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Elvis is dead and there’s a reason Glanville isn’t in the NFL

October 3rd, 2011 4 comments

I just got an email that said former NFL head coach Jerry Glanville is coming to Jackson Wednesday to meet with city officials and business leaders to discuss the potential for a Jackson-based United Football League expansion team to participate in the 2012 season.

Former NFL coach Jerry Glanville wants to bring a half-baked pro football franchise football to Mississippi

When Glanville was in the NFL, he dressed in black and left tickets at will call for Elvis. There’s no doubt he will make some reference to Elvis while he is in town.

Folks in Mississippi need to remind Glanville that Elvis is dead and so is his football career. He was a terrible coach then, and Mississippi doesn’t need him coming to try and suck dry the local businesses he would try to con into believing he will be bringing big-time football to Mississippi.

Glanville should be told that Friday night high school football is bigger than any product he may want to bring to town.

Businesses in Mississippi should stay away from the blood-sucking tactics of this minor league sports league with characters like Glanville, who is trying to hang onto a career that wasn’t very good to begin with.

We should know better.

Since the Halloween season is upon us, Glanville and his monsters should be reminded that unaffiliated minor league sports don’t work in Mississippi, ever.

To take from an editorial in the Mississippi Business Journal a few weeks ago that Coach Glanville should read, here is a partial list of the minor league corpses left throughout the towns and cities of Mississippi.

Here is a partial list of the carcuses from the last 15 years:
Minor league hockey has come and gone — twice — in Tupelo.
Minor league hockey has come and gone — twice — in Biloxi.
Minor league hockey has come and gone in Jackson.
Minor league hockey has come and gone in Southaven.
Minor league football has come and gone — twice— in Tupelo.
Minor league baseball has come and gone in Tupelo (twice), Greenville, Meridian (twice), Booneville, Jackson (twice), Hattiesburg.
Minor league basketball has come and gone in Jackson, Tupelo, Greenville, Southaven, Hattiesburg, Biloxi and Meridian.
There is not one minor league sports team open for business today in Mississippi, except for the Mississippi Braves, which is a Double-A affiliate of the MLB Atlanta Braves.
But, Mississippians have been ready to jump at the chance that minor league baseball could harness energy and spending in their communities. The problem is almost all were dealing with independent leagues and mostly questionable business folks, who promised the stars and spun a good yarn, but, in most cases, never produced any kind of substantial business plan.

Coach Glanville, there will be no resurrection of Elvis in Mississippi.

You might want to try Kalamazoo.

The release that was sent out early Monday stated,

This week on Wednesday, October 5, former NFL head coach Jerry Glanville will visit Jackson, Mississippi, to meet with city officials and business leaders to discuss the potential for a Jackson-based United Football League expansion team to participate in the 2012 season.

Coach Glanville, who was the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons (1986-1989) and Houston Oilers (1990-1993) performs an advisory role with the United Football League and is leading the league’s expansion initiative.

He will visit Jackson, MS, Salt Lake City, UT, and Chattanooga, TN, in the coming weeks to explore interest in those cities welcoming a UFL expansion team for the 2012 season. The ownership of the new team that joins the Las Vegas Locomotives, Omaha Nighthawks, Sacramento Mountain Lions and Virginia Destroyers in the UFL will have the opportunity to appoint Jerry Glanville as its head coach.

Coach Glanville is available for media interviews on Wednesday afternoon and also by phone. Please contact me if you are interested in talking to Jerry and I will look for an opening in his schedule, which is being finalized.

Coach will travel to Jackson from Sacramento, where he called the Saturday night game between the hometown Mountain Lions and Virginia Destroyers in front of 17,612 fans.

Please let me know if you require more information on the UFL including photos, logos and game footage. There is also information at www.UFL-Football.com.

About The United Football League: The UFL provides high-quality professional football during a traditional fall season while embracing innovation and fan interaction. The UFL serves its local communities with pride and dedication, and aims to provide every fan with an exciting and memorable game experience. The inaugural 2009 champion Las Vegas Locos won a second championship in 2010, lifting the William Hambrecht Trophy with a 23-20 win over the Florida Tuskers. The 2011 season kicked off on September 15 and features the Locos, Omaha Nighthawks, Sacramento Mountain Lions and Virginia Destroyers. The UFL is led by Commissioner Michael Huyghue and is funded by a consortium of private investors. For season tickets, more information and to interact with passionate football fans, please visit www.UFL-Football.com.

I talked with politician with a mind of his own

September 30th, 2011 Comments off

Toeing the party line has gotten to be the way we do business these days.
But it was refreshing to hear there are some, at least one, that is bucking the trend to follow along like a herd of cattle.
I was talking to someone this week who is running for office. He was giving me the general breakdown that he feels good about where he is in the campaign and that he thinks he can win when Nov. 8 rolls around.
The thing that was refreshing, though, is that when his party tried to manhandle him into running his campaign in the same cookie-cutter format it was having the rest of its candidates run, he said no.
Apparently, the dinosaurs in charge were not particularly happy with his decision.
“When all is said and done,” he said. “I have to make decisions based on the overall good of my district. If I start cowtowing now to the will of the established system, we will never move forward, as a district and then as a state and a society.”
He is absolutely right.
One-size fits all really doesn’t.
What works in New York doesn’t necessarily work in Mississippi and what works in Gulfport doesn’t necessarily work in Greenville or Hattiesburg or Columbus.
We need more people in office who will think for themselves and make decisions based on the good of the people and the state and not, specifically, (Dean Kirby) on the impact said decisions might make on their colleagues during the next election cycle.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018

