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OUR VIEW: JRA evolving toward transparency? Maybe, maybe not

OurView

Some Jackson Redevelopment Authority board members may have had to fight back a groan Wednesday at the idea of spending money for an image makeover.

One member even compared the idea to putting perfume on a pig.

Maybe for him it is. He’s looking at things from the inside, after all.

Here on the outside, we see any new willingness to actually communicate with the media and the public as evolutionary progress. Anything that lessens the exhausting effort required to keep the public informed about the activities of this vitally important agency is truly welcomed.

» READ MORE: JRA awaiting image makeover

We don’t expect the JRA staff and majority of its board members to suddenly emerge from the bunker they’ve occupied for years. They’re way too insulated and attached to the idea of victimhood for that.

This is a public agency that as recently as last month refused to provide a meeting agenda to the Mississippi Business Journal a day ahead of a regular meeting unless the newspaper made an open records law request, a process that would get us the agenda 14 days after the filing. We enlisted the aid of the mayor’s office. Their staffer got the same answer.

Last year, the JRA board approved a development agreement for a convention center hotel but would let neither the media nor anyone else from the public review the agreement. Some “I’s” needed to be dotted and “t’s” crossed, we were told. The agency ultimately rejected our open records law request for the agreement.

quoteThe year before that, some board members decided journalists were getting carried away with electronic recording devices at JRA meetings. They wanted a new rule requiring prior approval of any recordings of their meetings. The ridicule that followed led the board to eventually drop the recording rules.

As a measure of the inflexibility that infects the JRA, consider that the agency refused the Mississippi Business Journal’s request last week for a copy of Yellow Brick Media Concept’s proposal for helping to make agency information more accessible to the public. At the JRA’s insistence, we submitted an open records request.

Some of the isolationist tendencies should diminish as the JRA begins noticing that openness creates more complete and thorough reporting on the agency’s activities.

At the urging of board member Bishop Ronnie Crudup, the board is taking only small steps to start. The first one is to have media relations and marketing professional Kathy Times, principal of Jackson’s Yellow Brick Media Concepts, prepare a strategic marketing plan.

The hope here is that once Ms. Times shows the JRA’s decision makers the genuine value of open communications she can persuade them to accept her offer for a more complete remaking of the JRA’s relations with the media and the public.

As one board member noted in Wednesday’s discussion, it’s extremely difficult to create a positive image when you take on jobs no one else wants to do, in this case removing slums and blight. And the imaging becomes even more negative when the public has questions about these very difficult jobs and their handling but nowhere to go for answers.

Frustrating delays — and in some instances, failures — are going to occur. If the projects were slam dunks, the JRA would not be involved in the first place.

Successes are also part of the JRA story. But with the information blackouts, local journalists are not eager to expend the time and energy to tell even those stories. Ms. Times says she wants to create a “brand” for the JRA. Call it whatever you please. If she can get the board and JRA staff to evolve toward transparency, Ms. Times will have done everyone a great service.

 

 

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