Originally published April 17, 2013 at 3:42 p.m., updated May 2, 2013 at 1:17 p.m.
Jackson City Councilman Frank Bluntson, 77, is not exactly a newcomer to local politics: He has served almost eight years on the Jackson City Council, and several as council president. He has also spent many hours over the years talking politics and interviewing politicians about the city and the latest controversy of the day on his AM radio show, "Straight Talk."
Frank Bluntson Endorsement Interview
But it's his friendships with past politicians that many people think of first when his name is mentioned. Bluntson has long been "very close" friends with a diverse line-up of power brokers in the city, among them former District Attorney Ed Peters, former Mayor Dale Danks Jr. and former Mayor Frank Melton, now deceased.
During his interview in the Jackson Free Press classroom, Bluntson talked about the role he has played as a political kingmaker in Jackson. He spoke of his helping Danks, who is white, get more black voters as an emissary of sorts between powerful white Jackson and the black community. He also said that he was the person who got current District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith to first run for that position.
Bluntson has also made a name for himself as a talk-show host and for his work over the years helping seniors in Jackson. Since 1977, he has organized the Craig Bluntson/WKXI/WOAD Senior Citizens' Food Drive, now named for his son who died of a heart attack at age 36. The Mississippi Legislature passed a resolution in 1998 applauding him for the effort, as well as for "outstanding leadership skills."
Now, Bluntson says, he is ready to take those leadership skills to the city's top office.
We're told that a Jackson City Council member has never been elected mayor. You've been on the council the last four years under (Mayor Harvey) Johnson and four years under Mayor (Frank) Melton. Why should voters think you'll be different from them?
First of all, I'm here to break that tradition about a Jackson City Councilman never being elected (mayor). No. 1, I've had the opportunity to serve under both of the mayors. This is my eighth year on the council. One thing that I have found is that you really have to be a people person when you're dealing with people. I've done it all of my life. I've always tried to be compassionate with people, helping people. And I always say, "It's not about me; it's about you."
Why I'm like that is because I'm a little country boy from the Delta. I've picked cotton, chopped cotton, and I had a lot of people to help me along the way.
If I had not had these people to help me along the way, Lord, I don't know where I'd be now. I probably wouldn't be here now. But because of that, I have given my life to trying to help other folks, to get over the hump, so to speak.
I remember back when an old lady named Emma Marshall had a balloon payment on her home, and they were about to take her home. And I got on my radio show and raised over $14,000 to save that old lady's home. I mean, that's the kind of thing that warms my heart, to make a difference in the lives of other people.
You've had pretty serious health issues in the past. How's your health now?
My doctors say I'm fine, but you know, I had a son to fall dead of a major heart attack at 33 years of age, so we don't know what's going to happen to us. I just live day-to-day and thank God for my health. I get up every morning feeling fine, and I don't know what the Lord has planned for me, but I hope to live a long life.
Are you taking medications or being treated for health issues now?
No more than high blood pressure.
Wasn't it during the Melton administration that you had surgery?
I've had two surgeries: I had back surgery, and in 1976, I think, I had a kidney stone, and that's why I always say the Lord looks out for his people, I guess. During this kidney stone operation, in those days they didn't have (the less invasive procedures they have now). They had to cut you. And I was in the hospital. It was 1977. When they cut me on the left side to remove that stone, it just so happened they saw something in my right kidney. ... They said, "Frank, it's something; we don't know what it is." ... By the grace of God, they found I had a malignant tumor in that right kidney, and they had to take my right kidney out. That was in 1977.
The doctors told me, "Frank, you take (your medicine), and if you get by five years without any problem, your bladder and everything, you should be fine."
Five years from 1977, how long would that be? Anyway, this is 2013. I'm doing fine.
So what was wrong with you within the last eight years that you were in the hospital at one point? Wasn't there something serious?
I was out a ground-breaking at a school, and what happened is I had taken a blood-pressure pill that morning, and I didn't take a prostate pill I was supposed to take (earlier). I thought I could take it along with my blood-pressure pill. You always should follow the doctor's orders. I passed out.