Barbour’s horse needs a trip to vet before he bets our money

September 2nd, 2011 Comments off

From the MBJ staff

Solar energy may be the wave of the future, but Mississippi should be careful where it comes to being an investor in new companies promising the moon — er, sun.
Evergreen Solar in Massachusetts went bankrupt last month, leaving that state hanging after an investment of more than $40 million of taxpayer dollars in the business.
Then, last week, solar panel maker Solyndra’s bankruptcy left stakeholders and industry observers wondering what the firm’s dramatic collapse will mean for the solar industry. At the same time Solyndra was announcing its bankruptcy, Gov. Haley Barbour was announcing his proposed deal to invest $75 million to bring Calisolar, of Sunnyvale, Calif., to Columbus. He said the company will create 951 direct full-time jobs with an average annual salary of $45,000 plus benefits. Calisolar’s Columbus facility will produce solar silicon.
Stion, which will make make thin-film solar panels in Hattiesburg, was awarded a $75-million loan from the Mississippi Legislature and plans a Sept. 16 ribbon cutting. The company says it feels comfortable in the marketplace with its thin-film technology.
By all accounts Solyndra was doing well, building a 1-million-square-foot factory and employing 1,100 workers to make its cylindrical CIGs solar panels.
But, while the company that “had been hailed as a poster child for the cleantech economy” fell apart, “its failure doesn’t spell the end for a robust solar market,” say investors and solar officials.
However, the company’s failure should make Mississippi officials much more leery about the millions of dollars they have doled out trying to bring jobs to a crippled Mississippi economy.
Mississippi has also awarded a large loan — $50 million — to solar company Twin Creeks, which will manufacture crystalline silicon solar panels in Senatobia. If Calisolar’s $75-million loan is approved, Mississippi’s total solar investment will come to $175 million.
You could say Barbour and other industry recruiters for Mississippi are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Yet, there are still many serious questions that must be answered as we loan piles of money into alternative energy startups.
Alain Harrus, a venture capitalist with Crosslink Capital, which is invested in another government-backed solar company, Abound Solar, told the San Francisco Business Times that Solyndra was a well-run company, whose demise was inevitable.
“They executed as well as one can be expected to on this type of scale,” he said. “The technology — it’s a success. Commercially, they got caught in a down-slope on the pricing. At the end of the day you can’t ship things if it costs more to ship than what you can get money for.”
The fact that Solyndra did nearly everything correctly and still went bankrupt should be terrifying for Mississippians.
Investment in solar power shouldn’t stop, but we have to be very careful to make sure the money of all Mississippians is spent well and that government can see the forest for the trees.
The real question is, what is the forced liquidation value of these companies? Mississippians have a right to know. If these companies fail and a fire sale occurs, how could taxpayers recover compared to what they put in? If the numbers are close to the loans amounts, these might not be bad deals. If not, then we could be in serious trouble.

An independent review of Choctaws unlikely?

September 2nd, 2011 Comments off

Under the cloud of  scrutiny, the casino resort owned by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians says it has hired a new auditor to provide independent review of its business and finances.
Hang on a minute.
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians has hired a new auditor to provide independent review of its business and finances?
How can anyone hired by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians provide and independent review of the questioned finances?
PriceWaterhouseCoopers is no longer the auditor. The tribe announced in a news release that it hired BDO USA.
However, BDO USA will still be paid by the Choctaws, meaning there will be some loyalty factor built in to whatever BDO comes up with in the next few weeks or months.
Unfortunately, the Choctaws have lost any benefit of the doubt here.
Pearl River Resort and Casino has been under intense scrutiny in recent months, including an FBI raid in July. The tribe also is involved in a bitter election dispute and Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the tribe’s bonds to junk bond status.
Beasley Denson, the chief, said in the past there’s nothing to worry about from the FBI investigation because the books were checked by an independent firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
So, why should we believe them now?

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

‘The Help’ gets a thumbs up from the old, bald editor

August 20th, 2011 Comments off

My wife and I went to see “The Help” Wednesday, and I have mixed feelings about the movie. I loved being able to watch the movie and pick out people that I know as extras (Mr. Lt. Gov. Bill Crump!). It’s fun to see places on the big screen that you have seen every day of your life.

And while I enjoyed the movie (laughing and crying in the appropriate places), it gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Yet again, Mississippians are being shown for having been racists and treating people as lesser folks. It’s sad, but the fact of the matter is, the movie is accurate.

We are who we are and we have to admit where we have been before we can see where we are going.

There are those at The Boston Globe who believe we, as America, are looking back at racism and patting ourselves on the back. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We, as the people in the theater — in Madison, Mississippi — watched and knew there is still room for all of us to grow.

Kathryn Stockett should be applauded for her book and now movie, and we should all be aware of the changes we still have to make in order for all of us to move forward together. And apparently, the rest of the country likes it as well.

Without giving away anything, I loved Cicely Tyson in her role as one of the maids. She didn’t have a ton of lines, but her role and her portrayal of it were powerful. My pick for funniest is when Sissy Spacek’s character walks past her daughter and the two exchange words. Priceless.

By the way, the popcorn was great!

