Mississippi Editorial Roundup

A collection of editorial comment from around Mississippi.

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Vicksburg Post, on “EEOC letter is like a flash back 30, 40 years.”

In a sweeping finding, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has written that Mississippi is discriminating against black state troopers in nearly every way possible, from hiring and assignments to demotions and discharges.

Quickly, state Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, a veteran legislator with a key role in controlling the Department of Public Safety’s funding, called on Gov. Haley Barbour to stamp out any and all wrongdoing. Derrick Johnson, president of the state NAACP, which initiated the complaint, issued a statement voicing righteous indignation.

In some ways, this is all like a flashback 30 or 40 years.

It’s not 1970, when there were no black officers in the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol, or 1980, when there was still resentment of minorities. It’s 2009, when 208 of Mississippi’s 607 state troopers are black — a ratio that mirrors the state population. Not only have black Mississippians been members of the MHSP for decades, they have been leaders up to and in all levels, including serving as director of the patrol. And they’ve done so with dignity and effectiveness.

A problem with the EEOC letter, to which the state has 14 days to respond, as current Mississippi Commissioner of Public Safety Steve Simpson said, is that it is vague and lacked specifics. Much of it is based on suspicion and speculation.

And that makes a remedy hard to fashion. As Simpson told The Associated Press, “Racism anywhere is usually something behind the scenes or is something in the smoke-filled dark rooms. It’s not something you routinely see in the bright sunshine of day.”

It’s also a matter of perception. When a black officer is assigned to extra duty or holiday work, is it because the help is needed or is it “punishment” based on race? When a white officer is promoted and a black applicant is not, couldn’t it be because, objectively, the white officer was better qualified?

The EEOC recommended, among other actions, that the state conduct racial diversity training for all personnel and revamp the promotion system to develop a process free of internal influence or manipulation. Those are steps that can be taken.

From a management perspective, the state can operate in a race-neutral way. It must and it should. What it can’t do or shouldn’t do is guarantee results.

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The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, on “Seale: 5th Circuit upholds justice.”

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the conviction of James Ford Seale was a victory for justice in what could have been a major setback in prosecution of civil rights cases.

Seale was convicted by a jury in 2007 on federal kidnapping and conspiracy charges in connection with the 1964 beatings, abductions and killing of black teenagers Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore.

They were considered “forgotten” killings of the civil rights era. The FBI reopened the case in 2000 after The Clarion-Ledger reported that federal charges were possible since the two were beaten in a national forest.

Seale, 73, is serving three life sentences in federal prison.

Seale’s defense attorneys had sought to have the verdict thrown out based on an argument that the statute of limitations on kidnapping charges had expired because the statute had been amended in 1968. The 5th Circuit split last week, which allowed the convictions to stand.

The convictions should stand. There was no statute of limitations when the crime was committed.

The case is not entirely over. Some legal issues remain.

But it shows the importance of never yielding in pursuit of justice in these older “forgotten” civil rights cases,despite the expected challenges and difficult issues.

Seale needs to be in prison. The victims of this terrible crime have no appeal.

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The Daily Leader, Brookhaven, on “Transport hub journey on path to good ending.”

This long-sought city project may finally have a station to reach.

We’re talking, of course, about the Multi-Modal Transportation Facility that has seen officials spend more than eight years developing and revising plans and working to clear a seemingly nonstop string of roadblocks in efforts toward getting it built. Aldermen have awarded a contract for facility construction, and final paperwork is expected to be addressed later this month to get the project rolling.

Once completed — assuming there are not more unforeseen delays in the future — the transportation facility journey will have spanned all or parts of three city administrations.

Envisioned by and begun under Mayor Bill Godbold, the facility started out as a multimillion dollar project that would see the city’s old power plant building restored and surrounding areas developed for recreation, shopping, cultural and other needs.

The city sought and secured an approximately $5 million line of federal funding for the project. But unanswered questions about need, usage, city matching fund requirements and other issues slowed the facility on its track to creation.

Ultimately, following a change in city leadership, facility plans were greatly scaled back to something in the $1 million range. City officials allowed federal funds reserved for the project to be freed up for other nationwide needs.

But the need to remove roadblocks was not over. The most recent stumbling block that had to be resolved was a dock height dispute between passenger service and freight car services.

Current Mayor Bob Massengill, who was involved with the project as an alderman before becoming mayor, called the transportation facility the most frustrating one he has dealt with in his eight years in office. With Massengill leaving office at the end of this month, the facility project should be completed under new Mayor Les Bumgarner.

While the multi-modal facility has been a multi-headache project for city officials, it nevertheless will see renovations to and revitalization of an area of town that is in need.

Also, with the passenger train boarding area moved north, downtown traffic should flow better thanks to fewer blocked rail crossings. And train customers and waiting family members will have nearby restrooms — something that has been sorely lacking — with the sheltered waiting area.

The trip to transport hub reality has been a long one. It looks now as if the final leg of the journey has begun.

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Greenwood Commonwealth on “Taking care of volunteer firefighters.”

Mike Chaney is absolutely correct when he says that the state’s 13,300 volunteer firefighters should be looked after if they are injured while on the job.

Mississippi’s insurance commissioner, though, is off-base by suggesting that providing a source of income to volunteer firefighters who are recovering from injuries should be a state obligation. Rather, the taxpayers in the 129 cities and 509 rural areas served solely by volunteer fire departments should be the ones picking up the expense.

Truth is, there are already some places in the state that acknowledge that obligation. Leflore County is one of them.

In Leflore County, as is typical in most places in the state, volunteer firefighters are covered by the county’s liability and workers compensation policies. If the volunteers have an accident going to or coming home from a fire, they are covered for claims that might be made by another party. If they are injured while battling a fire, workers compensation picks up their medical bills, but only the medical bills.

There is no provision under workers compensation for lost income for volunteers as there is with paid workers. This exclusion potentially can put the volunteers in a financial bind if they are unable to work their normal jobs as a result of firefighting injuries.

Leflore County, starting about 15 years ago, took the extra step that apparently some other areas served by volunteer firefighters don’t. It decided to provide its firefighters with more insurance. It took out a separate accident policy, which provides not only death and impairment benefits but also some income protection. The county — by way of its taxpayers — spends $6,121 a year to provide this extra policy.

Other counties and cities which rely on volunteer firefighters can and should do the same.

It’s projected that a volunteer firefighter saves a city or county government about $26,000 a year versus what it would cost to hire a full-time firefighter. It’s only reasonable that the public body take some of that savings and use it to provide decent insurance protection for the volunteers.

Chaney shouldn’t be asking the whole state to pay for this coverage. That would be unfair to the 42 locales, such as Greenwood, which already pay handsomely for their own full-time fire departments.

Rather, Chaney should spread the word about what Leflore County is doing for a modest cost and look for other good examples from counties or small towns. Then he should shame those places that are being cheap into doing something similar.

The Associated Press