Monday, November 2, 2015

Jackson's Zoning Administrator does not want to post zoning requests online.

A recent discussion at the Jackson City Council shows why bureaucrats are universally disliked.  Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote wants zoning applications posted online after they are submitted to the city.  The city council members seemed inclined to go along with his idea last week at a meeting of the Planning and Zoning Committee.  However, Zoning Administrator Esther Ainsworth tried to stop the council from doing so as she made it quite clear she wants to keep forcing people to file public records requests and pay whatever fees she decides to charge.

Mr. Foote's proposal will make it easier for people to find out what is going on in their own neighborhoods when developers or property owners try to rezone their property.  The current policy forces concerned citizens to go down to city hall, file a public records request, wait seven business days or more, and then pay whatever fees Ms. Ainsworth's office decides to charge.* Her office will not let anyone just read the submitted application.  Nope. A public records request has to be filed and the process has to be followed.  We are a city of laws you see.  The breaking of one law or rule will undermine order and bring down society.  The city can not tolerate such lawlessness.  Civilization depends on keeping such order.

Mr. Foote introduced a motion two weeks ago at a city council meeting that would direct the city to post all submitted zoning applications on the city website within 72 hours after submission.  The resolution would also require the city to post online the agendas for the planning and zoning commission no less than 72 hours prior to a meeting.  City Attorney Monica Joiner said the resolution should be converted to an order as it would be an ordinance.  The council agreed and referred it to the Planning and Zoning Committee.

The discussion opened on a fairly amicable note.  The committee discussed what it wanted to accomplish with the city attorneys.  Normal stuff. Mr. Foote cited the example of the Colonial Country Club zoning fight earlier this year when Colonial neighbors were forced to file public records requests and wait one to two weeks just to find out what was proposed for their neighborhood.  Numerous people also complained at the Costco public hearing that they were not allowed to look at the zoning application but were forced to file public records requests even though they didn't find out about the hearing until a few days prior to its being held.

Mr. Foote said he wanted to upload the entire application as submitted to the city website.  However, Ms. Ainsworth said she preferred to post agendas and public notices.  Ward 2 Councilman Melvin Priester, Jr. took Mr. Foote's side as he said "I like this idea a lot and that we should try to get as much documentation online as possible."

Ms. Ainsworth (starts at 9:14) said the current notice requirements were satisfactory.  She said she was required to  send notice to people who lived within 160 feet of property that was the subject of a zoning proposal.  She said the notice had to be posted 15 days prior to the meeting.   However, such requirements mean a person has to literally file a public records request the same day the notice is posted if he wants to get the zoning application prior to the public hearing.

Mr. Foote said he wanted to post the submitted zoning applications online to reduce "the friction among the neighborhood associations" and create "less angst out there."  However, Ms. Ainsworth (11:30) said that if the information was posted online, that people could make "interpretations sometimes that are not correct." She also said "We don't want people to make abrupt decisions based on what staff recommends (included in the zoning application)."  She said they "may make an uninformed decision" based upon what information "is out there in terms whether they support or don't support (that zoning request)."  She said the zoning documents can be a really large file but Mr. Foote said "That's ok, the cloud is a really big place."  He said he would rather people complain because he voted the wrong way than complain they couldn't get a copy of the zoning request.

Ms. Ainsworth also said uploading completed zoning applications online would mean some proprietary or trade information might have to be redacted.  However, she failed to mention that such guidelines currently apply to those obtained through public records request.  Another Planning and Zoning department employee said people could just file open records requests.  Mr. Foote interrupted her and said "I'd just rather put this online".  He said "we are furloughing people" and this proposal would reduce the workload for city employees as they could just post the submitted applications online and not use their time responding to public records requests for the same zoning application. He said "My gosh, it's free online." (18:00)  Inspector Ainsworth then tried to say that uploading the applications might interfere with the appeal period for a zoning action application. She said the city should post the submitted applications online after the appeal period.

The committee said it was inclined to direct the Planning and Zoning to submit the applications to the City Attorney for review and then upload the documents to the internet.  The committee will address Mr. Foote's proposal at the next meeting.

*Her office charged this website $80 just for copy of the zoning application for the Goodwill Industries zoning application.  Earlier post with copy of zoning application.

This is an example of a zoning application that is completed and submitted to the city:


Anonymous said...

So we have that on one hand, and we have this on the other hand:

Jackson, Miss.–August 5, 2015 –Mayor Tony T. Yarber announced today that Jackson is one of the first cities selected to participate in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities - a $42 million initiative to help 100 mid-sized American cities enhance their use of data and evidence to improve the lives of residents.

“We are honored that Jackson was selected to participate in What Works Cities, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies,” said Mayor Yarber.“This initiative will give us access to experts who can help us in our drive toward transparent, data-driven governance – empowering us to make decisions necessary for our city’s future based on the facts instead of just our feelings."

Sounds about right.

Kingfish said...

The city attorneys were doing their job. They were trying to figure out what the council wanted to do and draft the appropriate order.

Ms. Ainsworth is the one who tried to stop Mr. Foote. You can tell when someone is trying to stop something as opposed to doing what it takes to make something work.

Anonymous said...

Disgusting. Anyone who has had to obtain public records from the City knows the nightmare you have to endure to get your records. No one seems to care about the time limits and the fees for copying are absurd. Ms. Ainsworth needs a reminder of who she works for (us, the taxpayers).

Anonymous said...

3:11 PM, the idea that Mayor Phony Yarber is suddenly going to become Mayor Transparency was folderol from the outset. It was all for show and to make Donner think he's somebody he is not. Phony could demonstrate leadership and tell Ainsworth how things are going to be. But that would be asking too much.


