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Jackson Mayor Talks About Sheriff, Apartments And New Book Club

Jackson mayor Derek Dobies
WKAR File Photo
Jackson mayor Derek Dobies in the WKAR studios

For the March 26, 2018 edition of Mondays with the Mayor, Jackson mayor Derek Dobies talked with WKAR's Reginald Hardwick. Mayor Dobies did not hold back his criticism of Jackson county sheriff Steve Rand. He also talked about attracting apartments to the downtown area, a former mayor who is now the city's treasurer and why he started a book club in hopes of raising understanding in the city. 

Hardwick: Good Morning. You’re listening to 90.5 WKAR, your NPR station for the capital region. I’m Reginald Hardwick and welcome to our Mondays with the Mayor segment. Today we’re pleased to bring back Jackson mayor Derek Dobies. Welcome.

Dobies: Good morning, Reginald. Great to be back.

Hardwick: The last time you joined us was January 1st... How is your first year as mayor going?

Dobies: It has been going well so far. We actually just had our state of the city, I think we talked about that the last time that I was on here that we were prepping for that. We had that at the Masonic Temple building and kind of laid out our vision for what we plan to do over the next two years with head Petty Poppy, the CEO, and president of Consumers Energy to join us with that and to lay out some of the exciting projects they have planned for downtown. We have a lot on our plate, lots to do. Definitely a lot of excitement and a lot of momentum down in Jackson.

Hardwick: The mayor and city council have asked for the state to remove Jackson county sheriff Steve Rand after recordings surfaced of him making sexist, racist and homophobic comments. He says he needs to stay on to apologize and make amends to those he offended. Why is that not good enough?

Hardwick: We’ve requested interviews with Sheriff Rand but he has not responded to our requests. In your state of the state – you mentioned 27 projects for the city of Jackson. There was a lot of talk about apartments and housing. Could you talk about those?

Dobies: You know frankly, I think it is a little selfish to use a public position like that with the sole intent to rebuild your character and for personal needs like that. I think that frankly, it has been a blight on our community; I think that there’s been a huge breach of the public's trust in Sheriff Rand. These are just outrageous comments that have no place in any office, any public office. In particular, the top law enforcement officer and the top elected official in Jackson County that targeted women, African Americans, persons with disabilities, the LGBT community, I mean you name it. Pretty atrocious stuff and when you talk about law enforcement you need to have the confidence or have the public have confidence in their law enforcement agencies and the ability for law enforcement to interact with the public and have that level of trust to actually be able to do your jobs well. I think that is resuscitated that Sheriff Rand needs to resign. A new person needs to be either appointed or elected into that position so they can actually clean up that office and to restore confidence in the public and the work that the Office of the Sheriff needs to do.

Hardwick: We’ve requested interviews with Sheriff Rand but he has not responded to our requests. In your state of the state – you mentioned 27 projects for the city of Jackson. There was a lot of talk about apartments and housing. Could you talk about those?

Dobies: What we found is that people are changing in demographics and that people are looking to move back into rich, vibrant, urban cores. Our problem in Jackson is that we haven’t really; we are not really built for that. We don’t have those actual, livable spaces either above existing infrastructure or just the lofts, the apartments, the actual inventory of that housing stock to satisfy that demand. So what you are seeing is that we are trying to match the supply with the demand and sent that supply to move in to work with developers to break ground and start to build projects downtown. We have about, within an acre and a half, about $75 million of private investment going in to build out those units and to put new jobs and new industries downtown. So we are really excited about it, I think that one of the developments there is already a waiting list to get into it. So we did a target market analysis, a few years back, to show that the demand was there and now we are seeing that is coming to fruition with some of those projects getting built out and we are continuing to plan a lot of placemaking projects along those areas.

Dobies: Yeah so I think a lot of it is market rate, but we also have a couple of different projects that we are working on for low to moderate income. We received a Lytech Award from MichTa to build a low to moderate income senior facility near our downtown, working on another project to rehab a certain area just off of the downtown loop. So we are trying to get a good diversity of housing stock to make sure that Jackson is also an age-friendly community; a place where people can age in place, and has a good mix of incomes and while we build downtown that we make sure that we are having a diverse downtown of different incomes, different interests, different backgrounds. I think that is what we are going to build out and we are looking to see what successes have been working in other cities in terms of policy to also ensure that that sort of diversity continues as well.

Hardwick: Jackson has a new treasurer... former mayor Marty Griffin. How do you feel about working with him and what challenges await him?

Dobies: He has been on a few days and we had to advertise for the position that was elected, and I think that limited the amount of resumes that we got. I have a great working relationship with Marty. He has been a friend of mine for a while. He did very well in his interviews and he is very knowledgeable of his position. One of the things that he noted in his interview that he wants to really expand on is making sure that everyone pays their fair share. I think that there is a lot that you can do with the Treasurer’s position to ensure that. Whether that is through audits. Just going back through the some of the data and the information that we do collect. Even though our own contracts that we award from that city. Making sure that if you’re getting a contract from the city to do work, that you are going to be paying income taxes like everyone has to in the city and already we found that people that have been awarded millions of dollars of city contracts haven't been paying that income tax. I do not think that is fair to the hardworking families in Jackson that have been paying that. So I think that there are some things there that the new treasurer will be exploring and making sure that we are capturing all of that revenue so we can invest it in things like putting more boots on the ground for cops, making sure our fire department is adequately funded, and probably first and foremost in Jackson making sure we are putting every dollar that we can into our roads and our crumbling infrastructure. It is a problem that a lot of cities have and certainly one that Jackson has as well.

Hardwick: You’re not Oprah but you’ve started a book club. The first read is Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the age of Colorblindness. Why did you pick that book?

Dobies: You know I think that it is important. We have been going through a learning process as a community. I think that some of the things going on with the county sheriff and some of the comments he has made about “stomping on the backs of black people necks like we used to.” When you have elected officials who say those sorts’ things, I think it necessitates that we engage in a conversation about institutional racism in some of the policies and procedures that have caused some of these problems that exist in our community to continue and to continue to persist. I chose that book to be able to engage in that and I think it is totally appropriate given that we have the problems that we have with our sheriff and given that we are a prison city. We house the state prison in Jackson and what better place to talk about systemic institutional racism and mass incarceration and the problems that have plagued our society from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration and the problems that persist within each of those different systems that have been created. I think it is totally topical and that is the time that we talk about it. You cannot solve a problem if you are not willing to engage in tough, difficult conversations.

Hardwick: Thank you for joining us – Jackson mayor Derek Dobies.

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