Jackson City Council approves using JPD funds to finish paying Ethics Commission judgment

Published: Dec. 20, 2022 at 7:12 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Some Jackson city council members aren’t happy with having to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees because the city’s police department violated the Mississippi Public Records Act.

In 2019, WLBT sent seven requests to the city of Jackson, asking for records that could be used for future investigative stories about public safety.

State law says those requests must be fulfilled -- with records sent -- within seven business days.

That never happened here.

So WLBT’s counsel filed a complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commission and waited another two years before the commission declared the city violated state law and ordered it to pay Gray Media Group -- parent company of WLBT -- $170,000 in legal fees for the work spent to get those public records.

Tuesday’s council meeting got tense between Council President Ashby Foote and Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba because the administration wanted to transfer $96,000 from JPD’s budget for officer salaries to pay the rest of what the city owes.

“It’s funds that were for vacant positions, unfulfilled,” Lumumba said. “Secondly, if you’re talking about this particular violation of the Ethics Commission, it was lodged on the police department.”

“We had to pay their legal fees because they were right and we were wrong,” Foote said.

The item passed 6-1.

Here’s one thing the administration never mentioned, though: that monetary judgment the commission lobbed at Jackson wasn’t the only thing required of the city.

It also had to appoint public records custodians for every department and post weekly reports of pending records requests.

That order was issued in August 2021.

The city has only posted three weekly reports since then.

“In government, if you’re trying to hide everything, that’s usually a sign of trouble. And we got enough trouble already,” Foote said.

Lumumba appealed the Ethics Commission decision in Hinds County Chancery Court, but the city later abandoned its appeal, and Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas ordered the city to comply with the full order, which still has yet to happen.

Lumumba declined to comment for this story.

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