Here are what some other folks thought …

••• ABC News

••• Baltimore Sun

••• San Jose Mercury News

••• Variety Reviews

••• Entertainment Weekly

••• Moviefone

••• Salon.com

••• UK Progressive

••• Indie Wire

••• Your Houston News

Click here to let us know what you think of the movie …

Yancy goes negative

August 18th, 2011 Comments off

Lee Yancy has gone away from his good-old-boy TV ads and has gone into attack mode … Let’s see how that works out for him.

How is Jefferson just now being put on administrative leave?

August 5th, 2011 Comments off

A.J. Jefferson was placed on administrative leave this week, following her arrest … You can read the complete story here …

My question is … how did it take three years for the South Delta Regional Housing Authority Board allow Jefferson to stay on the job after the story below ran in the Delta Democrat Times?

Maybe now is the time to investigate the board to find out how it could allow these actions to go on after they had been unveiled by the local media.

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Housing authority director’s tactics questioned by community, homeowners

By JOSHUA HOWAT BERGER joshberger@ddtonline.com | 8 comments

LELAND – It’s 8 a.m. on a Saturday and a hundred-plus homeowners are gathered at the Leland headquarters of South Delta Regional Housing Authority.

South Delta’s executive director, Ann “A.J.” Jefferson, is pacing the floor with authority. She is dressed in short jeans and a black jersey with a purple number 19 on the front. Jefferson is a big woman, with a big afro and big, tinted glasses, and she has a way of filling the room when she speaks.

“You all gotta help us maintain your community,” Jefferson is telling the assembled homeowners. “That’s why you’re here today. You know, it’s not about no one person. It’s not about South Delta. It’s not about you. It’s about all of the Delta community.”

A sense of community, however, does not seem to be what’s brought most of these homeowners here this rainy Saturday morning.

The homeowners have been summoned by letter for a meeting about maintaining their property. They are participants in a South Delta program that helps low-income families in the six counties South Delta serves – Bolivar, Humphreys, Issaquena, Sharkey, Sunflower and Washington – buy their own houses.

It’s a long drive to Leland for many of them, and from the anxiety with which they gather at the sign-in sheet, it’s clear why they’ve made the trip: The penultimate sentence of the letter they received reads, “Anyone not attending will be fined.”

That threat, it turns out, will be the first of several.

During the meeting, South Delta staff member Angela Brady tells the homeowners she’ll be inspecting their property inside and out. If she finds any unresolved problems, she says, South Delta will fix them – and then send the homeowner the bill.

Jefferson takes it one step further, threatening to kick out homeowners who don’t meet South Delta’s maintenance standards.

But what gets to the woman near the front of the room is Jefferson’s call for the homeowners to maintain not only their own property, but their entire neighborhood.

As Jefferson delivers her talk on community to the neatly arranged rows of residents, the woman near the front ventures a thought.

“Ma’am,” she says, “I don’t think that’s fair, really. Because I keep my property up. She keeps her property up. But the people down the street don’t keep their property up. … That’s not my responsibility.”

“You have to make a decision on how and what way you want your community,” Jefferson tells her. “If paper and stuff is being put in my community, I go down the street and I clean up.”

“You do?” the woman asks.

“Yes, I do,” Jefferson says.

“Then come on down and clean up my property,” the woman says.

The moment is indicative of the resistance Jefferson has encountered as she works to revitalize South Delta. Jefferson took the executive director job in September 2006, and has turned heads in recent months as she’s charted an ambitious new course for the agency.

South Delta Regional Housing Authority is a government entity created in 1976. It was established under the state’s public housing statute, and receives funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The agency has always had a bold mission: to provide decent, affordable housing to anyone in the region who needs it. Jefferson, a 25-year veteran of the public housing world, has a bolder mission still: to do away with public housing projects that concentrate and isolate poverty, and instead give poor people a chance to live anywhere they choose.

Few would dispute the desperate need for quality affordable housing in the Delta. And few would dispute the importance of eradicating the crime-ridden ghettoes to which the region’s poor are often confined.

Yet Jefferson has been a source of controversy in recent months as South Delta has begun moving into wealthier neighborhoods and demanding more things of its residents.

As South Delta has upset some new neighbors and leveled threats at some long-time clients, many in the region have begun questioning the scope of the agency’s mandate.

The scrutiny has led to allegations that Jefferson has abused her position both to intimidate those who challenge her and to profit inappropriately from her job.

It has also raised concerns about the propriety and the legality of some of South Delta’s recent work.

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The tension between South Delta and the Leland Historic Preservation Commission had been building for several weeks before the commission’s July 21 meeting – though many of those involved would only realize this in retrospect.

Both sides seem to agree that there were two sources of friction.

The first dispute was over South Delta’s obligation – or, A.J. Jefferson maintained at the time, the absence thereof – to follow the city’s ordinance on preserving the historic district.

The second dispute arose from a letter written to a member of South Delta’s board by historic district resident Kenneth West, the dismayed neighbor of a property recently purchased by South Delta.

The March 2000 ordinance that created the preservation commission requires property owners in the historic district – which comprises downtown Leland and the area along Deer Creek – to get a “certificate of appropriateness” from the commission before changing exterior features such as building facades or landscaping.

Hebe Splane, the chair of the commission, says she told Jefferson about the ordinance after South Delta violated it – apparently unintentionally – by cutting some trees at one of its new properties, 205 N. Deer Creek Drive W.

Nevertheless, according to Splane, South Delta then proceeded to cut more trees at another of its properties, 201 N. Deer Creek Drive W., without seeking the commission’s approval. Technically, this offense is punishable by a misdemeanor conviction, a $1,000 fine and a three-year moratorium on further work at the property.

