Councilman Stokes: Ban Confederate Flags and Decrease the Reserve Fund

Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes wants the City to lower its required budget reserve as well as ban Confederate flags from City-owned cemeteries.

Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes wants the City to lower its required budget reserve as well as ban Confederate flags from City-owned cemeteries. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

— Ward 3 Councilman Kenneth Stokes proposed an order last week revising the required reserve fund in the budget from the ordinance-mandated 7 percent to a lower number that the City of Jackson can reach in its current budget crisis.

"The budget folks are still trying to get some clarification and some answers, and we are going to put this into the budget committee and schedule a meeting so that when we change our reserve policy that we do it on the correct information," Council President Melvin Priester Jr. said.

As a result of budget issues and shortfalls in revenue from the water-sewer fund, the mayoral administration was not able to maintain the ordinance-required 7 percent this budget year, prompting questions in past meetings whether the City was breaking its own laws. At last notice, City officials reported a general fund reserve of $1.3 million, far below the required $9.1 million.

"We can really not even have the reserve," Stokes suggested. "Now it is good for bonds, and everything else, but I don't think that this is an issue that should divide the city, the executive branch from the legislative branch."

Priester thanked Stokes for "taking the bull by the horns," and the mayor echoed the sentiment. "As the City begins to rebuild and replenish our financial situation, we (will) add incrementally to our reserve requirements," Mayor Tony Yarber said.

"This is not an executive branch versus a legislative branch issue," Yarber said. "This is our obligation together to fix."

No Rebel Flag in Cemeteries?

Councilman Stokes also proposed an ordinance banning the Confederate flags from City of Jackson-owned cemeteries.

A representative from the legal office said they were still researching whether the proposal was "legally sufficient as it is."

"I probably am one of the first people to have ever voted against the state flag, here years ago we did," Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon said. "But this is such a personal thing, and I wonder how many it actually affects, both black and white."

Council President Priester asked Stokes if he would have a problem with delaying consideration on the ordinance to the next meeting.

"I have no problem," Stokes said. "However the ordinance needs to be massaged, that's fine for me. But, you know, somewhere down the line, it is not OK for these Confederate flags to fly in the capital city, especially property that we own and are cutting."

Priester, an attorney himself, said that the issue would come down to how the City addresses the "content neutral" element of the ban. "If we ban one specific type of flag, we might find ourselves in the position of having to ban all flags to be content neutral," Priester said. "And that was the issue that legal expressed that they were still trying to work through."

Stokes said the City maintains the cemetery, and to him, that meant that the council should decide. "So we should have the authority to say what goes in there and what doesn't go in there."

JATRAN Renamed Elport Chess

The Jackson City Council voted, unanimously, to rename the JATRAN Maintenance Facility after local civil-rights activist Elport Chess during its regular meeting on June 14.

"Mr. Elport Chess, a lifelong resident of Jackson, Mississippi, was drafted out of high school to serve during World War II," the ordinance reads. After his service, Chess returned to Lanier High School in September 1947 to finish high school. It was during this time that Chess, a veteran, refused to sit in the back of the city bus that he rode to school, and as a result was beaten and jailed.

From September 1947 to January 1948, the ordinance states, "students living in Washington Addition and attending Lanier High School boycotted the bus transit system for the City of Jackson in protest to the treatment of Mr. Elport Chess and in disapproval of segregation."

Some of the students that boycotted were in council chambers to express appreciation. "We don't need to let this die in history," Grace Sweet, who attended Lanier during the protest, told the council. "And these are kids that did the walk."

"The boycott lasted for weeks. The refused to ride the bus," Sweet said, adding that they even walked in rain.

"We had spunk, and we tried to do something about this."

The boycott worked, Sweet said, and the City fired the bus driver. And now the JATRAN maintenance building will hold a plaque denoting its new designation: The Elport Chess Building.

Email city reporter Tim Summers, Jr. at tim@jacksonfreepress.com. See more local news at jfp.ms/localnews.


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