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Lumumba mum on his picks for police chief, other department head positions

Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 1:46 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - With a little more than two weeks to fill the positions, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has yet to announce his picks for police chief, fire chief, parks and recreation director and other department head positions.

And at a press conference Tuesday, the mayor did not comment on who those picks might be.

“We are excited about the team we are building. Not only have we had the opportunity to review the work of the last four years. We have some accomplishments (but we also) see room for improvement,” he said. “We’re looking to get stronger... Leadership is critical to that.”

The mayor said he is not trying to keep the public in suspense but was hesitant to talk publicly about his appointment until he had brought them before the council.

As for whether he is running out of time to fill the positions, he said that is “a matter of interpretation” and that he will make his nominees known in due time.

State statute mandates that the mayor fill department head positions within 90 days of taking office. By WLBT’s calculations, the mayor must fill the remaining open positions by September 29.

Last week, the council confirmed Lumumba’s nominees for public works director, chief administrative officer, planning and development director, and director of administration.

Lumumba still must fill several high-profile positions, including the police chief.

Currently, Chief James Davis is serving in an interim capacity. Davis was appointed early in Lumumba’s first term and replaced former Chief Lee Vance.

Davis has presided over a significant rise in violent crime, as well as a shrinking police force. So far this year, 105 homicides have been reported in the capital city, putting 2021 on track to be Jackson’s deadliest year for homicides on record.

Despite these challenges, the council appears willing to work with Davis and the police department. The council has approved police pay raises in each of the last two budget cycles, including significant pay bumps for veteran officers as part of the 2022 budget.

Meanwhile, the council has approved almost all of the mayor’s nominees for department heads/cabinet positions, giving relatively little pushback.

Lumumba’s choices for public works director, chief administrative officer, and director of administration were approved unanimously. However, Jordan Hillman, the director of planning, was approved on a 4-2 vote.

On Tuesday, the administration felt a little more pushback, when the council held off on Lumumba’s request to confirm Rickey Jones to the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority Board of Commissioners, in part, because Ward Five Councilman Vernon Hartley wanted additional time to speak with Jones and hear from constituents.

The council agreed to the delay, despite objections from Lumumba Chief of Staff Safiya Omari. “I want to remind the council that appointments are the purview of the mayor,” she said. “We know we have a well-qualified candidate and we need to fill that vacancy at the airport authority.”

Omari said the authority board is currently operating without a quorum, and the position needed to be filled post haste.

Hartley, who ran against Jones for the Ward 5 seat, said his request for a delay had nothing to do with Jones, but more with his desire to better understand his ideas for the airport. He also said the mayor had not reached out to him about the appointment, despite the fact that whoever fills the position will represent Ward 5.

“His leadership and contributions are unquestionable,” Hartley said. “This is no reflection on him, but with the issues, with the things going on at the airport... we would like the courtesy of having additional time, at least a week, to get input from everyone involved.”

Council President Virgi Lindsay said she would schedule a special meeting to confirm Jones and the mayor said he would be amenable to whatever the council’s decision would be.

“We will bend to the will of the council,” he said. “I do want to say, for it to be placed on the agenda, for us to have a work session and for it not to be mentioned that any of this was a problem or a concern puts us in a difficult place.”

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