I knew it was something. I was out there with a shovel, and I threw the dirt, and the dirt was coming back at me. Next thing I knew, I'm out. ... That other pill, I was supposed to take it at night when I want to bed like the doctor said, but I forgot it. I thought I could take (them together), which I found out I couldn't. That's what happened.
They had that whole headline in the paper. It was out there on McDowell Road; a big groundbreaking. The press was already there. They didn't have to call anybody.
It was really funny, because when I came to, I said, "What are y'all doing on me? Get back! What are you doing?" This lady was all over me, and my shirt was all open and everything.
But anyway, the ambulance came, and ... my son got in there with me. This ambulance guy who was riding in the back, I never will forget, he kept asking my son, "Who is he?" And my son says, "That's my daddy."
We went about 75 more yards, and he says, "Man, who is he?" And (my son says): "Man, that's my daddy. Why are you asking these questions? We're trying to get to the hospital."
And (the ambulance guy) says, "We've never had a police car leading us to the hospital and one behind us."
I don't know why they were doing that, but in fact, that's why he asked. I guess ... they did that because I'm on city council. I stayed (in the hospital) overnight, and I went to Clarksdale that Saturday morning to speak at one of my best guys' funeral up there.
Let's get into some city business kind of questions. What would you do differently from the current administration regarding development?
First of all, I would be very business friendly. I'd be citizen friendly. The No. 1 thing, I would not micro-manage my employees, my department heads. I would get the very best department heads that I could get with the help of the universities that we have here ... get the very best people for each position, and then I would let them do their job.
My job, I feel, is going out and selling Jackson and trying to keep business from leaving here and trying to bring more business into Jackson. I feel that that's my business, and I feel that's not going on at this time. You know, when we have a big building like out there on Highway 80 to leave the city of Jackson because they can't get egress and from the back via Calico Place, and Mr. (Charles) Tillman and I went out there to talk to those gentlemen, and they were saying that they had been working with the present mayor for six or seven months trying to see if he, on Highland Drive back there just let them, you know. See, I would have built them another little highway back there. We don't need to lose a business like that to leave the city of Jackson.
So, that's one of the first things that I think is quite different between me and the present administration. And not only that: I feel that the city council should have access to work with all the department heads, because they are closest to the people. And when you let them work with all department heads then they can get things done, not calling a 311 number. You know, sometimes they don't answer 911. How are you going to answer 311?
These are some of things that are different for me. I don't want anything to come right to me in my office. That's why you have these other elected officials, and they elect all of us to work together. That's what my motto is: Working together, we can do better.
So you're saying that everybody has to go straight to the mayor's office, and they can't go to any department heads?
No. I'm talking about city council.
So would you do away with the 311 system?
By all means. I'd let the elected officials in each ward be the 311 system. They would work their wards. ... You know, you feel helpless at times, when people come up to you and say, "Mr. Bluntson, why can't I get this" whatever it is in that neighborhood. You say, "You need to call 311."
"I call it. I can't get anybody to do anything." My secretary, also, we had to call 311, too. We call 311, and I just think, elected people ought to be given a little more authority. Now, this means that I'm going to have to share the mayor's power, so to speak. It's not about me being so powerful. I think it's trying to help people. You know, I don't want to sit up there on the throne. I want to share power to help people. That's what I want to do.
Of course, you realize you can pull it in when you get ready, anyway. You don't have to let it stay out there and say it's not going anywhere.
What do you think are the most important development projects that we should be, either existing projects that we should be making happen or new ideas that you would like to see happen?
Well, I think we have enough on the table right now that if we get those things completed, we've done quite well. Of course, you always look for new things to do.
Farish Street--Farish Street would've been our Beale Street. It would've been our Bourbon Street. But, you know, it's been sitting down there over 12 years looking just like it looked 12 years ago. That would be my first priority: to make sure Farish Street would get developed.
And how would you do that?
Well, (Jackson Redevelopment Authority)--all of its people would be in charge. ... Actually, the mayor's in charge (today). JRA is afraid of the mayor. They won't say that, but, you know, when he speaks, they listen.