(Jefferson didn’t respond to questions from the Delta Democrat Times about the accuracy of Splane’s account.)

Around the same time, Jefferson became aware of a letter from West to Howard Sanders, the Washington County appointee to the board that oversees South Delta.

West’s letter expressed his belief that South Delta’s purchases in the historic district violated the preservation ordinance and would have a detrimental effect on property values.

Jefferson penned an outraged response, which she had South Delta employees hand-deliver to the members of the preservation commission. Jefferson says she believed at the time that West was a member of the commission. (For the record, he is not.)

“You would think that in 2008, people have learned the lessons of Mississippi’s horrid past,” Jefferson wrote in her reply.

“The letter is direct and not subtle in its attack on the very core of the goals and mandate of SDRHA to provide affordable and first class housing for the clients that it serves,” Jefferson continued. “It is not a mandate that perpetuates the age old stereotypes those less fortunate should be constricted to marginal housing.”

These disputes, with their weeks of buildup, finally unwound in a flurry of words at the July 21 commission meeting.

According to the minutes of the meeting, Jefferson interrupted the proceedings and accused the commissioners of racism and bigotry. As Splane tried to correct the misimpression that West was a member of the commission, and to explain that nothing in the preservation ordinance prevented South Delta from buying property in the historic district, Jefferson said she refused to let the commissioners demean her.

“Do not interfere with our contractors,” she concluded. “That is a violation of federal law.”

As the minutes describe it, Jefferson then stormed out of the meeting with an entourage of South Delta employees behind her.

“I was just so astonished,” says Commissioner Daryl Lewis. “She just barreled right through. She didn’t let anyone get a word in edgewise.

“We were fully prepared to work with her,” he added.

“I almost don’t know what to say,” says Splane. “We didn’t have any idea that there was a problem.”

After a separate meeting between Jefferson, Splane and Mayor Barbara Brooks, a self-described ally of South Delta, Jefferson agreed to follow the rules of the historic district.

But at another public meeting last week – this time at South Delta headquarters – Jefferson again lost her temper after Splane told her the historic commission had investigated the effect of low-income housing on property values.

As Splane tried to share the results of that investigation with Jefferson – the commission had found a study concluding that low-income housing does not have a significant effect on property values – Jefferson railed against what she called the inherent racism of the question.

“Just because a person makes less than somebody else doesn’t mean they’re worth less,” Jefferson said.

Then she left the meeting, again.

“OK, I’m done,” she said. “Meeting’s over with. I’m getting upset.”

“This is racism, pure and simple,” she said later in an interview. “You can’t judge a person based on whether they’re poor or rich.”

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When the homeowners’ meeting is over, the attendees trickle outside into the rain.

Many of them don’t sound happy about what they’ve just heard.

“That was stupid,” one woman says. “They forgot about those grants they mentioned last time. … Everybody was supposed to get a grant to fix their houses up.”

Another woman looks at the maintenance clause in her deed and says she knows she’s responsible for keeping her house up.

But demanding her presence at a Saturday morning meeting and threatening her with a fine is another matter, she says.

“They don’t have that authority,” she says. “I don’t appreciate them talking to me no kind of way.”

The participants in South Delta’s homebuyer assistance program are, for the most part, like any other homeowners. They hold the deeds to their houses. They are the registered owners at the tax assessor’s office. They pay their property taxes. They have homeowners’ insurance. And they signed off on a maintenance clause essentially identical to that in any residential mortgage.

The difference is that they have bought their homes from a government-run housing authority. Instead of making loan payments to a bank each month, they write their mortgage checks to South Delta.

The interest rate on new contracts is currently about 5 percent, with a down payment of about $2,500.

According to Jefferson, this deal means South Delta homeowners have a special set of obligations – especially since South Delta is trying to expand the program to neighborhoods such as Deer Creek.

“We hold the mortgage to this property, and you gotta keep it up. Simple as that,” she says. “If we don’t do this – make sure they take care of their property – then people like Hebe (Splane) is gonna win.”

This is the core of Jefferson’s mission. To realize her vision of fully integrated neighborhoods – where poor blacks are no longer ghettoized in decrepit public housing projects, and rich whites no longer the exclusive proprietors of beautiful homes on Deer Creek – Jefferson believes she must overcome perceived adversaries such as the Leland Historic Preservation Commission with the sheer power of community she sees in the South Delta homeowners.

It’s not a vision shared by everyone. South Delta is currently being sued by at least one participant in the homebuyer assistance program over a dispute related to South Delta’s interpretation of the maintenance clause. And a growing number of community members who aren’t South Delta clients have begun questioning how much South Delta’s recent property purchases will really improve the community.

Because South Delta does not pay property taxes, some residents worry its current buying spree will diminish municipal budgets. At its discretion, South Delta can make “payments in lieu of taxes” to city coffers.

But South Delta board members say those payments don’t usually equal the reduction in tax revenue.

Records at the Washington County chancery clerk’s office currently show 23 properties registered to South Delta that have been purchased since October 2007 – in effect, taken off the tax rolls.

That’s in addition to the 20 properties that the agency already owned in the county.

The figures may turn out to be even higher. Jefferson says South Delta has started using “fronts” to buy property so that sellers will agree to a fair price.

“People jack up the price if they know you’ve got federal money,” she says.

Jefferson refuses to disclose how many properties South Delta plans to buy in the coming year, again citing the problem of sellers raising the price.

