Newspapers and extra effort' sources

By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
March 17, 2002
I don't do very many stories that involve talking to people who work at Meridian City Hall. The only public entity I regularly cover there is the Meridian Civil Service Commission.
The commissioners are unfailingly professional, polite and helpful and I would have to say that Gloria Kirby, their administrative assistant, is just about the most competent person I have ever met.
Very few public officials are rude, but some relationships require extra effort, like the one between me and City Clerk Ed Skipper.
Skipper is the city official in charge of public records requests and we have disagreed, in a civilized kind of way, over what I view as straightforward questions that should not require a written request for public records information.
Like the date Christopher McCoy pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in Meridian Municipal Court. I needed that for a recent column about a DUI maiming indictment that was dismissed in Lauderdale County Circuit Court because the defendant had already pleaded guilty to the same charge in city court.
Skipper pointed out to me that while I may view a question as "straightforward," he is less able to evaluate what is straightforward and what isn't because criminal proceedings are not his area of expertise.
But, he is the guy in charge of questions about them.
So, we are talking, trying to arrive at a solution that works for both of us. From his point of view, that means making sure nobody releases information they're not supposed to. From my point of view, that means getting an answer in something less than the 14-day response time allotted to a public entity that has received a public records request.
Skipper has suggested that I make up a list of commonly-asked questions pertaining to municipal court proceedings. Perhaps, he said, a city attorney could review that list and approve certain kinds of information for release without a formal request.
So, before I get aggressive about it, I'm going to work on the list.
Quick takes:
New commissioner: The Meridian Civil Service Commission welcomed a new member this week. James Albritton is the new Ward 5 commissioner, replacing Rae Ellen Gordon, who resigned at the end of last year. Albritton has lived in Meridian for more than 40 years. He retired from Rush Foundation Hospital about seven years ago. He and his wife, Freida Claire Albritton, have two grown daughters and three grandchildren.
No progress: I am not happy about the lack of progress in a story about Don Cross, a black city employee who says racial discrimination played a part in the mayor's decision to suspend him for 30 days after a DUI arrest. Cross says "non-minority" employees in similar situations have been treated differently. City officials, on the advice of counsel, decline to comment.
Mackey hearing: Meridian attorneys Dan Self and Robbie Jones attended Tuesday's meeting of the Civil Service Commission to ask that a public hearing be set in Richard Mackey's appeal. Mackey lost his job at the Meridian Fire Department after he was arrested for aggravated assault last summer. That indictment has been dismissed. His hearing is set for June 20.
Coroner's lawsuit: Lauderdale County Coroner Marl Cobler has filed suit in U.S. District Court against several state officials affiliated with the Mississippi Crime Lab and the Office of the State Medical Examiner. The lawsuit asserts that comments made by state officials with regard to the revocation of Cobler's professional accreditation were defamatory.