Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Jackson resident and business owner Charlotte Reeves prides herself on being a longtime resident of the capital city. Reeves graduated from Provine High School in 1965. She co-owns her company, A1 Pallets, with her husband, Monte, and the company is located close to the Jackson State University campus. The couple has three grown children.
Reeves, an active member of her community, has long sought the mayor's office. She ran as a Republican candidate in her first two elections in 1997 and 2001, then as an independent in 2009. This time around, she is joining a crowded field of 10 Democrats.
Why are you running for mayor?
I have a vision for Jackson. We can rebuild Jackson with VISA: that's vision, integrity, structure and accountability. When you have those four things going for you, you can have a fabulous, vibrant and productive capital city.
What distinguishes you from the other candidates? Do they not have those four qualities?
As the news keeps coming out, it's more and more of those things. Without saying anything about my opponents, I do have vision, I do have integrity, I do know how to manage my money, and I do know how to run a business.
My husband and I have been business owners for 22 years. We recycle wooden pallets in the inner city area of Jackson. We chose to do this because we wanted to help the inner-city people find jobs, and we wanted to help the environment. When we started doing this, it was before the environment was a big issue. We saw the need, and we saw it would be needed one day. We save 50,000 trees a year selling these pallets back at lower prices.
Our employees come from the inner city. Our employees come from all walks of life--some are coming out of halfway houses, some have criminal backgrounds. There's a need for employing people from all walks of life.
We know you own land there near Jackson State University. Did you recently pledge to move your business to accommodate a football stadium?
We did. We have 20-plus acres right there. We've been neighbors of the university for 30 years. We can even hear the Sonic Boom (of the South) practicing. We have two locations, but one of them is at 605 Clifton. We met with JSU, and we have an agreement that we will relocate our company and our residence so they can build on the land. We're going to negotiate the land, but we have agreed to move if they can get it done. It would provide 1,800 jobs. It would do wonders for the area. We also have land that connects that area to the convention center, and we know business will boom around a new stadium.
How did you acquire all that property?
When you've been in the area as long as we have and been cutting the grass and doing those type things to make sure the area around you is nice, then it comes up for sale, at some point it's cheaper just to buy it. We have such faith in Jackson, even when people are laughing at us for staying in the area we are in. If we moved off to a gated community--and I have nothing against a gated community--we would probably be afraid to come to that part of town. We would lose sight of what is going on in those neighborhoods. I want to see Jackson be so vibrant that people can't talk about "that part of town" anymore. There won't be a "that side of town."
If elected, what would be your top priority for the city of Jackson?
Of course there are many, many top priorities, but what stands out to me is we have an annual budget of $353 million. What do we have to show for it?
The first thing we'll do is we will do a full audit of the city, and that's not a study--the Reeves administration won't be doing endless studies--it would be an audit to find out where our money is going and if there is any waste. When I canvas the community, I hear people say our ideas sound great, but there's no money. Then I tell them that our budget is $353 million, and after I pick them up off the floor because they are so astounded, they say, "It's that much?" Yes, it is.
Then we have to buy expensive gas to drive our private vehicles to other cities so we can go to the movies, go out to eat and go for our entertainment as we're bumping along on these sorry roads. We pay the highest taxes of anyone in the state of Mississippi, so where is it? I know how to manage my money very wisely, and I know I can stretch that budget. We will definitely have something prosperous to show for it.
Most of that money has to go to big-ticket items like the Jackson Police Department and Jackson Public Schools, right?
I'm so glad you asked about that--something as simple as a K-9 unit for JPD. Did you know that we do not have a K-9 unit?
I did, but how would that be helpful?
The sheriff's department has dogs, but do you know what a K-9 unit for JPD would mean for the city? We know there are drugs in Jackson, whether they are passing through because we are the crossroads of the South or whether they are on the corner. We know they are here. ... We move (dealers) off of our street because as soon as we see them appearing on the street, we call the police and complain until they do something. The current administration hasn't brought a single drug dog to JPD. They say they are too expensive, but the dogs don't have sick leave or pensions. They need their upkeep, of course, but other than that, it's a one-time expense, and just think of what it will do. ... Anything that is confiscated during a drug bust--whether its money, vehicles or homes--that belongs to the enforcement agency that confiscates it. So think about the money that could bring into the police department. That money could go towards the funds that are already budgeted to the police department and free up more money to be spent elsewhere.
How would you specifically work to curb violent crime?
You probably know I was robbed and beaten--just about killed--outside my office in January. I truly believe if this fellow had a job, he wouldn't have done this. If he had a good education, he would have a job and wouldn't have done this. It all ties into education, jobs, training and boosting the police morale. If the police see kids tussling on the corner, you don't just egg them on, you stop, get out and play Officer Friendly. They may not have a dad or grandfather to give them that morale boost. It's going to take all of us working together.
What is your economic development plan for the city?
This is great! We can make a change day one in the mayor's office. It doesn't take studies, and it doesn't take money or a lot of time. We can get this done right away. If you've ridden all over Jackson, and I don't care what part, there are abandoned shopping centers and boarded up houses. It looks like a third-world country in some areas. There will be a nice house, and then right next door a burned-out or abandoned house. Some look like the termites have eaten them down to the frame. This man I talked to lives next door to an abandoned house, and I asked him, "Is this house coming or going?" because I couldn't tell. He said it's looked like that for five years. I told him I applaud him for staying in Jackson, and I applaud you for waking up every day and wanting to have your home look so beautiful, because this is wrong. You should not be paying the highest taxes in the state while your city government is not working for you and helping you to get this done.