But the fact is this: I would call in whoever the developer is and let them know that we're going to have to go to work. We're going to have to complete Farish Street, and if you can't complete it, let us know. I'll go to the city attorney, and we'll draw up whatever paperwork we need to have drawn up to make sure that we can clear that person out and get somebody else on top of it.
So is it your position, Mr. Bluntson, that it's not the developer's problem at this point, that the issue rests with the mayor's office?
No, no, no; I didn't say that. ... The problem lies with JRA. They're supposed to be a separate entity, but you'll find out it's not. They listen to the mayor. They mayor can still use his bully pulpit to get things done, and that's what I'd do.
The governor has talked about a pretty ambitious project to make Mississippi a health-care hub. How do you see yourself working from the mayor's office with the state to make something like that a reality in Jackson?
You know, I'll work with anybody who's doing something very positive to bring the economy up in the city of Jackson. I think this is a tremendous plan that the governor's talking about--from (Interstate) 55 to (Interstate) 220. I think that would be good, but I also think the governor should think about also expanding Medicaid, too. That would help out a lot.
Of course, I have no problem with that. Anybody who wants to do something to help Jackson move forward, I'm willing to work with that person.
The state and city relationship has been rocky from time to time. The Legislature hasn't allowed Jackson to have its own say in how it would spend additional sales taxes. Would you continue the fight over the makeup of the commission?
On that line, I have not had the opportunity to go up to negotiate and work with the people on that. Only the mayor and the lobbyist ... have been working on that end. I don't know: We at city council meetings, we don't have that kind of power. That's what I mean by sharing power.
That's another thing, whoever is president of the council, I would definitely do like Dale Danks quite some years ago ... I would make that person my mayor pro tem, to show that we can work together. ...
But to follow up on the question: It's pretty difficult to go to the city of Jackson and ask the people to vote to raise a sales tax and then your elected officials don't have the last say in doing what they're supposed to do. Makes it sound like, "You don't have people educated enough to know how to spend the money."
I don't have any problem with that because I'm one of the persons on the council that said that I couldn't vote to tell my people to go and put that sales tax on unless we have the authority to make sure ... because it's written out there what (the money) is to be used for: sewage, streets. And that's all we can do: use it for sewage and streets, so why can't we do what we're supposed to do? Why do we have to have somebody from Gulfport and up in Clarksdale--my hometown--tell us how to spend the money, you know?
So you agree with the mayor on that point, about the commission.
By all means.
As the city council president, or more recently as a city councilman, why could you not go talk to the Legislature and try to convince them?
Well, anybody can go and talk to the Legislature. ... But you have to go in an official capacity. And that's administrative capacity. Now, if the mayor had asked me to take along with him, I would've been glad to go.
Did you ask the mayor if you could go with him?
No, I didn't. You know, I think the mayor should ask me sometimes. "You're president of city council, why don't you go with me." That's what I'm going to do; that's what I'll do. And that's why I said make the president of the city council the mayor pro tem. Quite naturally, that person would go with me everywhere.
You mentioned something about selling Jackson to businesses. How, specifically, would you sell Jackson to local businesses? How would you attract new companies to Jackson?
You know, my (radio) talk show is "Straight Talk." Believe it or not, we have people calling "Straight Talk"--anybody who listens can tell you that--saying, "Frank, we listen to 'Straight Talk' from Las Vegas, from L.A., New York." They say, "Man, why don't you get in touch with the people out here, and, you know, bring some things in?"
Even Magic Johnson! Magic Johnson's grandfolks are folks from Copiah County. To my knowledge, I don't know that anyone's tapped through to Magic Johnson, to try and least get him to come in and put a movie theater up.
These are the kinds of things that I would love to do. ... I'm not too proud to beg. I want you to know that. I don't have a whole lot of pride. You know, a lot of people have pride. But I'll do whatever, legally, is necessary to do to make Jackson thrive and be the city that it should be.
We all know that there's always been this kind of historic disconnect between the city and the state. Some of it revolves around race power issues and various things, so it can make it difficult to get the state to go along with what the city wants, like on this commission, right? My question to you is: Do you have the kinds of connections to help us overcome some of those divisions, even across race lines? How would you go about getting past what has proved to be a very high wall?
If you read the history of Jackson, Mississippi, as it relates to the Legislature, even in the Dale Danks administration--and I don't know about this, but somebody told me it goes back as far as the Russell Davis administration--the city of Jackson has always had problems with the Legislature because the Legislature is mostly rural areas coming into town, and it looks like the big city. ... It hasn't been a race thing--I'm talking about in the past. (White mayors) also had difficulty with the Legislature getting it to do what they want in the city of Jackson. Quite naturally, because the population now is that the city is 70, 75 percent (black), whatever it is, it has a race (issue) now, and it could be; it could be. But we've always had problems with the Legislature because most of the legislators are from the rural areas.
So how do you get past that--you as mayor? What do you do?
Good question, glad you asked. I would deal with it different from anybody else. ... I've never had, really, a one-on-one conversation with you, but if there's something I need the (Jackson) Free Press to do, I'd talk to you about it. I'd just come here and, really, let you know my passion about it, how I feel about it, how I feel that you ought to feel about it, and explain to you what you ought to do about it because we need it. And I think that somewhere down the line that you say, "You know, Frank Bluntson might have a point. Let's try to help the old boy." That's why I say I'm not too proud to beg.
I promise I'd never call you an old boy. I promise not to do that.
Well, you know, it depends on how you deal with people at times to get them to change. If you walk up like you're the last word, and you're the king of the road ...
You haven't asked me this, and maybe I shouldn't say this, but everybody in the world knows that on Friday, it's supposed to be dress-down day, right? What does that mean. Dress down, brother; be comfortable--casual Friday. And you go to the Legislature (in a) neck tie, vest on all that kind of stuff. I'm using that as an example.
Sometimes you have to know how to do, when to do and what not to do. And I heard this. I heard this many times for certain people. I know that it does make a difference for some people and how you're dealing with people, and that's just use this as an example, that's all.
As you know, the city is facing a huge bill, a multi-million dollar bill to bring critical infrastructure issues up to par--sewage, roads, bridges, all kinds of things. We talked a little bit about the 1-cent sales tax, but do you have other, specific plans on how to raise the funds to do that work?
At the present time, I do not. But I know this is a task that we have to face. We're already facing it because the (Environmental Protection Agency) told us what we have to do.
I don't want to be like Birmingham, Alabama. You know, Birmingham had to file bankruptcy on this. I was talking to a gentleman the other day, and I didn't know this, but he told me that (Jackson has) twice as many city employees as Birmingham.
Maybe that's why we may have to file bankruptcy, I don't know.
But I'm willing to get with the best of the best--people from Millsaps (Collge), Belhaven (University), Jackson State (University), Tougaloo (College)--did I leave out anybody around here?--Mississippi College and even Hinds (Community College)--the very best of those people in the business and planning (departments). And we'll have a round-table discussion, just put on the board, "What can we do to face what we need to face?" And I know it's going to take money. ... What can do to do this, to face this? That's why I say you I have to work with people.
The (Hinds County) Board of Supervisors--we're in a different world than the board of supervisors. People fight against the board of supervisors, and three of the five people live in the city of Jackson. Why would you fight with somebody who's your neighbor? Seriously. We should more meetings, you know, informal meetings, without a quorum and all that, and we should try to work together.
(Former Councilman and Hinds County Supervisor) Kenny Stokes, of all folks, called me and said, "Frank, why don't y'all (fix) some of these bad streets in Jackson"--as if he doesn't live on those streets. He said, "Why don't y'all let us know. If you supply the asphalt and everything, we'll do the paving." I brought that up at council meeting, and the person looked at me like I was crazy. When Kenny Stokes can come to us and look like he's trying to help us as a member of the board of supervisors, and I brought it up two or three times.
What's wrong with getting an inter-local agreement with Hinds County? I know we have to do that ... but I would sign that in a minute to help us out because all of us live here and work together. That's why I say a lot of people just don't want to turn loose of power. It matters not to me about power. What matters to me is getting the job done, and making the city look better, look cleaner, look better all around. Burned structures should be gone the best we can. Dilapidated homes--some of these places in Jackson look like a third-world country, and this just shouldn't be.