Anonymous said...

public records request for Zoning information is crazy and maybe not legal. Have information for public review is part of the process and is not a request for regular public information. What Jackson is doing is not following the intent of State law. What a bunch of fools.

Anonymous said...

6:15pm (Andrew M.), calm down! Don't worry, you can always get your lawyers to seal your documents.

Anonymous said...

4:44 you continue to haunt this site with you assery. Get a life. Other than trashing all things Jackson, I mean. Grow up. Mayor Phony Yarber is a Mayor. What are you, other than a JJ troll?

Anonymous said...

Found this interesting:

"...Protection rackets have their own challenges: For one thing, you actually do have to provide some protection, mainly from other predators like you. Over the years, economic success and administrative demands eventually transform bands of roving bandits into bands of stationary bandits. One popular theory of the state — one that is pretty well-supported by the historical evidence in the European context — is that this is where governments come from: protection rackets that survive for a long enough period of time that they take on a patina of legitimacy. At some point, Romulus-and-Remus stories are invented to explain that the local Mafiosi have not only historical roots but divine sanction."

Read more at:–usually-just-crass-extortion–usually-just-crass-extortion


JustSayin said...

Let's start a petition to have Ms Ainsworth fired. It happens all the time in progressive cities.

Kingfish said...

Dear Andrew: Shut up. Its our fucking government. We elect them, they work for us, not you or any developer. Don't like it, move to the third world where you can buy a government for yourself.

Anonymous said...

Sales tax kickbacks bring out the worst in people.

Andrew Who? said...

Who the hell is Andrew?

Anonymous said...

Hey guys, Andrew M. here, I'm just an ordinary young professional fresh out of college trying to get a leg up in this world. The system is there to be worked, not for fairness for everyone. Ester can be a friend if you play your cards right and really help your development.

Anonymous said...

"Hey guys, Andrew M. here, I'm just an ordinary young professional fresh out of college"

Mattiace? Young?? BS.

Anonymous said...

No 7:40, you are a dickhead that needs to create a multi million dollar company, hiring 30 people at handsome salaries like Andrew, or take the fork in the road that leads you to smart ass nobodies like Kingfish, that live on the misery of others, and create an advertising market that lives on the ridicule of the efforts of others.

Kingfish said...

Ester is a fount of knowledge when it comes to zoning and I've often agreed with her staff recommendations. However, the problem is not the actual work they do but her stance on open records. People who are making public records requests for these zoning applications would probably be more than happy to just be able to read them down at her office and take notes more than half of the time. However, she will not even budge on that simple concept. You have to file a request and wait seven BUSINESS days. However, the city does not have to file the request in seven days but answer. The city can take ANOTHER seven business days. That means 14 days plus at least two weekends.

The public notice is required to be put up 15 days prior to public hearing. Suppose you find out about the hearing the day the notice is posted. You immediately file a request. The city can give it to you AFTER the hearing even if you follow the law to the letter.

That is why her position at the city council was bogus.

Anonymous said...

Hey everybody, no I am not an old developer or a young professional. I'm a JJ Troll and this is satire. Sorry for it all going over your head. Whoops.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't this zoning deal made the Colonial Country Club re-zoning so much more transparent?? That's the real question here. Too might fly-by-night stuff going on

Anonymous said...

Why isn't there even a clear zoning map online? Must the city hold everything behind a deep-veiled curtain?

Anonymous said...

Let's face it. Yarber is totally clueless. Anybody that has ever done business with the city, including their lawyers, knows that there is no concept of transparency or spirit of cooperation to be found in the bureaucracy of the city.

Yet, Yarber makes public statements about his new model of transparency even as his minions continue to thwart citizen efforts for information. He either knows this is going on, or he should know it. It seems like a case of "the emperor has no clothes."

To change attitudes and practices of city employees (or just about any other institution or business) it takes moral courage and leadership AT THE TOP. That ain't happening, friends.

We need a new mayor. Sorry, Tony, your critics were right. You ain't ready for prime time (and, yes, I'm sorry to say I voted for you, twice.)

Anonymous said...

I'll complete 9:49's comment:

"Hey everybody, no I am not an old developer or a young professional. I'm a JJ Troll and this is satire. Sorry for it all going over your head. Whoops."

-Signed, 90% of the people on here.

Thanks For Helping !!! said...

November 3, 2015 at 9:14 AM = Longtime Loyal JJ Reader!

Meet the new Harvey, Same as the old Harvey said...

Mayor Phony Yarber could fix it Kingfish if he is truly committed to transparency. Why are you not challenging his silence on the matter?

Anonymous said...

Of course there will be pushback from Ester. On one hand, this will make her job easier. No more sudden open records requests from pesky constituents. On the other hand, this will force her hand on every single zoning action. No action will go unnoticed. She probably has already been getting pushback from her developer friends in the city. This will take the wind out of their sales, I mean sails.

Kingfish said...

Want to hear something else? Jimmie Gates was sitting in the audience the entire time. No mention of this or the entertainment district in the newspaper.

Anonymous said...

Kingfish, not to blow bubbles up your fins, but I like to give credit where credit is due. You swim circles around anyone in the local media. New Orleans, Biloxi, Oxford and so many more areas of political corruption could use your influence in digging out the real stories.

Anonymous said...

KF has done it the old fashioned way, he's earned it and he deserves every bit of advertising business interested advertisers are willing to bring his way.

Anonymous said...

Damn, Phony Yarber has really stepped into it this time. 5-to-1 smackdown Mayor Phony means YOU've got some serious issues to address and fences to mend.

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