Letter to the Editor: Statement of Jan Hillegas to Jackson City Council and Mayor, June 22, 2021

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Good morning. I’m Jan Hillegas of Ward 5, West Jackson.

I want to speak to you this morning because you and Mr. Hartley are about to start another four years of service to the people of Jackson, and I want to remind you that in order to do a good job for us, you need to be listening to all of our voices and encouraging the contributions of all of our minds and hands in making Jackson the best it can be.

Three personal examples make clear why I’m disappointed that the City has fallen way short of valuing and promoting the involvement of all its residents in various ways to accomplish what needs to be done.
First, without asking us to work with you on a way to continue recycling our plastic and other materials, instead of filling dumps with it, the City ended curbside recycling a long time ago. You made it impossible for us to be responsible stewards of materials that could be re-used or recycled, when you could have consulted with scientists at our colleges and universities and others with the training and experience to research successful re-use processes and build local businesses for a range of products for local use.

Second, three years ago, within a structure initiated by Jackson State University, Hope Enterprise Corporation, and others, I put a lot of time into organizing a project to clean up the Viola E. Lake block at West Capitol Street, Rose Street, and Grand Avenue that she conveyed to the City of Jackson as trustee for the Jackson school district to “increase the educational opportunities for the citizens of Jackson.” After years of appropriate use, the large old house at Capitol and Rose, a brick building, and a former daycare center have been abandoned and become major eyesores in my neighborhood. Our plan was not a one-time cleanup but a process of determining with neighbors – including the homeless people who have made the brick building their shelter – how to clean up the block and make it useful as well as attractive. Though we had support from the school district’s caretaker, and I wrote a draft of a memorandum of understanding, my conversations with three City legal people, and at least two other City staff they sent me to, led to no cooperation from the City. We were just warned not to trespass on the block. So, for two years the $2,000 given for our project has sat in a bank, and the Lake block is a much worse eyesore today than it was three years ago.

And third, every individual who rides on our streets is jarred by large and deep potholes, and some have car damage and injuries as a result. There was brief talk of an experimental pothole-filling machine, then no more was heard. I am confident that if you put out a call for Jacksonians to form teams and plan and implement stop-gap pothole filling, we could all be very much happier driving on our streets until long-term paving can be done. This summer, the City could challenge young people to recruit teams of neighbors and chemists and others from the colleges to decide what they need to do for everyone to be safe while they’re working, choose a pothole, measure it, figure out how much material is needed to fill it, evaluate types of materials, and acquire the best they can decide on, fill the hole, document the whole process on video, and schedule regular inspections over the next months. Yes, a City coordinator would be needed to work with the volunteers to put it all together. Businesses could provide or help pay for materials. Cooks could prepare snacks. Politicians could contribute yard signs and frames that could be painted over with team members’ names and posted in the grass near the former pothole. Public meetings could be held in different parts of the City to make reports, compare notes, cheer each other on, correct the inevitable mistakes.

So, I challenge you to use your imaginations, encourage the imaginations of City staff, don’t be afraid of the ideas of Jacksonians, reduce community stress and crime with community problem-solving, and let’s make the next four years ones where we move forward faster and further than we’ve ever been able to before.
Thank you.