother Charles Moore and friend Henry Dee by Klansmen in 1964. The story, based on reporting by a team from the JFP - Donna Ladd, Natalie Irby, Thabi Moyo and Kate Medley - and filmmaker David Ridgen from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., revealed that both of the primary suspects are still alive and living in the area, although both The Clarion-Ledger and the Los Angeles Times had reported that one of the suspects, James Ford Seale, was dead. During Moore's trip, U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton agreed to help re-open the case. Then, days after the JFP's story appeared with photographs by Kate Medley, the Associated Press followed up, and used Medley's photographs, which would appear around the country, including in The New York Times.
Adam Lynch of the JFP broke the news that Frank Melton had admitted to a Lauderdale County judge on July 7 that he lied in written depositions, claiming originally that he was not the source of a memo that sparked a 2003 lawsuit against him. In response, Judge Bailey later ruled default judgment against Melton, saying that, as an accomplished businessman, he was smart enough to know that he could not lie to a judge. The Clarion-Ledger did not report this news for weeks, and still has not told readers that they are also being sued in a sister case.
22 - Melton told reporters that developers had 30 days to get the renovation funding paperwork for the King Edward moving or he would tear down the dilapidated hotel. Later that day, Melton learned that funding paperwork for the dilapidated King Edward was actually on his desk and issued a new ultimatum, demanding that his own staff get the paperwork moving in 30 days or he would move to tear down the hotel.
The Upper Level club re-opened. Its attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, criticized the mayor for overstepping authority: "Brother Melton kind of rode in on his political high horse. I'm all for making the Jackson community as safe as possible, but I think his way about it up until this point I absolutely, unalterably have to disagree with."
27 - Melton sent a press release to the media calling for the immediate resignation of the almost 200 members of the city's 22 boards and commissions. Commission and board members, who mostly volunteer their service on the boards, largely ignored his order, which turned out not to be legally binding. Melton announced that Fire Captain Todd Chandler would serve as interim head of the Jackson Fire Department, taking the spot of long-time Chief Raymond McNulty. Chandler was still interim in December, despite Melton's desire that he be made chief. Melton has withheld Chandler's name from City Council because he fears Chandler will not win the vote.
28 - Melton and police officers raided an adult bookstore on Terry Road. Melton claimed that patrons were engaged in sexual activity. WLBT news said that "arrests" were made in the rear of the store for public sex, but the news station only reported one arrest, that of 50-year-old cashier Debra Washington. The city could not confirm that any arrests actually happened and were evasive about Melton's report of sexual activity in the store. After a second raid weeks later, store owners stopped paying employees and closed their doors.
The JFP reported in "Better Late Than Never" that Sens. Lott and Cochran had signed onto legislation authorizing a "cold cases" unit to look into old civil-rights murders such as Dee and Moore.
Melton announced a new crime plan inisting that municipal judges set bonds at a minimum of $500,000 for anyone "using a weapon to assault another human being." Melton does not have the authority to tell judges how to set their bonds.
4 - With a cover designed from actual King Edward memorabilia, Adam Lynch wrote an in-depth story about the efforts to save the historic King Edward Hotel.
New columnist Trey Mangum wrote a column about an e-mail he received from PTA President Mary Hardy about the "homosexual agenda" hurting the PTA's membership.
At a Precinct 4 COPS meeting, Mayor Frank Melton made a face at JFP reporter Adam Lynch when Lynch wasn't looking, according to one Fondren businessman in attendance. As he pointed toward Lynch, he said, "[W]e've got creeps that write stories where they don't do their research." Lynch was the only reporter in attendance, as is often the case.
10 - City spokeswoman Carolyn Redd told Adam Lynch and Casey Parks that the city was reluctant to talk to the JFP because the paper does "research and stuff that you all diligently go out and getÉ." She also made it clear that the city does not like to talk to media that won't report stories the way they want them reported.
11 - In her editor's note, Donna Ladd wrote about Gov. Haley Barbour's Neshoba County Fair political speech, in which he referred to her cousin who was killed in Iraq. She pointed out that Barbour had not attended a single funeral of the 37 Mississippi soldiers killed to that point in Iraq.
