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Jackson City Council won’t fund fireworks for Juneteenth and July 4 celebrations

Fireworks pic available for variety of holiday celebration stories
Fireworks pic available for variety of holiday celebration stories(WECT)
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 1:46 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Juneteenth and the Fourth of July promise to be a lot quieter, at least from the city of Jackson’s perspective.

Thursday, a city council committee voted down two measures to fund fireworks displays for the two holidays.

The measures were placed in the Public Safety/Park and Environment Ad-Hoc Committee on Tuesday after they failed to garner enough support on the council agenda to be approved.

Both would have had to be voted out of committee and then again taken to the council for a full vote to be approved.

Council members had various reasons for voting against the measures, including the city’s inability to maintain its current parks, crime, and the recent shootings at the Mississippi Mudbug Festival.

Parks and Recreation Director Ison Harris, though, argued that both events were well attended last year and that the money was set aside for both during the 2022 budgeting process.

Combined, the displays would have cost $25,000, according to city documents.

He chided the council for being a “prisoner of the moment” and not looking at the bigger picture.

“A lot of people came out and supported this. We’ve never had an incident at any of the events. Never,” he said. “If there is a piece where we may be nervous, about whether we have another event because we’re worried about someone doing something, that’s a whole other conversation.”

Council members, though, said they were looking at the bigger picture.

They also told the parks director that the council would support fireworks if the city found a private sponsor to help pay for them.

But funding the spectacles with public funding was a non-starter.

Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote, for instance, said the city shouldn’t spend thousands of dollars on fireworks when it is struggling to find the money to pay for a misdemeanor holding facility.

“The city can’t get its act together to get a holding facility put together. It’s not a critique of you, but of the city government,” Foote said. “We don’t have a holding facility and we’re leading the nation in homicides per capita.”

52 homicides have been reported in Jackson so far this year, according to Jackson Police Department figures.

However, talks to get a misdemeanor holding facility opened have yet to wrap up, in part, because the city and Hinds County can’t determine how to pay for it.

A recent assessment shows it would cost around $800,000 to renovate the former downtown jail so it could be used to temporarily house misdemeanor offenders.

Others on the council said funding for the fireworks would be better used to do park maintenance and provide additional security.

Ward 4 Councilman Brian Grizzell said kids can’t use Grove Park at night because the park has no lights, and cited issues with the facility’s clubhouse.

“I’m not voting against Juneteenth... We just need to really think about this,” he said. “These are just two days, what about the other 363? We need to think about the quality of life we’re giving our citizens the rest of the year.”

He also pointed to areas where the grass is not being cut and where debris from mowers is blowing out into the street. Parks and Recreation is also responsible for maintaining public green areas along city roadways.

“(At) Sunset and Medgar Evers (our) employees broke our own ordinance where the grass was cut and they left debris in the street,” Grizzell said. “We’re causing a lot of these issues for ourselves.”

Harris told the council that his department struggles to maintain the parks, in part, because of a limited workforce. “That piece is going to be there until we get that manpower up,” he said.

He added that money for fireworks comes from a different funding source than the source that pays salaries.

“It’s not that we’re doing this and not trying to do that,” adding that the council’s logic also should mean canceling other events as well, like the Easter Egg hunt held this spring.

Public safety at Jackson’s parks was also a concern. Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes said Tuesday some people have quit going to parks because of “gang boys, dope boys, and everybody else.”

“It ain’t just my ward. It’s got to be citywide. Because I take my grandchildren to all the parks,” he said. “These dope boys and gang boys control our parks, and nobody wants to say it but me. I’m going to say it. We need more park rangers, and we need more police.”

“Go to Jaycee Park on Bailey Avenue. I’m not just telling you what I believe. I’m telling you what I see,” Stokes added. “You take your children over there and see if they’re going to shoot basketball and see who’s controlling these parks.”

Council President Virgi Lindsay said she struggled with her decision on whether to support fireworks this year.

“My biggest concern right now is what we talked about with the previous agenda item... that is we have got parks that are not as well maintained as they need to be. We need cameras for extra security so that people in the communities feel safe using our parks, and we have a record of some of these less-than-desirable activities (going on),” she said.

“Again, I do have a lot of sympathy for the fact that we’re less than a month from the Juneteenth event... But I also believe that we are at a place where we have to seriously consider priorities in how we’re spending money related to parks.”

She went on to say that $25,000 would not solve all of the city’s parks issues, but it could be “meaningful to some of our parks.”

Harris countered that argument, saying $25,000 would only pay for four cameras, while the city has 57 public parks. “It is a drop in the bucket moving forward,” he said.

“I think four cameras somewhere would help. I’d take four cameras in Battlefield in a nanosecond,” Lindsay replied.

Preliminary autopsy report: Man found dead at Battlefield Park suffered blunt force trauma
Preliminary autopsy report: Man found dead at Battlefield Park suffered blunt force trauma(WLBT)

A man’s body was found at Battlefield Park in early March. The man, later identified as Willie Jean Rollins, was killed due to blunt-force trauma and is believed to be killed at the park.

A second body was found near the park and U.S. 80 earlier this month.

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