The Delta Democrat Times requested information about South Delta’s budget and operations, and its five most recent fiscal year audits – which South Delta has told HUD are available for public review.

Jefferson referred the request to South Delta’s attorney, Paul Mathis. Mathis did not respond.

According to the Web site fedspending.org, South Delta received $6.4 million for Section 8 housing programs in fiscal year 2007. Jefferson says South Delta uses rents from Section 8 tenants to buy new properties and rehabilitate them.

Beyond that, she has declined to discuss South Delta’s operations.

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When Jefferson moved to Leland from St. Louis, she bought a house on Deer Creek Drive, taking out a loan from Bank of America for $118,750, the chancery clerk’s records show.

Jefferson then got approval from South Delta’s board to move into a South Delta-owned house. She sold her home at 203 N. Deer Creek Drive W. to South Delta and moved to another South Delta property on Feltus Boulevard.

Of all the concerns that have been raised over Jefferson’s leadership of South Delta, perhaps the most serious of all arise from allegations that she has made inappropriate personal use of the agency’s resources.

Some have questioned whether Jefferson should have sold her house to South Delta.

They have also questioned whether she should be living in a house owned by the agency, and on which it pays no property tax.

Jefferson did not respond to inquiries about her salary. But in 2004 – the last year for which records were available through channels other than South Delta (the agency used to have a non-profit arm whose tax returns are public) – South Delta’s executive director earned $108,502.

That is well above the income bracket public housing programs typically target.

South Delta board members say they feel the arrangement is appropriate. But Bolivar County appointee Robert Gray acknowledges the agency has a lack of available housing.

“I can’t say that there’s enough to go around,” he says.

Board members did not approve of another perk that Jefferson has allegedly allowed herself: use of South Delta employees to do maintenance work at her home.

Earl Lewis lives near Jefferson’s old house on Deer Creek Drive. He says three or four truckloads of maintenance workers used to arrive in South Delta trucks to do yard work and other chores at Jefferson’s house.

“They did yard work, poured concrete, put in air conditioners, painted it inside. They even done the flower beds,” he says. “That was going on all the time.”

Other neighbors at both her new and old houses tell similar stories.

“I’d see them when I’d leave in the morning, and when I’d come back in the evening they’d still be there,” one man said. “And when I came home for my lunch hour, they were there then, too.

“And it wasn’t just a few days,” he added. “It was for extended periods of time.”

Jefferson did not respond to questions about her personal real estate transactions with South Delta.

Nor did she respond to the allegations that she improperly used South Delta workers to maintain her house.

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Despite the controversy that has surrounded her tenure at South Delta, Jefferson says she feels the large majority of the region’s residents support her mission.

As for the rest, she says she’s a fighter, with a mission that’s worth fighting for.

“We’re gonna have some people that disagree with us,” she says. “But we’re not gonna stop because of how they feel.

“We know we’re gonna run into obstacles with some of them. But we’re not gonna let that stop us.”

Democrats out to take America in a coup …

August 4th, 2011 4 comments

I just saw someone of prominence in the Mississippi business community make the following comment …

“Socialism in action: Euro stocks absolutely tanked today on fear of debt problems spreading. Dow down over 500 points. This is Barry/Pelosi/Reid’s model for America. …”

Great call Mr. Business Leader … Yeah, these guys are rooting for everyone to go broke, including themselves … That will help them and everybody else … That’s intelligent!

Really?

Will DDT be willing to apologize to Berger on its front page?

August 3rd, 2011 Comments off

When I was the editor of the Delta Democrat Times several years ago, there was a reporter, Joshua Howat Berger, who wrote a fantastic story about the misdeeds of A.J. Jefferson at the South Delta Regional Housing Authority. … In a power play, Jefferson, unhappy with the story, intimidated the publisher and owner of the paper into running a front-page apology, which embarrassed Berger, but, apparently not the leaders of the DDT. Housing Executive Arrested

A.J. Jefferson — Photo by Bill Johnson/Delta Democrat TImes

However, in the last year — partly because of that story — federal investigators have been hot on the trail of Jefferson. It culminated this week with Jefferson being arrested and accused of knowingly and willfully embezzling federal funds, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, making false statements to federal authorities in the
course of an investigation, and witness intimidation
, among other things… Read part of the story here.

And read the press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, United States Attorney, Northern District of Mississippi here … Housing Executive Arrested

My question is whether the leadership is willing to apologize to Berger, who is now working as a foreign correspondent in South Africa. If the DDT apologizes, it should be on the front page. Berger did great work during his time at the DDT, including the Jefferson story, which might have been the best, and most accurate, story he wrote in his two years in Mississippi.

Berger was also the first reporter to unveil the truth about a man from the Delta, who was wrongly convicted of rape … The man, after DNA analysis revealed he couldn’t have been the man involved in the crime, was released from prison.