What have you done as a member of the city council to have those kinds of conversations with people, to reach out for some sort of plan for what do about dilapidated homes?
When you say all the people to reach out, do you know that the state of Mississippi has a law, and I was talking to the ex-mayor of Vicksburg ... He said, "Frank, I don't know why don't do that." I have brought it up in council meetings. He told me, and we have this on the books ... "You can sell that for $200 a lot." He said 50 cents a lot, but you want to make some money. But you have a mandate that the person buying this thing must build a house, or whatever, on that property within 18 months. And what do you have there? You have the lot taken care of; you have people paying taxes on the structure that is there--right now, it doesn't generate a penny.
And I told him (that) when I get to be mayor, I'm going to have him come in and be any part of my administration if he wants to come. I mean, he is some sharp; he's some sharp.
Look, it matters not to me about color. What matters to me is about getting things done. If you have the ability to get things done, that's my bottom line. ... /It's our understanding that the city can't raise additional funds from ad valorem (property) taxes for JPS, and education isn't generally under the purview of the mayor's office, but what specific steps can we take to improve the educational outcomes in Jackson?
First of all ... the only thing you can really do (as mayor) is try to put pretty decent school-board members on the school board, and make sure they really have the education of the whole city of Jackson in their hearts. Now, this had nothing to do with you as a person as the mayor to give your moral leadership to them and to say things that are tugging at your heartstrings, so to speak. You can't tell them what to do and all that; you just can't do that. But you can make it known that, in some kind of nice way that, "I appointed you, and I'm looking at you to be a little bit more considerate to what we're doing here. That's what I think, and I think that really, it's really difficult to see the kind of problems that we have. We have one down there named George School that is rated 5--dead in the ghetto. And then you have other schools in nice areas, a 3. Something's wrong. But I always say it starts where? At the top. Everything starts at the top and it filters down, and everything you start at the top filters down. So, therefore, the superintendent has to be the person that you're going to have to talk with.
I read an article in the paper the other day--and I like the guy: very friendly and cordial and everything, you know. But I really think that the superintendent (Cedrick Gray) is really getting a raw deal with this publicity that they're putting out on the front page of the paper. Because ... that man has already been tried and found guilty and, you know, been hanged. I'm talking about all this stuff their putting in the paper.
Which isn't our paper, by the way. We're not doing that.
No. It's not in your paper, but you know what I'm saying. You know what's been in the headlines. ... I don't think that's fair to the man. He has to go home to his wife and child and everything like that. I know his heart is heavy as it is enough to try to get Jackson to move. But facing the kind of stuff in the paper about what happened in Tennessee, where ever it was.
There was a lot of controversy over Mr. (Frank) Melton's appointments to the school board. What did you think about his appointees to the school board? ... It was a school board at that time that seemed difficult to work with, overall, and I'm not talking about any particular person here. And there were a lot of complaints that we would hear that it wasn't a school board trying to find a top-quality superintendent. How do you ensure that you're getting the kinds of school board members who are not going to be divisive in any direction--racial or otherwise--but who are really going to try to improve the school system?
We had one session, not too long ago, with a gentleman who's the president of the school association, here. I don't know if you met him. But that guy is so sharp. If we had heard him, had known how to pick school-board members and how to go about the things that you have to look at for in school-board members, I think we would have done a better job. But the buck still stops at the mayor. The mayor made his choice. (The city council) has nothing to do with that. We can holler ...
Mr. Tillman didn't even come to vote on the school board because he couldn't get the person he thought should be on there. But the law says that the mayor appoints, and we confirm. That's what the law says, and I told Mr. Tillman, "You can't go around that; that's what it says." And he asked, "Why did he ask us to put names in the pot of who we think ought to be on there, and then he gets who he wants?" And I said, "That's the law."
My thing is going to be different from that. I'm going to deal with people just like I'm talking about that gentleman, whatever his position is, executive director of the state school board. I didn't know his office was in Jackson until we started talking with him. I said, "Where's this man been all this time with all this knowledge, and we're sitting here without that?"
