City Plan Short On Details, Costs


Fifteen months after Frank Melton took the mayoral oath, Jackson Human and Cultural Services Department consultant Jayne Sargent submitted a city plan to council members last week that read more like a day-in-day-out to-do list than a comprehensive plan for progress.

Melton first promised to submit a plan to the council in July, telling an auditorium filled with hundreds at his State of the City address that he would get the plan in "next week." Four months later, Sargent handed the plan over for quick perusal to council members.

The plan contains about 12 pages of mostly vague suggestions to improve the quality of life in the city, centering around five priorities featuring goals such as "To create and foster a better quality of life for the citizens of Jackson," or "To promote Jackson as the 'City of Grace and Benevolence.'"

Sargent's plan includes goals such as reducing crime by "adopting the philosophy of extended community-based policing and community building." One example of this tactic outlined in the plan involved restructuring and training the police department, and training all city officials, to accommodate community policing. The same goal, for instance, also calls on the city departments and programs like Human and Cultural Services and Youth Development to train youth and senior citizens on crime prevention.

The first priority also entailed scheduling daily work detail for litter clean-up and called on the city to re-evaluate its contract with Waste Management for more efficient garbage collection, without outlining what improvements were needed.

Sargent could not be reached for comment.

While no endeavor in her plan had a budgetary price tag attached to it (there were no dollar signs anywhere in it), some of the goals were likely to have a sizable impact on the city's budget, such as adding 20 new cops to the city's current head-count. The city has traditionally lost officers through attrition as recruits trained through the JPD academy hop off to law enforcement agencies outside the city, but attrition continues unabated with budget constraints stifling promotions and pay increases in city departments. Meanwhile, the training academy hasn't graduated any new recruits since the last administration.

Other aspects of Sargent's plan included more vigorous enforcement of building codes, especially with regard to neglected or abandoned buildings. Property owners are liable for most signs of neglect to property within city limits but the city's tiny army of code enforcement officers (possibly only six) has a difficult time blanketing the city, issuing citations and then following up citations.

Sonya Murphy, head organizer for ACORN, a community organization that advocates better housing for low and moderate-income families, is getting impatient with that particular aspect of city administration, calling the city's department of code enforcement a "ghost department" earlier this year.

"There's nothing really there. It's only there on paper," she said, explaining that Jackson's population of about 170,000 needed at least 200 code enforcement officers. "Why are you allowing a department under your control to lie dormant? If you say there's not enough manpower and money available you're not going to do anything? That's ludicrous. We need the department to awaken and become effective in enforcing city code.

The plan seeks to address social issues with considerably compassion, such as seeking to "expand cultural arts for school-age children" and encouraging "senior citizens to participate in planned physical activities through senior citizen centers," but offers little to no recommendations of how to accomplish much of its goals. Faltering participation in city-funded activities such as art workshops, sports recreation and senior citizen gatherings have everything to do with money, and the city has little to spare.

Former Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., who admits that he was often criticized for doing "too much planning," described his own city plans as often containing endless folds of background information.

"We typically included an inventory and analysis section, which gives a background on problems needing addressing, then you set up goals and objectives, then you indicate in the plan how those goals and objectives will be achieved," said Johnson, who had not seen Sargent's plan. "Also, you would have a section to talk about evaluation, or how do you know that you've made your goals after you've met them."

Ward 6 Councilman Marshand Crisler said he agreed with most of the plan's goals, but feared it was "short on details."

"The lack of dollar signs are a concern of mine, as well as the budget impact of this plan. The plan calls for another 20 officers, and I'm OK with getting more police, but obviously we need much more than that. I mean how much of an impact can you have with 20 officers when you just lost 20 officers?"

Crisler said he would wait before unloading harsh criticism on Sargent's plan, pointing out that the submission was the only the first step in the process. "It's not a comprehensive plan, but before I get too brutal on it, I'd like to sit down and talk with Miss Sargent on that. I understand there's going to be a briefing next week."

Previous Comments


Why does melton continue to assign jobs to people who do not have the expertise to do them. Sargents plan looks like something my grandson could have written during his lunch break. For starters, the paln announces the hiring of 20 officers. What about the 48 officer positions that were loss over the past 15mos. Isn't it strange that the City paid for the Linde-Maple study during the Johnson Administration and these nuts are either too dumb or too arrogant to defer to it. What is a plan without cost associated with it. Crisler says he doesn't want to complain and that the submission was "only the first step." Excuse me, This was Sagrent's second submission. According to melton, the first plan that Dr. Sargent submitted, "I tore up." Melton went on to say that he didn't like the plan. The Council should have had dialogue about assigning such a responsibility to Dr. Sargent. Her expertise is in education - not planning how and at what cost a city should run. Just thinking.


The funniest thing to me is this one: "Sargent’s plan includes goals such as reducing crime by “adopting the philosophy of extended community-based policing..." Yep. The same community-based policing that Melonhead apparently nixed when he was elected.



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