CityBuzz [10.11.06]

Lott Calls for Bruce Stamp

Sen. Trent Lott has asked the U.S. Senate to issue a postage stamp commemorating the life of Sen. Blanche Kelso Bruce, who was the first African American to serve a full term in the Senate. Bruce was elected to the Senate in 1874, where he served from 1875-1881. Bruce was born into slavery in Virginia in 1841. When the Civil War began, he volunteered for the Union Army but was rejected because of his race. In 1869, he moved to Mississippi, where he quickly made a name for himself as a Republican politician. Bruce died in 1898.

Lott may be trying to improve his image on race issues; he has said he would like to return to a leadership position in the Senate. That aside, Bruce is a man of which all Mississippians can be proud. If the rest of the country had followed Mississippi's lead in electing African-American senators, maybe we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years.
— Brian Johnson

On Whose Time and Dime?

When Mayor Frank Melton's sister-in-law Carolyn Redd—also a city spokewoman earning $73,816 a year from the taxpayers—called the JFP Monday to tell us about a press conference announcing a new defense attorney in Melton's criminal cases, it made us wonder. Why is a city employee organizing a personal press conference on behalf of a mayor under indictment?

The press conference itself made us wonder even more, when we saw a whole slew of city employees lined up in front of the Hinds County Courthouse in support of the mayor, even wearing little stickers exhorting Melton to fight the charges of malicious mischief, illegally carrying weapons, burglary and getting a minor to commit felonies. Those city employees included city bigwigs like Police Chief Shirlene Anderson and Interim Fire Chief Todd Chandler, leading one to wonder exactly why a police chief is standing up on the taxpayer's dime and time in support of an accused felon.

We weren't the only ones taken aback at these displays by city officials. Judge Tomie Green, who is presiding over the criminal case against Melton, seemed irritated at the press conference and televised statements regarding the case, despite a gag order she put on the case last month.

Green, who fears repeated media appearances will taint potential jurors in the upcoming case, told The Clarion-Ledger that she would "evaluate" recent actions by the mayor and his team of attorneys to determine if they violated the order.

Over the weekend, Melton told WAPT that his battle against the indictment was testament to the city's ongoing battle against crime—hinting that his illegal demolition of a home on Ridgeway was a stab against crime. Such implications were the specific target of a temporary restraining order against city employees, demanding a halt to any suggestion that the Ridgeway duplex was linked to drug distribution, which has not been substantiated in court.

On Monday, Melton and his attorney Dale Danks announced that Texas attorney Craig Washington was joining the defense. "We are here to show that we will aggressively defend (Melton's) rights," Washington said, while offering no further comment on the case.

Like Melton, Washington, 65, brings his own colorful history over from the Lonestar State. The former congressman is considered a "super lawyer" in Texas circles—meaning both that he is well rewarded and represents high-profile accused criminals, such as Tyrone Williams, who was headed to death row in 2003 for smothering to death 19 immigrants whom he was smuggling into the U.S. in the back of his truck—until Washington worked his legal magic.

He hopes to do the same here. "I'm happy to be in Jackson, Mississippi, where my homeboy is here to see that justice is done," Washington said.

Washington has also been in trouble with the IRS for not paying taxes and had been criticized for adding a woman who fathered his child to his congressional payroll. While in Congress, Washington was notorious for missing 80 percent of roll-call votes in one year, including 68 votes in a row. He was voted out of Congress in 1994 and returned to private practice.
— Donna Ladd and Adam Lynch

Architects Flock to Downtown

In a happy reversal of a 30-year trend, the offices of Johnson, Bailey, Henderson & McNeel Architects are moving to downtown Jackson. The architects hosted a ribbon-cutting and open house Oct. 10 at the entrance of the Electric 308 Building.

The building got a renovation thanks to an agreement between Duckworth Realty and Entergy. Today, the building sports a new exterior façade, interior remodeling and is the home of emerging business and residential property in an area "on the cusp of a developmental explosion," according to Council President Ben Allen.

Ward 6 Councilman Marshand Crisler said he was nothing less than thrilled at the news. "It's the most exciting news I've gotten all month, quite frankly," Crisler said. "I'm pumped; I'm psyched."
— Adam Lynch

City Defiant on Public Records … Again

Jackson Mayor Frank Melton says the city's legal office is getting flooded with public-records requests and told City Council members that he will be "handling" the problem soon.

"The attorneys in the legal office are just inundated with these requests. … We've got a stack of requests this high (holding his palms about a foot apart), and I think this counts as harassment," he told the council, adding that he believes the city might actually have a case for harassment possibly in court.

City Attorney Sarah O'Reilly-Evans said that city legal will collect a pile of requests to show City Council in order to argue their point. "We'll be reporting to the council the amount of requests we're getting so that the council can understand the magnitude and the voluminous requests the city has been going through over the last few months," O'Reilly-Evans said.

The City Council has no authority over public-records law, however, which was enacted by the Legislature.

ACLU community organizer Brent Cox, who attended the Oct. 10 council meeting where Melton made the statement, lambasted the mayor. "It's the city's responsibility to fulfill (information requests), not to discriminate based on whether or not the mayor feels they put the city in a positive light or if he thinks they're frivolous. That's not his decision to make; that's not the city's decision to make. The law is clear: If the public makes an information request, the city fills it—no discussion."
— Brian Johnson and Adam Lynch

If You Don't Stop That Noise …

The council passed an ordinance 6-1 establishing guidelines for the regulation of noise. The vote also replaces an earlier ordinance that was struck down in court.

"We had a challenge in federal court over our noise ordinance, and we didn't meet constitutional muster. So we researched ordinances throughout the country to (find success stories), and we picked this one, after a Seattle, Wash., ordinance," said Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon.

The American Family Association challenged the earlier noise ordinance in 2004, after what AFA attorney Steven Crampton described as the city's "unconstitutional use" of the ordinance in curbing public demonstrations against the city's last remaining abortion clinic.

Barrett-Simon said the last ordinance failed because it offered no unit of measure to establish what counted as a noise violation. The new ordinance, which mandates use of electronic decibel readers.

Rev. Flip Benham of Operation Save America warned that the decibel limit in the new ordinance (55 to 57 decibels) is too easily crossed. "A conversation between you and me right here on the phone runs dangerously close to that," Benham said.
— Adam Lynch

Modular Money

The state Legislature passed a bill last week reducing the taxes on modular homes from 7 percent to 3 percent, which will reduce taxes on a typical home by $4,000 to $6,000. Gov. Haley Barbour pushed hard for the tax cut, saying it would "significantly help the reconstruction efforts of many thousands of our neighbors in South Mississippi."

Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Dowdy praised state legislators for passing the tax cut, but he hammered Barbour for how slow the state has been to release housing funds from a $3 billion fund provided by the federal government. "With the Homeowner Grant Program moving forward at a sluggish pace, a large number of storm victims are being forced to wait endlessly for financial relief," Dowdy said in a statement. The fund has issued only 1,000 checks to homeowners, according to Democrats.

Last week, Barbour vowed to speed release of the money.
— Brian Johnson


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