What we're going to do is this: We have seven wards. So we're going to do something easy first. We can take 10 of those boarded-up houses in each ward--that's 70 houses--the ones that need the least amount of work. There are plenty of boarded-up and abandoned houses where the roof is good. They might just need windows or doors replaced or yard work done. Then we can have those houses for single mothers. There are plenty of single mothers that need a nice home in a nice neighborhood to raise their children in. It's a lot easier for that single mother to borrow $30,000 from a bank instead of $130,000. So when you get Lowe's, Home Depot, other organizations, the community, the neighbors, churches and non-profits involved, you'll have 70 houses done in no time. Then when this single mother is taught or reinforced on how to spend money and manage the household, then maybe gets advancement in her job, she can go to the next level of housing, and this house will still be in good shape for the next person who needs to get off the street or get a second chance. It can be that simple to get started.
How would you work to improve the relationship between the mayor's office and the state legislature and city council?
It's all about leadership, leadership, leadership. That's what its about--that and knowing that to have power is not to show you have it, but to know you have it and know when to use it. That's what happens.
We've been experiencing it for a while now. There's this little turf war between the mayor and the city council, or mayor and the county supervisors, or the mayor and state government. It's like, "Here we are, and here's what we expect." You don't gain anything with that approach. I know many of the state legislators, and I get along with them very well. I know how to work with them. Male, female, black, white--I don't see any of that. I only see green, and that represents prosperity.
Also, I want to say this: Any time we have a meeting of the city council or we go into a meeting with legislators, we will insist the pride and egos get checked at the door. Elected officials are just that: They are elected to serve the people, not to go in and have this little turf war where egos and pride get involved. When they start to squabble or get the mentality where it has to be my idea or nothing at all, you get exactly what we have--a city that looks like a third-world country where we are bouncing along the terrible roads and driving to places like Madison to get the amenities a capital city should have.
How will you work to improve educational outcomes from the mayor's office?
There again: leadership skills and getting pride and ego out of the way. You have to be sure you know who your school-board appointees are, not just your chorines or your buddies.
I put my name in the bidding to be on the school board when one became available in my ward because I had ideas. I wasn't approved or even in the running. It was a "thanks, but no thanks" situation. I wanted (the board) to get away from the conference table. I didn't want to meet once a month. I wanted to go to the different schools in the district, unannounced, and just see what the situation was at these schools.
We're not in the same age as when I was in school. When I was in school, all we had was textbooks. We knew we had to turn to chapter two and talk about paragraph three. But today, when you try to sit down a child in a school and teach this way, you lose them. That's why charter schools have become so popular with people who truly understand it. I didn't at first. I thought it would hurt the public schools, but then someone explained it to me. The charter schools will give the teachers the opportunity and the go-ahead to teach the child the best way they know how so the child can learn. It has to be creative teaching, because once you have the creativity flowing in that child, the doors, windows and the whole world is open to them. It's not just sitting at a desk, bored over the antiquated way to teaching.
You are running as a Democrat, but in 2009 you ran as an independent and before that you ran as a Republican. What gives?
Well, I don't like the way the system is set up, where you have to pick one party or the other in the primaries. The reason I did that is I was a business owner, and my business sense and values were more Republican-oriented, I guess. I have tons of Republican friends and probably even more Democratic friends, because I don't see people along party lines. ... I have not asked for financing, because I know when it's reported, and you see where the financial backing is coming from, it's like "aha!"
When it comes to making important decisions, where does the public fall in the chain of consideration? A lot of times, it's at the bottom of the list. My campaign is being run at the grass-roots level. I feel like you can get more votes by meeting people. Most of the people I'm meeting are registered voters, but they haven't voted in a while.
The way you run your campaign is the way you're going to run the finances of the city. When the economy took a big downturn, it hurt our business, but we made an abrupt change in our private lives and our business structure so we could keep our employees. I can't see us continuing our lifestyle and telling our employees we have to lay them off. That goes back to the way our city is being run now. The last time I ran for mayor, (the city) budget was around $300 million. Now it's $353 million, and we have less people. So fees are going up, whether it's considered taxes or not.
How would you handle hiring?
First, I will not go in and just clean house. I will give the department heads an opportunity. I will go to their office and interview them. I won't be sitting in my office. They can come to your office and tell you anything you want to hear. But when you go to their office, and you see the morale of the people there they are supervising. It doesn't take long to get the feel of it. That's what I will do. I will do more visiting in the departments than I will have department heads come to me.
What about a specific position such as police chief?
We will talk, and we will see. A lot of times these department heads are under a thumb because they are being micromanaged.
What qualifications would you be looking for in a police chief?
Before I kept one or hired one, I would want to talk to the force. The police force, they know what they've had, and they have a better understanding of the qualifications they feel are needed to have a successful police chief and police force.
How different would your management strategy be from the current mayor?
Complete turnaround--I mean 360 degrees--from how I would handle a council meeting, to how I handle just about anything. I love meeting people and being out of the office. Sometimes, when I'm not campaigning, people still ask me if I am running for something. I try to participate in everything within the community. I am just a people-person, and I love my city and my state. You have to be active and show the people that you can get on their level. You can be in the grocery store and smile at them or chat with them at the post office. They will see you are a real person and realize you are the kind of person they want to be their mayor.
Email Tyler at [email protected].