And I think we have to use people who have been in there, done that, know how it should be done, and know the consequences if you don't do it. I think you need people like that to help guide you, not only in picking school-board members, but doing a whole lot of things.
That's why I want to set myself aside and open myself up to people who are in the position, because you get a person up here talking about they're running for mayor but they know everything, man, you better close the book on him right then, because he already, or she already is closed up. They're not going to listen to anything else. They know everything. I'm a person who's not going to do that. I'm open to help, and I don't care where the help comes from as long as you're doing something positive.
What do you see as the root causes of crime in Jackson, and how, as mayor, would you approach solving those issues?
My personal feeling about crime--we do have a crime problem in Jackson. I talk to many police officers, and they come by my house. A lot of them told me, "Frank, we're going to support you." Now, I feel that a lot of the contribution that's made by a lot of persons is helpful, but I think a lot of crime really, to me, is because a lot of the police officers, they're afraid to get out there and do their job because they feel they're being mistreated. They're called in for any little thing and, you know, they're being suspended. ...
Let me tell you what one police officer told me, and then you'll see what I'm talking about. He told me that he was brought in because some drug dealer or thug, he had ... an altercation. I don't know what kind of altercation he had. And he brought the guy in, not a mark on him anywhere, you know, and (the perpetrator) said the (officer) hit him in the side, hit him in the stomach. (The officer) said he didn't do anything. He said, "I probably should have, but I didn't. ... He wrote out a complaint about me, and the chief called me in and used all kinds of bad, four-letter words against me and all that kind of stuff and talked to me like a dog. I was trying to tell my side, and she wouldn't even listen to me." He said, "You know what she did?" And I said, "What?"
He said: "I was working the 7 to 3 shift. Now, this is low. I had a security job at Walmart from 6 to 10 at night. She called my rep and found out I was working at (I think Walmart, Steinmart, one of these stores) from 6 to 10." She moved him from the 7-to-3 shift and put him on the 3-to-11 shift, so he would lose that job.
Is there a policy about having extra jobs?
No, no. She's punishing him! She punished him so now he can't work on these part-time jobs because his shift is 3 to 11--unless he gets a job working from 7 in the morning until 12 or something like that.
Is it unusual for folks who work on shifts to change shifts on occasion?
Well, I'll tell you: The chief can do what she wants to do, but I don't think she should be punitive against a person to make that person lose a job. He already said he was underpaid ... and he's trying to keep a job so he won't be stealing and pushing drugs and all that stuff like we had a lot of them to be arrested for.
Now, this man has a job; he's working and all that. And now he's going to be put in that position. That's the morale. That's bringing morale down. ... The morale problem causes people to react instead of being proactive.
Now, proactive means when you see these thugs walking down the street in the neighborhood with these hoods over their heads and all this kind of stuff, and it's 70 degrees, 75 degrees--not that cold--but they just don't want to be seen. Now, you know if the police pull up and say, "Where are you going? Do you live here? Let me see some identification," that's being proactive. But these police officers won't even do that now because that guy might say I did something (to them), so they'll walk by that kind of a person. And that's why we have crime.
A lot of people won't even report a break-in. They talk about crime going down, a lot of people don't even report them, now, if they're mild. If they break in their garage and steal their wheels or something like that, (they say): "Let it go. We're not going to (report) that because they're not going to do a thing about it."
One lady told me, "I'm tired of seeing these white cards." The police gave her white cards, stacking up, stacking up. No detective ever came by her house, never took a report. ... That shouldn't happen. When you tell somebody, "That's your case number," that person is looking for somebody to come back and tell them something, or call them or something. You see, that's the problem: That's the morale problem we have in the police department.
My thing is, do this: Tell whoever I get for chief, tell them to get out there and do their job. Don't be blue-lining anybody. Just get out there, and we've got your back. That's all those guys want to know. Do you have my back out there? There's enough going out there as it is; it's tough enough going out there as it is, facing people out there. I said many times at the council meetings, I said it many times: I can't be a police officer, because I'm afraid. I'd have my pistol out checking driver's licenses. I'm just talking about, if you're afraid, you can't be a police officer.