In his JFP Interview with Donna Ladd, Gov. William Winter talked about the "southern strategy" used by the GOP to court the racist vote and how we need to teach younger people to pay attention: "They don't realize the code words. 'Lazy welfare mothers,' 'secular humanistic schools,' (Confederate) flag rhetoricÉ."
15 - Melton presented a budget proposal to City Council, calling for a one-mill increase in property taxes.
16 - Melton rescinded his own budget proposal at the Aug. 16 council meeting, denouncing his early recommendation for a tax increase, and instead demanded that the council try to find $1 million in cuts.
25 - The JFP published its 44-page Annual Manual college guide, edited by Assistant Editor Casey Parks, who wrote a column calling for more local venues to allow people under 21 in to hear the music they love.
29 - Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and Jackson, leaving the Coast devastated and residents of Jackson without power and with extensive home damage. (One elderly woman was killed in Belhaven). It took the city a week to take any substantive action, declaring that the city would operate under emergency order to deal better with massive gas shortages and city power outages. City Council called an emergency meeting to dress down Mayor Melton for not better leading in a time of disaster and confusion. The order imposed a citywide, but unenforceable curfew on adults, which annoyed some late-night business like the Left Field Sports Grill, which had just managed to get their power back on before police escorted out their customers. JFP editor Donna Ladd posted an open letter on the JFP Web site calling for the mayor to step up and lead the city.
1 - The JFP got power back the day after the hurricane, although most staffers didn't have it at home; some slept on the floor at the office, while the staff worked to cover the aftermath. The next issue of the JFP, with the first substantive story about the evacuees living in the Coliseum, written by Casey Parks, appeared only one day late, on Sept. 1. Days later, Donna Ladd went to Waveland and Bay St. Louis and wrote a detailed piece about the devastation there and how the areas were being virtually ignored by the feds, the state and the media. The photographs of David Rae Morris, stranded in Jackson from New Orleans, would capture the devastation of Katrina for the JFP.
Even though publisher Todd Stauffer was stuck in a Baltimore hotel for days, due to planes not flying, he helped launch the JFP's KatrinaBlog the day after the disaster, which became a "triage" of sorts for posting donation needs and connecting the outside world with what was happening on the ground in Mississippi.
8 - The JFP offered its annual Fall Arts Preview with a special focus on artists affected by Hurricane Katrina. The cover painting, by William Goodman and Twiggy, was offered at a JFP art sale at The Cedars, which raised about $3,000 for John Grisham's Gulf Coast fund.
15 - The JFP ran an editorial calling for Melton to "focus on the 'mayor stuff'." The editorial talked about a Business Week article that had detailed "a nattily dressed" Melton disrupting a public-assistance effort at the Trade Mart by leading people waiting out of the line, while complaining that other agencies should "get out of the way." However, the move did not help the people waiting and only lengthened their wait, leaving many angry and bitter toward the mayor for interfering.
22 - In the JFP's third anniversary issue, Adam Lynch detailed how downtown has changed in three years - with developers now catering to the city's emerging "creative class." Plaza Building developer Mike Peters said: "People have found out that suburbia is not perfect. É They would rather have culture, art, diverse populations, convenience and all the things you have in town."
29 - Casey Parks published a large piece about Mississippi's "pro-life" movement after months of investigation.
1 - Melton dumped the city police department's Crime Prevention Unit, leaving eight crime prevention specialists out of work with only days' notice. Outraged citizens voiced their complaints over losing the community policing unit, but Melton walked out on them, followed by Councilmen Frank Bluntson and Charles Tillman. Former employees of the unit were still holding Civil Service hearings regarding the legitimacy of their termination as late as December. Melton said at a press conference that a new Quality of Life unit of volunteers would take the unit's place "within days," but that unit was still not operational by year's end.
4 - The City Council voted to allow Mayor Frank Melton to hire attorney and former Mayor Dale Danks for the city's shorthanded legal department. Danks has sued the city numerous times and represented both the people of Byram and the family of Leslie Berryhill, who was arrested for violating the youth curfew, in their suits against the city at the time of the council's decision.
6 - Gov. Haley Barbour called a special legislative session that was convulsed by whether to allow casinos to rebuild inland. Barbour, who ran on a promise not to expand state gaming, supported the move, which passed by narrow margins.