Berger deserves an apology …

See the complete text from the U.S. Department of Justice, United States Attorney, Northern District of Mississippi below …

U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Northern District of Mississippi
900 Jefferson Avenue 662/234-3351
Oxford, Mississippi 38655-3603 FAX 662/234-0657
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: KRISI ALLEN
August 1, 2011 PHONE: (662) 234-3351
www.justice.gov/usao/msn EMAIL: kris.allen@usdoj.gov
SOUTH DELTA REGIONAL HOUSING AUTHORITY EXECUTIVE
ARRESTED ON EMBEZZLEMENT, OBSTRUCTION CHARGES
OXFORD, Miss. – Felicia C. Adams, United States Attorney for the Northern District of
Mississippi, together with Daniel McMullen, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) in Mississippi, and Bobby Anderson, Special Agent in Charge of the United
States Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General in New
Orleans, announces that FBI agents have arrested Ann Jefferson, Executive Director of the South
Delta Regional Housing Authority (SDRHA), today in Leland, Mississippi, pursuant to an
indictment returned last week by a federal grand jury.
Jefferson, 57, of Leland, is accused of knowingly and willfully embezzling federal funds,
witness tampering, obstruction of justice, making false statements to federal authorities in the
course of an investigation, and witness intimidation. She appeared before United States
Magistrate Judge Jane Virden in Greenville, Mississippi, today (Monday) and was released on a bond
posted in February on a previous arrest.
“This joint HUD-OIG/FBI investigation into the alleged misuse of government funds by
these subjects is an excellent example of the effectiveness of collaboration between federal
agencies,” stated FBI SAC Daniel McMullen. “I commend the hard work and dedication of all
the HUD-OIG and FBI investigators during the course of this investigation.”
If convicted on all counts, Jefferson faces up to 95 years in prison and up to $2 million in
fines. She could also be ordered to pay restitution to the victims of her crimes.
Also arrested today and charged in the indictment is Jimmy Johnson, a contractor doing
business with SDRHA. Johnson was charged with embezzlement of federal funds, witness
tampering and making a false statement to federal authorities in the course of an investigation.
He faces up to 35 years in prison and up to $750,000 in fines, if convicted.
The charges against Jefferson and Johnson are merely accusations, and the defendants are
presumed innocent until proven guilty.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States
Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of the Inspector General, and is being
prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Robert H. Norman and Susan S. Bradley.

Also … here is a comment posted on the ddtonline.com site immediately after the apology ran in 2008 …

DDT Soundoff of the Day: I was very disappointed to read the “apology” in (the Sept. 7) newspaper. As a former student of journalism, I learned that the role of the press is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Mr. Berger’s original story, “Housing authority director’s tactics questioned by community, homeowners” (Sun., Aug 24), fulfilled both of those goals. As evidenced by the large volume of comments about the article on the DDT Web site, Mr. Berger’s piece provided solace to employees and homeowners who felt too powerless and intimidated to stand up to Ms. Jefferson. And the article also questioned Ms. Jefferson’s abuse of power and use of federal tax dollars, forcing the community to examine whether the director has become too comfortable in her role. But when your paper chose to “apologize for any inconvenience the story may of caused Ms. Jefferson,” you failed in your duty to the citizens of the Delta and the people of this country. The role of the press is to cause “inconvenience” to people who have served too long with too little oversight. A newspaper that takes seriously its job as a watchdog should never apologize for causing discomfort; it should be proud to evoke controversy and questioning. Shame on you, Delta Democrat Times, for backing down after finally standing up.

Update … the original story from Aug. 24, 2008 is printed below …

Housing authority director’s tactics questioned by community, homeowners

By JOSHUA HOWAT BERGER joshberger@ddtonline.com | 8 comments

LELAND – It’s 8 a.m. on a Saturday and a hundred-plus homeowners are gathered at the Leland headquarters of South Delta Regional Housing Authority.

South Delta’s executive director, Ann “A.J.” Jefferson, is pacing the floor with authority. She is dressed in short jeans and a black jersey with a purple number 19 on the front. Jefferson is a big woman, with a big afro and big, tinted glasses, and she has a way of filling the room when she speaks.

“You all gotta help us maintain your community,” Jefferson is telling the assembled homeowners. “That’s why you’re here today. You know, it’s not about no one person. It’s not about South Delta. It’s not about you. It’s about all of the Delta community.”

A sense of community, however, does not seem to be what’s brought most of these homeowners here this rainy Saturday morning.

The homeowners have been summoned by letter for a meeting about maintaining their property. They are participants in a South Delta program that helps low-income families in the six counties South Delta serves – Bolivar, Humphreys, Issaquena, Sharkey, Sunflower and Washington – buy their own houses.

It’s a long drive to Leland for many of them, and from the anxiety with which they gather at the sign-in sheet, it’s clear why they’ve made the trip: The penultimate sentence of the letter they received reads, “Anyone not attending will be fined.”

That threat, it turns out, will be the first of several.

During the meeting, South Delta staff member Angela Brady tells the homeowners she’ll be inspecting their property inside and out. If she finds any unresolved problems, she says, South Delta will fix them – and then send the homeowner the bill.

Jefferson takes it one step further, threatening to kick out homeowners who don’t meet South Delta’s maintenance standards.

But what gets to the woman near the front of the room is Jefferson’s call for the homeowners to maintain not only their own property, but their entire neighborhood.

As Jefferson delivers her talk on community to the neatly arranged rows of residents, the woman near the front ventures a thought.

“Ma’am,” she says, “I don’t think that’s fair, really. Because I keep my property up. She keeps her property up. But the people down the street don’t keep their property up. … That’s not my responsibility.”

“You have to make a decision on how and what way you want your community,” Jefferson tells her. “If paper and stuff is being put in my community, I go down the street and I clean up.”

“You do?” the woman asks.

“Yes, I do,” Jefferson says.

“Then come on down and clean up my property,” the woman says.

The moment is indicative of the resistance Jefferson has encountered as she works to revitalize South Delta. Jefferson took the executive director job in September 2006, and has turned heads in recent months as she’s charted an ambitious new course for the agency.

