1997 Business Journal Interview with Harvey Johnson

I just ran across an interview with new Mayor Harvey Johnson from June 30, 1997 in Nexis. I'm posting some portions that seem relevant to today's Jackson:

Next month, Harvey Johnson takes office as the City of Jackson's first black mayor. For Johnson, being elected June 3 to lead the Capital City has been a humbling experience -- the public placing their trust in him to do what's right, fair and just. A longtime community planner and developer, Johnson plans to use this experience to lead in making Jackson a better place to live and work. Years from now, he would like to be known as a mayor who kept his campaign promise of inclusion and that his administration was based on professionalism, dignity and respect.

Mississippi Business Journal: What concerns you the most about the direction you've seen Jackson moving and how do you plan to address that?

Johnson: My biggest concern is I don't believe Jackson has been in a development mode, that the whole notion of developing the city or revitalizing the city has not been pursued aggressively enough. We intend to make sure the city pursues development and does it in an aggressive way that is friendly to developers and other parties that can make better conditions in the city.

There needs to be a comprehensive housing strategy that would give various entities that are helping to build the city from a residential standpoint some direction on where that development needs to take place. I also think land use development is very Important. We need to make sure we have an up-to-date land use plan and that development that takes place is consistent with that plan.

Q: Some people are concerned that businesses are leaving downtown. How do you plan to address that?

A: I intend to create an Office of Business Development that would have as one of its focuses the retention of existing businesses to make sure concerns of existing businesses are met and not only addressed but that the mayor's office would have some role in making sure they are addressed. As I campaigned, I ran across a number of instances where businesses thought their concerns weren't being properly addressed, and that impacts their decision to leave the city. [...]

Q: How do you feel your previous job experience will help you do your job as mayor?

A: I consider myself a community planner, community developer. I've been doing both planning and development for a long while. My base has been Jackson, but I've worked primarily in small towns throughout Mississippi since 1972.

What's important is having learned problem-solving techniques and concepts that relate to planning and development and applying these techniques to solving problems in Jackson. I've worked on housing development, water and sewer development projects, recreational projects, streets and drainage -- all of the problems Jackson has. I understand the kinds of resources needed, both from a monetary and skills standpoint. [...]

Q: WLBT-TV CEO and community activist Frank Melton has had good things to say about you, but added that you will have to be careful with whom you surround yourself: What are your feelings on this?

A: He's right. One should always be careful about who you surround yourself with. You have to make decisions on staffing in a way you think will be beneficial to the city and administration. I realize I am where I am because of an effort in coalition building. Because of this coalition building you have to bring interests to the table who don't talk to each other and never will, except through you. Some of the people I surround myself with some people may not like, but I think that's part of the coalition-building process.

Q: What actions of yours will have an immediate impact on businesses when you take office?

A: I think the creation of this Office of Business Development is an immediate step that will be an indication that we're opening up jobs, creating this liaison with businesses. I think this is an indication that we're going to have an administration based on professionalism, dignity and respect and one that's going to enhance the image of this city and thus increase business opportunities.

Q: City Council meetings have been viewed by many as undignified this past year. How do you plan to address that?

A: I'm meeting with each council member. One of the things we'll be talking about is decorum and how we're going to conduct the business of the city. I think people will be pleasantly surprised when we take office at our readiness to conduct business in a dignified and professional manner.

Q: What do you plan to do about the number abandoned houses in the city?

A: I intend to aggressively pursue the demolition of these units and also to pursue the construction of new housing in Jackson. If you look around, there's just not a lot of new housing development, and if it is taking place, it's not of the affordable housing kind. Most of the housing developments are upscale.

Once you tear down houses, you have to look to replace them or the landscape looks like a tornado came through. And when you start looking at bad housing in a city and how you replace that house, particularly if it's occupied, then the question of affordability comes into play. A person may be staying in that unit because it's the only one he or the family can afford. [...]

Q: What's the biggest obstacle at needs to be overcome?

A: I tend not to prioritize things in terms of the most looming. What I'd like to see us do is put more of an emphasis on young people: problems they are facing, providing them with guidance and direction, being committed to educate all of them so they can compete in this global economy we're now participating in, and just let them be children and not force them to be adults before their time.

Q: Two years from now, as you reach the midpoint of your term, what do you want people to say about you?

A: Two years from now I'd like people to say that we're moving forward. All of our problems are not solved just yet but we're moving everyday toward solving them. That the mayor has kept his word on inclusion, on doing things in a way all interests of the city are represented and particularly those people who have been left out of the decision making process.

Previous Comments


Bump. Wanted everyone to see this new entry on the Melton Blog.


This, ladies and gentlemen, is what it sounds like when a new mayor comes into the office with a clear idea of what he's doing there. In some ways this is incredibly depressing to read. I thought the comment from Melton was apt. I hope he's following his own advice. It's really good advice, because even I know that executives govern more or less by cabinet. I dunno. I think about what he had to say in 1997, and even more how he sounded in 1990-1991, and I think of that video clip I saw of George W. Bush. During the 1994 gubernatorial debates with Ann Richards, he sounded extremely intelligent, articulate, and well-versed on the issues. He talked fast and persuasively. In the 2000 presidential debates with Gore, he was inarticulate and poorly-versed but still had some of the fire left and got in a few good zingers. In the 2004 debates, it was all gone, and he seemed to have difficulty putting sentences together. People very reasonably ask: What happened to him over that 10-year period? These days I find myself wondering the same thing about Melton. If there were a 1990 Frank Melton doing "Bottom Line" segments right now, I really think he'd tear the current mayor a new one. Cheers, TH

Tom Head

What is really amazing of all the business people they could have gone to for advice for Johnson, why Melton? He didn't even vote in that election - he was still a dual resident - he had no real stake! I know it was 1997; but there were 100's of other business people they could have asked before him. I guess what Melton may have meant to say was "if you surround yourself with "me" as "Chief of Police" then you will be alright!" ;-)


pikersam, worth bearing in mind: 1. In 1997, Frank Melton was the richest and most prominent African-American businessman in Jackson. He was wealthy and charismatic, and people respected him for his work with at-risk youth. 2. In 1997, Melton had no known political aspirations. Although people had been suggesting that he run for mayor for years, he always said he had no interest in the job. 3. Nobody had any idea whether or not he had voted in prior elections at that point, as this information did not become public until the mayoral primaries in 2005. 4. Melton was a strong early supporter of Chief Moore, so he would have approved of Johnson's choice in this regard. Melton changed a lot between 1997 and 2005. I would have been very interested in hearing what he had to say back then--as Harvey Johnson was, I'm sure. Cheers, TH

Tom Head


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