Article Comment 

Our right to know

 

 

Maybe they think they''re protecting themselves. 

 

Or perhaps they''ve forgotten they''re managing public funds. 

 

In any case, the Columbus City Council and the Lowndes County School District Board of Education have been doing their constituents a disservice. 

 

Both entities recently settled discrimination lawsuits -- the city with Assistant Police Chief Joe Johnson and the school district with administrator Charles Jackson. 

 

And both entities have tried to keep the terms of the settlements under wraps. 

 

When the Johnson''s cash settlement and pay raise was leaked to the media in early January, the city, via its attorneys, refused to confirm the figures. 

 

Johnson was suing the city for a second time accusing the City Council of racial discrimination when they tapped Joseph St. John for the chief''s position. St. John is white; Johnson is black. 

 

Johnson -- on the force since 1974 -- already was passed over in favor J.D. Sanders. He sued then, too. But a jury found the city didn''t discriminate against him. 

 

This time the city threw Johnson a $32,500 bone and a $10,000 pay raise in exchange for not suing the city again. 

 

Mayor Robert Smith announced the final figures of the agreement at a Jan. 19 council meeting, after the city was hounded by The Dispatch and lobbed with accusations from Jim Waide, Johnson''s attorney, about the legality of keeping the terms private. 

 

Waide also represents Jackson, who also sued for racial discrimination. When Smith became mayor, Jackson''s complaint says, the county school board wanted to replace him with another black person. (West Lowndes schools are nearly 100 percent black.) Jackson didn''t fit the bill. 

 

During a pretrial hearing, the district cut a deal with Jackson. But, as a condition, the details have to remain private. 

 

But it''s not private dollars that will fund this agreement. It''s taxpayer dollars. And taxpayers have a right to know how much of their hard-earned money is being spent as ''hush money.'' Taxpayers, after all, pay the premiums on the insurance and bonding companies that settle these suits. 

 

Sure, we''ll issue a public-records request and get the dollars and cents eventually. 

 

But it shouldn''t have to come to that.  

 

We''d like to be able to have confidence in our elected officials. 

 

We''d like to trust them to make sound decisions and do what''s best for the people they serve. 

 

But it''s hard to trust so-called public bodies when they operate under a cloak of secrecy.

 

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment walter commented at 1/28/2010 12:47:00 PM:

If other entities, agencies, bodies, firms, corporations, institions and organizations operating within the county and state were nearly as interested in fairness and doing the right thing, regardless of race, as The Dispatch, Lowndes County and Mississippi generally, would make great stride toward rising from the bottom of the totem-pole.

Progressive societies and progressive areas al have one thing in common: an honest recorder and reporter of the news, primarily news about the action of government bodies and the individuals elected or appointed to them to serve the interest of the public. Residents and citizens of Columbus and Lowndes County, you have no idea just how fortunate you are to have The Dispatch. As an individual who is completely unrelated to The Dispatch or any of it's reporters or writers, I assure you, it is something special, indeed!

While it has a position and does not hesitate to state it, it is equally as eager to print opposing points of views. A concerned public cannot hope or ask for any more than that. If you fail to realize you manifest destiny for the area, it won't be because you didn't have a very viable institution pushing and encouraging you, all of you, to become involved in shaping that destiny by holding elected officials accountable.

It stands to reason, if germane terms of the racial discrimination suit of Asst. Chief Johnson, an African American, are made public, then germane terms of the racial discrimination case of Jackson, a Caucasin American, should also be made pulic, despite any ill-advised agreement containing a purported confidentiality clause. A provision which serves one purpose and one purpose only: to keep the public in the dark concerning how the public's money is spent.

We demand transparency from out elected-officials in Washington. We demand even more of it from our appointed and elected-officials, locally. If the disrcimination alleged by Jackson is egregious enough, the public has the power and the right to insist that the amount be increased, if the amount is deemed much too inadequate. Unless the public knows the amount, it is powerless to do right by one of its own member, when a body elected by it, has caused the unfortunate harm.

I pray that The Dispatch will continue to be REALLY fair and balanced as it does it part to lift the city of Columbus and surounding areas.

 

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