South Delta Regional Housing Authority is a government entity created in 1976. It was established under the state’s public housing statute, and receives funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The agency has always had a bold mission: to provide decent, affordable housing to anyone in the region who needs it. Jefferson, a 25-year veteran of the public housing world, has a bolder mission still: to do away with public housing projects that concentrate and isolate poverty, and instead give poor people a chance to live anywhere they choose.

Few would dispute the desperate need for quality affordable housing in the Delta. And few would dispute the importance of eradicating the crime-ridden ghettoes to which the region’s poor are often confined.

Yet Jefferson has been a source of controversy in recent months as South Delta has begun moving into wealthier neighborhoods and demanding more things of its residents.

As South Delta has upset some new neighbors and leveled threats at some long-time clients, many in the region have begun questioning the scope of the agency’s mandate.

The scrutiny has led to allegations that Jefferson has abused her position both to intimidate those who challenge her and to profit inappropriately from her job.

It has also raised concerns about the propriety and the legality of some of South Delta’s recent work.

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The tension between South Delta and the Leland Historic Preservation Commission had been building for several weeks before the commission’s July 21 meeting – though many of those involved would only realize this in retrospect.

Both sides seem to agree that there were two sources of friction.

The first dispute was over South Delta’s obligation – or, A.J. Jefferson maintained at the time, the absence thereof – to follow the city’s ordinance on preserving the historic district.

The second dispute arose from a letter written to a member of South Delta’s board by historic district resident Kenneth West, the dismayed neighbor of a property recently purchased by South Delta.

The March 2000 ordinance that created the preservation commission requires property owners in the historic district – which comprises downtown Leland and the area along Deer Creek – to get a “certificate of appropriateness” from the commission before changing exterior features such as building facades or landscaping.

Hebe Splane, the chair of the commission, says she told Jefferson about the ordinance after South Delta violated it – apparently unintentionally – by cutting some trees at one of its new properties, 205 N. Deer Creek Drive W.

Nevertheless, according to Splane, South Delta then proceeded to cut more trees at another of its properties, 201 N. Deer Creek Drive W., without seeking the commission’s approval. Technically, this offense is punishable by a misdemeanor conviction, a $1,000 fine and a three-year moratorium on further work at the property.

(Jefferson didn’t respond to questions from the Delta Democrat Times about the accuracy of Splane’s account.)

Around the same time, Jefferson became aware of a letter from West to Howard Sanders, the Washington County appointee to the board that oversees South Delta.

West’s letter expressed his belief that South Delta’s purchases in the historic district violated the preservation ordinance and would have a detrimental effect on property values.

Jefferson penned an outraged response, which she had South Delta employees hand-deliver to the members of the preservation commission. Jefferson says she believed at the time that West was a member of the commission. (For the record, he is not.)

“You would think that in 2008, people have learned the lessons of Mississippi’s horrid past,” Jefferson wrote in her reply.

“The letter is direct and not subtle in its attack on the very core of the goals and mandate of SDRHA to provide affordable and first class housing for the clients that it serves,” Jefferson continued. “It is not a mandate that perpetuates the age old stereotypes those less fortunate should be constricted to marginal housing.”

These disputes, with their weeks of buildup, finally unwound in a flurry of words at the July 21 commission meeting.

According to the minutes of the meeting, Jefferson interrupted the proceedings and accused the commissioners of racism and bigotry. As Splane tried to correct the misimpression that West was a member of the commission, and to explain that nothing in the preservation ordinance prevented South Delta from buying property in the historic district, Jefferson said she refused to let the commissioners demean her.

“Do not interfere with our contractors,” she concluded. “That is a violation of federal law.”

As the minutes describe it, Jefferson then stormed out of the meeting with an entourage of South Delta employees behind her.

“I was just so astonished,” says Commissioner Daryl Lewis. “She just barreled right through. She didn’t let anyone get a word in edgewise.

“We were fully prepared to work with her,” he added.

“I almost don’t know what to say,” says Splane. “We didn’t have any idea that there was a problem.”

After a separate meeting between Jefferson, Splane and Mayor Barbara Brooks, a self-described ally of South Delta, Jefferson agreed to follow the rules of the historic district.

But at another public meeting last week – this time at South Delta headquarters – Jefferson again lost her temper after Splane told her the historic commission had investigated the effect of low-income housing on property values.

As Splane tried to share the results of that investigation with Jefferson – the commission had found a study concluding that low-income housing does not have a significant effect on property values – Jefferson railed against what she called the inherent racism of the question.

“Just because a person makes less than somebody else doesn’t mean they’re worth less,” Jefferson said.

Then she left the meeting, again.

“OK, I’m done,” she said. “Meeting’s over with. I’m getting upset.”

“This is racism, pure and simple,” she said later in an interview. “You can’t judge a person based on whether they’re poor or rich.”

xxxxxxxx

When the homeowners’ meeting is over, the attendees trickle outside into the rain.

Many of them don’t sound happy about what they’ve just heard.

“That was stupid,” one woman says. “They forgot about those grants they mentioned last time. … Everybody was supposed to get a grant to fix their houses up.”

Another woman looks at the maintenance clause in her deed and says she knows she’s responsible for keeping her house up.

But demanding her presence at a Saturday morning meeting and threatening her with a fine is another matter, she says.

“They don’t have that authority,” she says. “I don’t appreciate them talking to me no kind of way.”

