Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Mayor Chokwe Lumumba brushed off concerns from Jackson City Council members at Monday's work session about the 1-percent sales tax, which Jacksonians would have to pass by referendum. The first question was how much money the city stands to make from the proposed tax, and what the city aimed to do with the money.
"The estimate is around $15 million a year," Lumumba said. "That money would help us pave our roads and fix some of our drainage problem. According to the project manager on the consent decree, this would ensure that we have the money over the period of years we would need it."
Ward 2 Councilman Melvin Priester Jr. asked about the makeup of the controversial 10-member commission, required under state law, which would oversee disbursement of the funds. The way the law reads, the mayor would appoint three members, while the governor, the speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives and the lieutenant governor would each appoint a member. The mayor would choose the final four members from a group of eight Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership nominees.
In the past, the controversy over the four chamber-selected members has stalled progress on collecting the tax. Their members are not required to live in Jackson, but merely to have a business interest in the city, the law states.
Lumumba said Monday he's ready to put the issue to a vote, even if he doesn't have a legally binding agreement over those appointments. The Jackson Free Press reported recently that Lumumba claims to have a deal with the chamber that the city can pick those appointments, but Chamber President Duane O'Neill says nothing has changed on how it will happen. Former Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. questioned the legality of making such a deal without changing the law.
"We have an agreement," Lumumba said. "Do we have a written agreement or a memorandum of understanding? No. That's something we'll look into. I'm not sure that's the wisest course ... let me put it this way: I feel absolutely confident—and I'm one of the strongest opponents to this commission—but I feel absolutely confident that we are going to get what we want, or at least as close as we're going to get, to getting the appointments we want to get."
When pressed on why the city would not get something in writing, Lumumba said he trusts GJCP's leadership.
"I just wonder about putting something in a memo, because then it becomes a target for discussion," he said. "I'm a new mayor, so I guess I can be surprised, but I'd be astonished if we were betrayed on this issue."
Although that debate is likely to take up most of the council's time, it is far from the only important issue on the agenda. Set to meet at 6 p.m., the council will take up several other issues, including approving a new city attorney and a new representative to the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District, trying to secure money from CMPDD to resurface Siwell Road and, in case that's not enough, council members will vote on whether or not to de-authorize the Jackson Redevelopment Authority.
Lumumba's nomination for the position of city attorney is Gail Wright Lowery, a lawyer for the Lowery Law Firm at 1485 Livingston Lane. Lowery is a Murrah High School graduate who served as municipal court judge under former Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr.