I was a civil servant in the City of Jackson during the same period as the ascendancy of Margaret Barrett-Simon, the Council member of Ward Seven. Mrs Barrett-Simon has been my ward representative for over twenty five years. Jackson has seen high rates of violence and property crime since the early 1980s and the basic institutions of the city have declined with several high profile cases of public corruption or drug trafficking.
The national government’s anti-communist activities in the hemisphere during the 1980s increased drug trafficking and use in Mississippi as across the South and national border. Jackson is mentioned in the Kerry Report investigation of the Iran-Contra scandal due to its airport activity. The city leaders as well as the state leaders had little oversight or knowledge of illegal activity related to the national security efforts in Latin America, but the influx of drugs affected the health and social life of residents as crime and corruption increased.
In the 1980s I resided in a downtown residential tower and a neighbor was a federal drug enforcement agent. He invited me to visit his apartment and briefly showed me his sophisticated communications gear in his closet. He took a call and spoke in rapid Spanish though he was a Jackson native. Earlier in that decade a prominent Jackson young man who had been an addict was beaten nearly to death in this downtown tower residence. Several prominent families had children who committed suicide or had been treated for various drug addictions as drugs were very easy to obtain in this city. Black neighborhoods suffered greatly without treatment for the addicted. Treatment and rehabilitation were slow to develop.
I was not known to Mrs. Barrett except for a questioning on the illicit drug markets during a municipal election at the Murray Junior High School auditorium in 2000. She had no idea how the proceeds of the illicit drug markets were money laundered in Jackson and had absolutely no knowledge of that type of criminality in her ward. The institutional study of the Police Department by Maples had focused on many institutional failures and was treated with technocratic adjustments and some long range planning by the city leadership. A large local bank, Deposit Guaranty, had been censured for neglecting regulatory safeguards related to money laundering and for mismanagement of some local government accounts. This bank had employed the spouse of the sitting mayor and its bank stock was primarily owned by the Jackson establishment. The bank held large balances for the local and state governments as well as for various political subdivisions of the state.
Since my ward representative’s former spouse was an investment adviser and possibly once very useful in terms of financial networks, I had imagined that contributors to her campaign might be sending her tainted money since the city had so much violence and corruption. I simply asked the candidate and veteran city leader if she might guess how criminal networks laundered money in Jackson given the high crime rates here. She was appalled that I would suspect that she had any knowledge or thoughts on the matter. I thought she might be wise about the crime occurring both high and low in her city, but she was not. Her approach to governing did not include public safety in that manner.
She and the City eventually got Mayor Frank Melton. Mrs. Barrett-Simon, no doubt, later pondered the connection of drugs and corruption in her fair city. We had already experienced the corruption cases of former council members Williams and Armstrong several years previous. Political responsibility for trouble is a learning journey for city leaders and their polity. Mayor Johnson failed to understand the public perceptions of safety and the general civic decline subsequent to his loss to Frank Melton. Ironically, Mayor Melton had served as the Director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, but had been sacked by Governor Barbour not very far into his state law enforcement career. Mayor Melton preached discipline, strict enforcement, and responsibility to the youth of the city while making many adult errors of judgment himself. Mayor Johnson has some completed civic projects. He has many other ‘half done’ projects both material and social. He has cultivated new political alliances to foster civic goals as partnerships and generally improved his management and political skills.
The natural cycle of drug use has declined somewhat in recent years with marginal improvement in the crime statistics. Social development has been largely dormant as the district’s public schools have involuted and learning has not expanded. The principal institutions and the infrastructure of city are worn and beaten. Many professionals and clergy live outside the city gates with diminishing social attachments, but heavy use of the municipal utilities and infrastructures. Our state and local governments are suffering from low revenues, budget pressures, and lofty expectations. The private schools and the public University have demonstrated some progress. The city’s social progress is slowly emerging with the constraints cited.
Mrs. Barrett generally has good political instincts and is capable. However, she is not much help in social development and public safety. Her sponsorship of civic projects is steady, but her grasp of social reality in the city is wanting.