Wednesday, March 12, 2008
This week, the commission appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour to choose a location for Mississippi's Civil Rights Museum voted 22-9 in support of its location committee's recommendation that the museum be located on property leased to the museum by Tougaloo College.
Reporting by the Jackson Free Press has shown, however, that this proposal will require taxpayer funds and, as such, has not been exposed to an appropriate level of public scrutiny. While the museum itself is a private venture (and Tougaloo a private college), it has come to light that a fair bit of taxpayer money will be spent to make the Tougaloo proposal a reality, including millions of dollars to raise railroad tracks and build and widen roads leading to the museum.
The Tougaloo area deserves its share of government-sponsored improvements, but the civil rights decision has some disconcerting elements to it:
1. The committee includes people with direct ties to Tougaloo College, including president Beverly Hogan and board member Leroy Walker.
2. The recommendation and decision were made without full disclosure of the taxpayer costs involved. Tougaloo will directly benefit financially.
3. The selection criteria specifically forbade using the museum as a centerpiece for economic development. However, the current planwhich builds the museum in a low-traffic area on undeveloped landoffers direct economic development benefits to the area. "The whole thing, road and railroad, will add a whole lot of value to that area up there," Walker told the JFP.
4. Tougaloo intends to lease the land to the museumnot sell itmeaning the private college will remain the primary financial beneficiary of the publicly funded improvements.
It seems clear that the downtown location would attract more traffic and, thus, more effectively communicate Mississippi's civil rights history to a broader audience by putting it in proximity to other museums and cultural resources.
But even more important than a downtown location is a transparent decision-making process. Since taxpayer dollars are clearly involved, we're concerned the decision was arrived at without appropriate transparency and that the decision itself runs counter to the committee's charter and the state's sunshine laws.
To be sure, Tougaloo College has a significant place in the civil rights history of this state and nation. Also, there's no doubt that past decisions such as this have been made by a "Good Ole Boy" network, often to the detriment of the African American community. (After all, we once had a Sovereignty Commission.) But that does not mean that a "back-room" deal brokered by high-powered politicos should be left to stand simply because it benefits an historic institution.
Barbour should use his clout to repeal this decision, bring everyone back to that table and arrive at a decision that stands up to scrutiny in the light of day.
"including millions of dollars to raise railroad tracks and build and widen roads leading to the museum" Sounds like the "Good Ole Boy" network and "back room deal brokering" you are referring to. Someone is going to make a LOT of money off these projects. Downtown is where it belongs in my humble opinion.
Ladd just called, Bennie Thompson office in DC, just called Haley Barbour's Office and David Hampton at the Clarionledger. Bennie cant do anything about the Museum and Gov Haley Barbour's office said i might be better off calling the Mayors office and David Hampton said IT a done deal so i think some powerful people on Tougaloo side and The Govenor had this wrapped up way before christmas last year. I see alliances and handshakes work.
Well, newjack, I guess the governor just gave Frank the power to decide the fate of the museum. Guess they won't be getting permits after all! :-) What a crappy answer from the gov!
I think the GOV is doing a PR thing, Tougaloo gets the civil rights Museum and Jackson State and Downtown gets a new football stadium, Barbour wants to put that on his resume so he can say look what i did for the black schools.