Darren Schwindamann, who returned home to Jackson after Hurricane Katrina, designed his first JFP cover.
8 - The JFP sponsored the city's first "Walk of Grace" AIDS walk.
13 - Leslie Berryhill, who was arrested in 2003 for violating the city's youth curfew ordinance and later sued the city, told new JFP writer/ editor Brian Johnson of how she was arrested and taken to the youth detention center during a routine traffic stop. He also exposed the unconstitutionality of Melton's proposal to drug test all Jackson students.
20 - The JFP became the first paper in the country to report on Gov. Haley Barbour's ties to Tom Delay's fund-raising scandal. Donna Ladd reported that before he was elected governor, Barbour was the lobbyist for for the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, which donated $100,000 to Delay's Texans for a Republican Majority. Reporter Adam Lynch wrote about the plight of Latinos drawn to recovery work by false promises of complimentary housing and high wages - a story that led to a new job for a man interviewed in the piece. Eileen Loh Harris wrote about volunteers in Waveland, including the band Three Doors Down, who locals say were much more help than either state or federal agencies.
27 - Donna Ladd did an in-depth narrative piece, "Evolution of a Man," on James Kenneth Greer, a former Klansman in Natchez whose views on race have changed remarkably in the last 40 years. Included in the article was the story of Wharlest Jackson Jr., whose father was assassinated by the KKK in 1967, and Burl Jones, who nearly met the same fate as Dee and Moore in 1964 in Meadville. Ladd also updated the story of Thomas Moore, who placed a memorial on Main Street in Meadville near where his brother, Charles Moore, and Henry Dee were last seen alive in 1964, and ran a letter from Moore to The Franklin Advocate that the Advocate refused to publish. The cover art, by Drew Ford, of a stooped Klansman "evolving" into an upright man, drew much attention locally.
31 - Council members voted to hire business guru Jimmy Heidel as a consultant and limited liability corporation - rather than as an employee - to direct the city's economic development. Heidel makes $175,000, including fees and benefits. Councilman Leslie McLemore questioned whether contracted department heads are legal.
3 - The JFP's six-part series, "Melton's Honeymoon," kicked off. Adam Lynch broke the story of BellSouth strong-arming customers into switching to their service before repairing their lines after Katrina.
In an editorial, the JFP excoriated The Clarion-Ledger for not reporting on Melton's MBN lawsuit during the campaign, or mentioning that it was also being sued in the case. Again, the JFP called for the paper to hire an ombudsman to monitor whether it is meeting its responsibility to report relevant news to the community.
10 - As part of our ongoing Think Global, Shop Local series, the JFP ran a feature on Wal-Mart that included an interview with John Dicker about his book "The United States of Wal-Mart" and an analysis of Wal-Mart's donations to state politicians. Reporter Adam Lynch wrote about overcrowding and maintenance problems at the Hinds County Penal Farm.
17 - Eileen Loh Harris wrote about artists from the Coast who were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. JFP Publisher Todd Stauffer took The Clarion-Ledger to task for its newest "Changing Faces" effort. For one, reporter Julie Goodman dismissed Jackson's entertainment scene as "virtually non-existent nightlife" and, second, the paper used Richmond, Va., as a model - without mentioning that crime is worse in Richmond than Jackson. Adam Lynch reported on Mayor Melton's one-sided attacks on developers of the King Edward Hotel and Farish Street. Performa developer John Elkington told Lynch: "We know what we're doing. We've got over a million dollars in this already, and my mother didn't raise a kamikaze pilot."
Developer Mike Peters announced exciting plans for mixed-use spaces in the old Duling School in Fondren. However, his announcement that corporate coffee chain, Starbuck's, will be included raised eyebrows among the "Shop Local" believers. (Please, no Starbuck's. Competition, yes. Corporate Goliaths, no.)
22 - Melton walked out of a council meeting when members asked how Melton intended to fund a $200,000 boot camp for the city's troubled youth. Melton said he interpreted the questions as personal attacks. The mayor soon stopped attending City Council meetings altogether.
