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Rants, Raves and Circumstance

Brian JonesClay County vs Drug Court

Last week the Clay County Board of Supervisors revisited misdemeanor drug court, which they canceled back in June. Drug Court Coordinator Edward Houston and District 4 Supervisor Shelton Deanes urged the board to reconsider, and floated the idea that the program could meet its obligation for matching funds via user fees.
Unsurprisingly, the request was voted down, with District 2 Supervisor Luke Lummus, District 3 Supervisor RB Davis and District 5 Supervisor Floyd McKee voting no, and Deanes and District 1 Supervisor Lynn Horton voting yes.
This is a mistake. America – land of the free, I’m told – incarcerates a higher percentage of its citizens than any other nation on Earth. The US accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of its prisoners. Mississippi has one of the two or three highest incarceration rates in the United States. A large portion of those prisoners are locked up due to drug charges.
It seems pretty obvious that this is unsustainable. We can’t continue putting large numbers of people be-
hind bars, give them little to no chance to be actually rehabilitated, and then act surprised when they continue to make bad choices. Programs like Clay County’s are a great way to turn non-violent offenders into productive citizens. It seems to me that the county having to pay a portion of the $25,000 match, should the program be unable to raise the full amount, is a bargain.
During the discussion last Thursday, much hay was made about the amount of money Clay County is pouring into economic development and job training. Several supervisors argued that they didn’t have the money to spare because of their economic development obligations. Economic development is great, but what about helping the less fortunate? How many people in that drug court program, with a little help, could fill those jobs out at Yokohama? How many of those people are going to be lost now?
Mr. Deanes, during the discussion, said, “Sometimes you have to spend a little to make things happen.” He is exactly right. It makes me sad that Clay County had a chance to make things better for the less fortunate, and didn’t.

CMSD vs Community Advisory Committees

The Columbus Municipal School Board has, for the past several months, been mulling over forming some community advisory commit-
tees. Trustees Glenn Lautzenhiser and Greg Lewis were asked to research how other districts handled them, and report back. Mr. Lautzenhiser made that report Monday night.
The crux of his remarks was that it would not be worth doing because of…wait for it…open meetings requirements. Board Attorney David Dunn added, with a straight face, that even the school board itself had trouble “dotting every ‘I’ and crossing every ‘T’ ” when it came to open meetings and open records laws, and it would be “onerous” to ask a community advisory committee to do the same. He also thought it would “run your costs up exponentially,” presumably to pay a clerk to take the minutes and the attorney to be present for, uh, whatever reason.
I just…I can’t…I mean, really? These are the same people who constantly talk about the importance of transparency and community trust, right? Who are now afraid of a citizen committee – that is, a committee of citizens, members of the “community,” if you will, chosen to give input and advice to the district – because they might have to tell the public about it and take minutes and stuff ?

Let’s think about this.

You know what the law requires? It requires, within five days of a scheduled meeting or within one hour of a special meeting being called, someone at the central office to fill out a meeting notice form, carry it down the hall and tape it up beside the front door so, if any members of the public happen by, they can see it.

Onerous, isn’t it?

Once the meeting is started, pretty much everything but a few specific topics – which are hardly likely to come up at such a meeting in the first place – must be discussed in open session. Sure, minutes have to be kept. Minutes are kept at pretty much every meeting of any group I can think of, from the Lowndes Republican Women to the Memphis Town Community Action Group to the church down the street.
Here’s what Mississippi Code Section 25-41-11, which governs minutes, has to say: “Minutes shall be kept of all meetings of a public body, whether in open or executive session, showing the members present and absent; the date, time and place of the meeting; an accurate recording of any final actions taken at such meeting; and a record, by in-
dividual member, of any votes taken; and any other information that the public body requests be included or reflected in the minutes. The minutes shall be recorded within a reasonable time not to exceed thirty (30) days after recess or adjournment and shall be open to public inspection during regular business hours.”
Feel the difficulty! It would take whole minutes for them to find someone capable of writing down names and brief notes about the discussion! I mean, they would totally have to know what day it is, and where the meeting they are at that very moment attending is happening! Wow! Public service is hard, you guys!
The icing on the cake is that earlier in the evening two different parents stood up and told the trustees point-blank that more community input is needed, that teachers and parents are frustrated at not having a voice. Then, with those parents still in the audience, the board kicked the whole community advisor thing to the curb. And they wonder why they’re not trusted.

Lee Middle School

One of my absolute favorite things to watch in recent years at CMSD meetings is the constant fumbling with Lee Middle School, which continues to crumble after being closed back when the new middle school was built.
Monday night Trustee Jason Spears suggested, in light of the failure of the Lowndes County School District’s construction bond issue, that they contact the county about working together to turn the site into a workforce training facility.
Part of me thinks this is an excellent idea. Something needs to be done with Lee. Something has needed to be done with it for years now. I am in favor of job training, and giving our students and citizens more options sounds like a great move.
On the other hand, though, I had to bite my lip to stop from laughing hysterically. Part of the rationale for closing Lee and building the new school was that it was too old to be upgraded. Then-Superintendent Dr. Del Phillips said that it would be too expensive to bring Lee up to the point that it could be an adequate modern middle school. Now, after it’s sat for years, been vandalized and had copper stolen out of it we want to turn it into a training facility for the sorts of high-tech jobs coming into the Golden Triangle?

The mind boggles.

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