Subverting open meetings

Jackson’s one-percent oversight commission recently approved a long-range master plan.

The plan, in short, governs how the city can spend revenues generated by a special one-percent infrastructure sales tax, and includes new policies for cost overruns on projects, program management services, and the like.

No one argues more oversight is needed in how the tax is spent. Mayor Tony Yarber has been a poor steward of taxpayer money to say the least.

However, we do not support the secrecy surrounding the new plan and how it was drawn up.

The panel passed the three-page document last week, and approved it after an hour of discussion.

It was apparent that six members knew of the plan prior to its passage, while three did not.

Mayor Tony Yarber asked for more time to review it and was denied.

The measure was approved on a 6-3 vote.

Those voting against it were Yarber, the commission’s chair, and his two appointees to the board. One member, Beverly Hogan, was absent.

Hogan, a Yarber ally, likely didn’t know about the plan, either.

The Sun reached out to the six members who voted in favor of the plan, and asked them if they knew about it prior to March’s gathering.

Only one member, Pete Perry, would admit to it. One other member refused to answer the Sun’s questions via e-mail, while others refused to return the Sun’s calls.

The secrecy of the commission could be concealing a violation of state ethics law.

The Mississippi Open Meetings Act has specific rules regarding closed-door meetings. Drawing up a plan behind closed doors could be contradictory to those rules.

Further, a violation, whether perceived or actual, could be fodder for Yarber, who was seeking legal advice last week on how to deal with the plan. He says it oversteps the commission’s authority. Members, though, say the plan provides the oversight that Jackson needs.

An ethics violation could be the fuel the mayor needs to have the plan overturned if the plan is appealed in the court system.

While we agree that more oversight is necessary, drawing up a plan in secret, and excluding at least three members and the public from those discussions, is the wrong way to go about obtaining it.

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