The participants in South Delta’s homebuyer assistance program are, for the most part, like any other homeowners. They hold the deeds to their houses. They are the registered owners at the tax assessor’s office. They pay their property taxes. They have homeowners’ insurance. And they signed off on a maintenance clause essentially identical to that in any residential mortgage.

The difference is that they have bought their homes from a government-run housing authority. Instead of making loan payments to a bank each month, they write their mortgage checks to South Delta.

The interest rate on new contracts is currently about 5 percent, with a down payment of about $2,500.

According to Jefferson, this deal means South Delta homeowners have a special set of obligations – especially since South Delta is trying to expand the program to neighborhoods such as Deer Creek.

“We hold the mortgage to this property, and you gotta keep it up. Simple as that,” she says. “If we don’t do this – make sure they take care of their property – then people like Hebe (Splane) is gonna win.”

This is the core of Jefferson’s mission. To realize her vision of fully integrated neighborhoods – where poor blacks are no longer ghettoized in decrepit public housing projects, and rich whites no longer the exclusive proprietors of beautiful homes on Deer Creek – Jefferson believes she must overcome perceived adversaries such as the Leland Historic Preservation Commission with the sheer power of community she sees in the South Delta homeowners.

It’s not a vision shared by everyone. South Delta is currently being sued by at least one participant in the homebuyer assistance program over a dispute related to South Delta’s interpretation of the maintenance clause. And a growing number of community members who aren’t South Delta clients have begun questioning how much South Delta’s recent property purchases will really improve the community.

Because South Delta does not pay property taxes, some residents worry its current buying spree will diminish municipal budgets. At its discretion, South Delta can make “payments in lieu of taxes” to city coffers.

But South Delta board members say those payments don’t usually equal the reduction in tax revenue.

Records at the Washington County chancery clerk’s office currently show 23 properties registered to South Delta that have been purchased since October 2007 – in effect, taken off the tax rolls.

That’s in addition to the 20 properties that the agency already owned in the county.

The figures may turn out to be even higher. Jefferson says South Delta has started using “fronts” to buy property so that sellers will agree to a fair price.

“People jack up the price if they know you’ve got federal money,” she says.

Jefferson refuses to disclose how many properties South Delta plans to buy in the coming year, again citing the problem of sellers raising the price.

The Delta Democrat Times requested information about South Delta’s budget and operations, and its five most recent fiscal year audits – which South Delta has told HUD are available for public review.

Jefferson referred the request to South Delta’s attorney, Paul Mathis. Mathis did not respond.

According to the Web site fedspending.org, South Delta received $6.4 million for Section 8 housing programs in fiscal year 2007. Jefferson says South Delta uses rents from Section 8 tenants to buy new properties and rehabilitate them.

Beyond that, she has declined to discuss South Delta’s operations.

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When Jefferson moved to Leland from St. Louis, she bought a house on Deer Creek Drive, taking out a loan from Bank of America for $118,750, the chancery clerk’s records show.

Jefferson then got approval from South Delta’s board to move into a South Delta-owned house. She sold her home at 203 N. Deer Creek Drive W. to South Delta and moved to another South Delta property on Feltus Boulevard.

Of all the concerns that have been raised over Jefferson’s leadership of South Delta, perhaps the most serious of all arise from allegations that she has made inappropriate personal use of the agency’s resources.

Some have questioned whether Jefferson should have sold her house to South Delta.

They have also questioned whether she should be living in a house owned by the agency, and on which it pays no property tax.

Jefferson did not respond to inquiries about her salary. But in 2004 – the last year for which records were available through channels other than South Delta (the agency used to have a non-profit arm whose tax returns are public) – South Delta’s executive director earned $108,502.

That is well above the income bracket public housing programs typically target.

South Delta board members say they feel the arrangement is appropriate. But Bolivar County appointee Robert Gray acknowledges the agency has a lack of available housing.

“I can’t say that there’s enough to go around,” he says.

Board members did not approve of another perk that Jefferson has allegedly allowed herself: use of South Delta employees to do maintenance work at her home.

Earl Lewis lives near Jefferson’s old house on Deer Creek Drive. He says three or four truckloads of maintenance workers used to arrive in South Delta trucks to do yard work and other chores at Jefferson’s house.

“They did yard work, poured concrete, put in air conditioners, painted it inside. They even done the flower beds,” he says. “That was going on all the time.”

Other neighbors at both her new and old houses tell similar stories.

“I’d see them when I’d leave in the morning, and when I’d come back in the evening they’d still be there,” one man said. “And when I came home for my lunch hour, they were there then, too.

“And it wasn’t just a few days,” he added. “It was for extended periods of time.”

Jefferson did not respond to questions about her personal real estate transactions with South Delta.

Nor did she respond to the allegations that she improperly used South Delta workers to maintain her house.

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Despite the controversy that has surrounded her tenure at South Delta, Jefferson says she feels the large majority of the region’s residents support her mission.

As for the rest, she says she’s a fighter, with a mission that’s worth fighting for.

“We’re gonna have some people that disagree with us,” she says. “But we’re not gonna stop because of how they feel.

“We know we’re gonna run into obstacles with some of them. But we’re not gonna let that stop us.”

***

Dupree charges, takes lead in MBJ Poll

July 13th, 2011 1 comment

You can decide whether it has anything to do with Congressman Bennie Thompson giving his endorsement yesterday, but Hatiesburg mayor Johnny Dupree has charged ahead of Clarksdale businessman Bill Luckett in the Mississippi Business Journal poll, which asks “Who will be the Democratic nominee for governor?” … Click here to see the results

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