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Resolution to change Jackson’s form of government sent back to committee after mayor, councilwoman express concerns

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 9:23 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A resolution that would have signified unity among Jackson city councilmembers to embrace a new form of government for the Capital City now resides in a committee without a vote because of concerns expressed from the city’s mayor and a councilwoman Tuesday about citizens being cut out or unduly influenced by the action.

“I really feel like this is just the cart before the horse. And I really think that with all due respect, [Ward 4 Councilman De’Keither] Stamps, I think I’m just gonna vote against it,” said Ward 7 Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay, shortly before Council President Aaron Banks sent the resolution back to the committee from which it originated.

The measure, placed on the agenda by Stamps days ago, would have been non-binding; changing a city’s form of government requires a petition and referendum before it can move forward, according to state law.

“What we have now is a system that’s great for contractors. But is it good for people? Is it good for progress? Is it good for efficiency?” Stamps said in an interview Wednesday. “Does it root out fraud, waste, and abuse? And those are the types of questions and answers that we have to start seeking.”

Stamps remains particularly frustrated because of the city’s ongoing water crisis; he stressed to council members Tuesday that he cannot truly address the needs of his residents without going through a process that may not even lead to help for his residents.

“I got folks ain’t had water in a month, right? And all we get is a pump, the most minimum thing to fix the problem? Well, I want the complete solution. I want more towers, I want more water in west and south Jackson. But if I don’t have four votes to do it, under this structure, it’s not gonna happen,” Stamps said.

Jackson’s strong mayor-weak council form of government puts the day-to-day operations of the city with the mayor, with the council holding the purse strings, setting policy and drafting the budget.

The council-manager form, which Stamps has been advocating for since 2016, would establish a city manager to handle day-to-day issues and let the mayor run council meetings, with both of them setting policy for the city.

“Over half of the governments in this country run on the council-manager form of government. A lot of big cities,” Stamps said, citing Las Vegas, Nevada, and Norfolk, Virginia as examples.

Several cities in Mississippi do, too.

“The city manager form of government, in my opinion, certainly does provide more accountability,” said Michael Silverman, who serves as city manager for Pascagoula until June 17.

Silverman has served in this position for more than a year and a half, working as city manager for a municipality in Michigan before coming to Mississippi.

“Because city managers are not obligated to serve just one elected official, it’s obligated to serve the entire governing body. And it’s the city manager’s job to make sure they’re addressing the needs of each and every counselor, no matter the ward, no matter the issue,” Silverman said.

Silverman said it also means greater stability for city departments.

With the city of Jackson’s current form of government, department directors are usually replaced once a new mayor takes office.

In the council-manager form, however, the same city manager could continue independent of newly-elected council or mayoral candidates.

The position allows for a qualified professional to manage city departments in a non-partisan, independent way, Silverman added.

Stamps said the challenges facing the city have only gotten worse since he first proposed the change.

Jackson has had a mayor-council form of government since the mid-1980s.

“We’ve had almost two wards pack up and leave Jackson with our population decline. So should we have seven council people? Or should we have less? Our budget on government is increasing, but our population is decreasing. So we must restructure our government based on what we can afford,” Stamps said. “The goal is a unified leadership. The city can’t move forward and be the one voice that it should be when it has multiple voices. We need one leadership. And so this structure will allow us to unify the leadership to be on one accord.”

It also takes significant control of day-to-day functions away from the mayor.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said he wanted to be reserved in his comments about the subject during Tuesday’s meeting, but expressed a concern about representation in communities and the resolution coming before the council before any grassroots effort to gather petitions had kicked off.

“I think the long history of politics tells us that when people feel that someone is imposing or stating their will over people without their voice, whether it’s over the governance of the city of Jackson, or whether it’s over the price of tea, people have a lot of issues with that,” Lumumba said. “And so we need to look deep in the history and understand that the council speaks through its resolutions. It doesn’t start the [legal] process, but it certainly puts you on the line for what your position is for the people without them having stated their case.”

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