24 - Reporter Adam Lynch interviewed Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin about the state of the county criminal justice system and McMillin's conflict with county supervisors. Lynch also wrote about a spate of nine murders in 10 days in Jackson. Donna Ladd provided context by writing about the overall decline in crime in Jackson. In 2004, Jackson dropped out of the 25 "most dangerous" cities, according to Morgan-Quitno, a Kansas-based publisher routinely cited by the Clarion-Ledger. As of Jan. 2, 2006, The Clarion-Ledger still had not reported the improvement in Jackson's crime rating, even though it wielded Morgan-Quitno rankings like a sword against the last administration, which it opposed.
1 - Writer Lea Thomas explored the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, which was given fresh prominence by Keith Beauchamp's documentary "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till." The FBI has opened an investigation into the case and has exhumed Till's body. The JFP sponsored several discussions about the film around Jackson during opening week.
Writer Brian Johnson reported on bias in a New York Times story that claimed massive hurricane-relief fraud in Jackson on the basis of scant and anecdotal evidence.
2 - Melton gathered JATRAN buses, city officials and the police to round up more than 300 Jackson Public School truants and drop-outs. Only three students were actually detained on a truancy charge during the first round-up. Critics say the project is big on visibility but lacking in substance and does little to attack the causes of truancy.
8 - The JFP reported that Mississippi religious leaders agreed to offer a reward for tips about the 1964 murders of Charles Moore and Henry Dee. Adam Lynch reported on the increasingly complicated relationship between the mayor and City Council.
11 - The JFP presented its first "Race, Religion & Society" event at Mikhail's on the documentary "The Most Segregated Hour." A multi-racial crowd of 80 people attended, including James Meredith, and a long discussion followed the film, led by Dolphus Weary of Mississippi, Rev. Ed King, Sen John Horhn, Carlos Smith of the NAACP and filmmaker Kent Moorhead, and moderated by Donna Ladd. The next event will be announced in January.
14 - Developers learned failed to submit a sister application for a federal loan for renovating the King Edward in November, putting the project at risk. Because HUD extended all application deadlines in hurricane-ravaged areas, development consultant Jimmy Heidel was able to send the second application. Planning and Development head Franklin Tate was fired.
15 - Brian Johnson wrote about the city's refusal to release information related to Dale Danks' contract and Shirlene Andersen's qualifications.
Assistant Editor Casey Parks left her position to attend graduate school, passing the reins to successor Brian Johnson.
Adam Lynch reported that the dueling MBN lawsuits - against The Clarion-Ledger and against Frank Melton - are heating up, with Melton arguing that the paper should have factchecked his faulty memo, and the paper's attorneys saying they had no "moral contract" to do so.
16 - Melton eliminated 46 jobs in two offices in the Planning and Development Department 12 days before Christmas. Melton said he may hire about half of the employees back. City employees expressed anxiety about their job stability, saying the mayor has more terminations planned.
22 - JFP intern and Millsaps College freshman Sophia Halkias wrote a cover story about race and religion in Mississippi.
First reported by WAPT, Melton and Police Chief Shirlene Anderson caused a stir by refusing to release weekly crime stats and then saying they are no longer holding regular COMSTAT meetings. By the end of the year, Melton said they might give the stats to the media sometime next year and were likely to pass them by SafeCity Watch first to ensure their "accuracy." (Melton is the "chairman emeritus" of that group.) Anderson even repeated former Police Chief Moore's complaint that the media overblows crime "perception" - a word her boss had ridiculed Moore for using.
29 - Adam Lynch reported on the irony of Melton hiring convicted felon and paid campaign worker Robert Williams to work for the city, although he refused to sit next to "convicted felon" James Covington at a campaign event. (Covington was not actually convicted.)
The JFP ended the year with its biggest advertising issue, yet, thanks largely to the efforts of Advertising Director and co-founder Stephen Barnette. A special thanks goes out to the local business community in Jackson who know that we all have to work together for the success and renaissance of the city.
Read Part I here.
Donna, How could ya forget Sept. 18th the MUSIC TO HEAL MISSISSIPPI benefit concert at Hal and Mal's, the biggest benefit effort by musicians here during the Katrina crisis? 30 bands, two stages...THAT was big in 2006!!!! Give us our props!
You just did. ;-) I think you've mentioned it in your column a few times as well.