The idea of a police officer having an altercation, do you mean a physical altercation with a drug dealer? Wouldn't that be a concern?
No, no. That's not what he said. He said (it was) "some kind of an altercation." I don't know if he was a burglar or what he was. He didn't say he hit the man. He said it was an altercation. But he said, "If he had been marked or something like that, I could see her calling me in. But I didn't do anything to him, and he lied."
I don't know what kind of altercation they had.
You were on the city council when Mr. Melton and his team destroyed the duplex on Ridgeway Street. As you know, Mr. Melton definitely had the attitude of not always needing a warrant and those kinds of things. You were very publicly in favor of what he did, and even testified for his benefit at the trials, I believe.
So, tell me about it, because I think that's the public perception is that you defended Melton, pretty much anything that he did.
No, no. Frank was my friend. But I have never defended him in anything that he did that was not lawful. When he went down on President Street with that guard, talking about, "Who didn't have a warrant," and all that stuff he did. ... I cussed Frank out and told him he was dead wrong. He shouldn't have done that. But, you know, Frank was going to be Frank. He'd tell me, "OK, Frank. OK, Frank."
I'd say, "Frank you need to stop smoking."
And he'd put the cigarette out, and I'd come back and there'd be smoke coming out of his desk drawer. I mean, that's the kind of thing Frank would do, know what I mean? Frank was Frank.
But the fact is this: I didn't testify for him. When that duplex was torn up down there, I don't think I made any kind of statement about him or about the duplex.
I didn't make any kind of statement about the duplex. The people say he didn't have a warrant, he didn't do this or that. ... I always believed in (following) the law. Regardless of how it is, I think the law is strict enough for you to do the things you have to do. ... He had to get a warrant, even if he had to have people stand around the house with signs, he could've done that.
So you're not saying to let the police do anything they want. So, when you say that you've got their back ...
No, no, no. Maybe you didn't hear what I said. I told you. I said, "Go out there and do your job. ... Obey the law, 'cause we'll have your back."
That's the statement I'm talking about. Those police officers, a lot of them feel that nobody's got their back. And these guys say, "I got babies at home to feed. ... And you know you don't want me out there with ... drugs." That's another thing.
So let's flip that, because I think you and I both know that we've had a long history of corruption on the police force. My guess is that not all of that is rooted out, yet. What would you do to ensure we are taking care of these problems, and how would you investigate? What would you do as mayor to get the rest of the corruption out of the police department?
First of all, before a person gets on the police department, I think they should be--like any other person working with human beings in that setting--I think they should have a psychological exam. I don't know that these officers are tested like they used to be, or what. I don't know. ... Because they're always (talking about) 500, 500, 500. They get 30, 30, 30, and then they're still not at 500.
What do you mean by 500? Five hundred cops (on the Jackson force)?
Yeah, 500 cops. And then when they're done, the trained officers all go to other departments. That's why I had suggested in council meetings one time that police officers, unless there's something wrong, they ought to sign something to at least give two years to the city of Jackson because we've trained them. Don't get yourself trained and then go to other departments like Dallas. I know these guys don't get paid (a lot), but at least, you owe us something to stay here. That's my concern, but listen, again, I think that they should be tested, they should (get) background checks and all that.
Now, I don't know, but I was told that they don't have to go through real serious background checks. I know a long time ago ... when police officers come, they used to have two or three guys, that's all they'd do is check backgrounds on the candidates that came to the police department. ... If they're not doing that ... I don't know. I heard they're not doing what they used to do, but I feel that we should if they're not doing it.
Do you know whom you would appoint police chief?
Yes, I do.
Who is it?
I can't say. ... I'll be honest with you: I promised this person, and you know him so well. I can tell you this much. This person at one time did serve on the Jackson Police Department ... a long time ago.
Coming April 24: “The Ghosts of Hinds County”
Donna Ladd’s new eBook tells both sides of a controversy that rocked the Juvenile Detention Center in the 1990s. Download at jfp.ms/scandal.