STATE LAW COULD HAVE BEEN VIOLATED IN DRAFTING PLAN

Secrecy surrounds the recent passage of the capital city’s long-range infrastructure master plan, and the secrecy could be concealing a violation of state law. 

The plan was introduced at the commission’s meeting last week and passed on a 6-3 vote.

Three members of the commission had not seen the plan and asked members to hold off on approving it.

Mayor Tony Yarber, the commission’s chair, threatened to cancel the meeting, but members said he couldn’t and that they would vote on the plan after he left.

The plan governs how Jackson spends revenue from a special infrastructure sales tax.

Only two of the six supporters of the proposal would speak to the Sun following the meeting.

Member Pete Perry said he worked with commissioner Ted Duckworth to put together the plan, and that much of it was based on discussions from commission meetings and talks with public works officials.

“I don’t know who all I talked to about it,” he said.

Perry wouldn’t say if all six supporters knew about the plan prior to the meeting. When asked if members had colluded against the mayor, he said, “Ask the mayor about his plan to borrow $90 million. That happens all the time over there.”

Perry was referring to Yarber’s announcement in February that he hoped to use one-percent funds to leverage a $90 million line of credit with the Mississippi Development Bank.

Yarber told the city council that the city could leverage the funds without the commission’s consent.

Member John Ditto, who spoke to the Sun via e-mail, also wouldn’t say how the plan was put together or whether he had seen the document prior to the meeting.

Duckworth, commission Co-chair Duane O’Neill, Lee and commission member Michael Boerner couldn’t be reached for comment, despite repeated phone calls.

Had all six members known about the plan prior to the meeting and had agreed to vote on it, the members could be in violation of the Mississippi Open Meetings Act.

The Mississippi Ethics Commission has handed down opinions in several cases where members of public bodies met behind closed doors to make decisions.

Ethics found the city of Columbus circumvented the law after the mayor organized a series of closed-door meetings to discuss economic development policy with members of the city council.

The meetings were held on different dates, and a quorum of members was not present at either meeting, according to the 2014 opinion.

Ethics officials, though, said that while the meetings were conducted separately, they were prearranged and involved the same subject matter.

“These meetings included deliberations by the council members concerning matters specifically under the jurisdiction of the council,” according to the ethics probe.

Even if all one-percent commissioners did not gather at one time to discuss the master plan, if enough members discussed and determined how they were going to vote prior to the March meeting, they could have violated state statute.

According to the act, a meeting is “an assemblage of members of a public body at which official acts may be taken upon a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power.”

The oversight commission has 10 members, of which four are appointed by the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership; three are appointed by the mayor; and one each are appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House.

Six members are required for a quorum.

 

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