Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba looked back on the past year as one of “challenges and progress” in his Oct. 26 State of the City address at the Rookery Events Center in downtown Jackson. He remained upbeat throughout the presentation as he revealed the ongoing structural and operational changes that will “bring our city into the 21st Century.”
Lumumba shared the platform with most of the city’s department heads who were featured in short videos about their departmental functions.
“We’re a lot smarter collectively than we are individually,” Lumumba said. “This city won’t see the progress that we need to see because the mayor has all the answers or that the administration is so smart, or even because our council is so capable. We’ll be able to do it because we will work in collaboration with each other.”
Public safety was at the top of his list of priorities for the city, and so the mayor announced that the salary raises for both the police and fire departments brought Jackson up to the statewide standards. JFD ranks among the highest in the state, the mayor said.
Both departments are now at their highest pay rates in their history, he said.
JFD established a partnership with the Jackson Public School District and sponsors a Fire Sciences curriculum at Callaway High. In addition, the department has lowered the age for new applicants from 21 to 18.
Under new Police Chief Joseph Wade, JPD has gone from an understaffed officer corps of 221 a year ago to 250 in the current year. And for the first time in its history the city now has an Office of Violence Prevention and a Trauma Recovery Center that will ease the burden of police officers faced with incidents caused by possible mental health patients. Police officers will now be able to call on specialists and social workers instead of relying solely on their strict by-the-book enforcement measures.
“It helps to maintain the proper force level within the city,” he said. “Chief Wade has established a policy to show each officer dignity and appreciation for their work,” the mayor said.
The city’s traffic camera system now has a full-time operator monitoring all cameras.
With this system, real time and immediate responses to traffic violations and stolen vehicles are possible. Another innovation for JPD is the launch of Jackson’s drone program. This will prove to be a big help in investigating crime incidents and in search-and-rescue efforts that aren’t easily investigated at ground level.
“The best is yet to come,” said Chief Wade.
MAN KILLED ON I-55
Lumumba tried to explain why Dexter Wade, a man accidentally killed by an off-duty JPD officer in a traffic accident in March on I-55 was buried anonymously in a pauper’s grave although his family had filed a missing person report within a week of the accident.
“Unfortunately, at the time,” said Lumumba, “he was without identification and the JPD was unable to make an ID. The coroner’s office later received his body and they were later able to establish his identity through both his fingerprint and a prescription bottle on him. Then there were efforts made… to reach out to the medical provider.” But the name and number provided by the medical provider were not accurate or up-to-date, the mayor said.
It took seven months for the city and the coroner to properly identify the victim and turn his remains over to his family.
The city clerk’s office is in the process of digitizing all city records, Lumumba said.
“This massive effort to digitize the records of the city of Jackson has been incredibly important and amazing to work on,” said the mayor. “They are bringing our city into the 21st Century.” The clerk’s office has also set up the Passport and TSA (Transportation Security Authority) Division to cope with a constant stream of applicants for passports and TSA Badges.
The Department of Information Technology is another new feature in the administration. And new family leave policies have been incorporated into the Department of Human Resources for the first time.
The mayor, however, spent little time discussing the many lawsuits, clashes, and near-catastrophes foisted upon the city by both external and internal forces during the last year.
The City Attorney’s office revealed that they had $250,000 to cover the city’s legal fees during the past year. But in early April, the city clerk revealed that only $400 (yes $400) remained in the legal fund after the City of Jackson had paid over $220,000 in legal fees up to that point. The discrepancy went unexplained.
Only two days after the mayor’s address, Council President Aaron Banks called for all city departments to present all the city’s delinquent invoices at the risk of having their pay withheld. Banks cited 63 unpaid invoices amounting to $1.3 million that the city owes for business services. Banks scolded the city’s various departments for not paying some invoices for as long as two years. “Something has to be done,” he said, demanding that the invoices be delivered to the council within 24 hours.
Jackson’s two biggest headaches in the past year were the challenges of getting a new garbage contract and bringing the city’s water and sewer systems back into a functioning mode, although both issues have been carryovers for many years. A federal court-ordered Stipulated Order brought in an Interim Third Party Manager to assume control of the water and sewer issues. With the federal control came $800 million to finance the operation. The multimillion-dollar garbage contract, temporarily settled through litigation earlier this year, expires on March 31, and a new battle between the city council and mayor’s office might develop.
ENEMIES OF THE CITY
Gov. Tate Reeves has consistently shown a mean-spirited, bigoted attitude towards the mayor and residents of Jackson, 85 percent of whom are Black. On one occasion, Reeves told a mostly white crowd that “any day that he spends away from Jackson is a good day.” He has referred to the people of the city as “welfare recipients.” And his threats in 2022 to take over Jackson’s water system during the city’s water crisis almost became a reality until the feds stepped in with a plan and the money to finance it.
Externally, the state legislature tried relentlessly to co-opt the city’s court and police functions in the so-called Capitol Complex, which includes state government buildings and the governor’s mansion.
A group of white state legislators passed bills HB1020 and SB2345 that infringed on Jackson’s right to govern itself. HB1020 intended to impose a separate Capitol police force into the city of Jackson along with unelected judges who were to be independent of the city’s court system. The notorious SB2345 would bar Jackson residents from organizing a protest near the governor’s mansion or any other state building without a state police permit. Petitioners could be arrested and taken directly to Parchman prison for detention while awaiting a trial before one of those unelected judges at the Capitol. Fortunately, that bill is under review by the federal courts.
Representative Shanda Yates of Dist. 64, who represents a majority white Northeast Jackson district, sponsored a group of bills that posed a threat both to the city government and the Black residents here. Yates won office as a Democrat in 2019 but switched to independent after persuading Jackson Black representatives to sign onto bill that requires Jackson to have its revenue from state and federal programs come under the control of the Department of Finance and Administration. Jackson is the only municipality in Mississippi required to do so.
City council vice president Angelique Lee revealed in March 2023 that Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann set up a secret meeting with her and former Council Pres. Ashby Foote of Ward 7 that was designed to usurp the authority of Mayor Lumumba and transfer his executive powers to the city council.
Lumumba remains hopeful that city government will continue at a high enough level of achievement and competence to fulfill his early promise to the people of Jackson, and he kept returning to the theme of shared responsibility in running the affairs of Jackson.
“When I first campaigned some time ago, I said that when I become mayor, you become mayor,” he said. “That’s not only a statement of accountability in which the residents have to hold me to task, but it’s also a statement of our shared responsibility.”