JACKSON, MISS. (AP) - The controversial mayor of Mississippi’s largest city, already facing a federal civil rights trial, has been barred by a Democratic committee from seeking re-election this year.
Jackson Mayor Frank Melton plans to fight Tuesday’s unanimous decision by the Jackson Democratic Municipal Executive Committee to strip his name from the May 5 primary ballot, his attorney John Reeves said Wednesday.
The committee found Melton, 59, didn’t meet residency requirements after he failed to file documents designating his Jackson home as his primary residence for tax purposes. Instead, the mayor filed his homestead exemption on a house in Tyler, Texas. Melton says he’s lived in the same Jackson house for more than 20 years.
The development comes as Melton prepares for a second federal trial beginning May 11 on charges he orchestrated the vigilante-style sledgehammer destruction of a duplex he considered a crack house in August 2006. His last federal trial ended in a hung jury in February. He was acquitted of state charges related to the raid in 2007.
“The decision that the committee made is just absolutely ridiculous,” Reeves said. “To say that the mayor of Jackson doesn’t live in Jackson is a farce and it so smacks of political chicanery that it’s frivolous.”
Claude McInnis, the committee’s chairman, did not immediately respond to messages left Wednesday by The Associated Press at his home and on his cell phone.
Homestead exemption is just one factor that can be considered as proof of residency in Mississippi and the fight could end up in Hinds County Circuit Court, Reeves said.
Melton has maintained a home in both states since he moved to Mississippi in the 1980s to take over WLBT-TV, an NBC affiliate based in Jackson. His wife remained in Texas where she has medical practice.
The Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled the exemption is a strong precedent for determining a candidate’s residency but is not conclusive. As recently as 2007, the court ruled that a potential candidate’s decision to forgo homestead exemption in the county of his apparent residence is not the sole means of determining his legal residence. The court said proof of a person’s living arrangements should also be considered.
Melton, who was elected with 88 percent of the vote in the general election in 2005, described the committee’s decision as “the strangest thing I have ever seen” during an interview Wednesday on the radio station WFMN in Jackson.
Melton said he did file homestead in Texas sometimes in the past but he has lived at the home in Jackson for 23 years, including when he was elected last time.
“It is the same residence,” he said. “Most of my friends have homes all over the country. What difference does that make? I live here.”
Melton did not immediately respond Wednesday to messages left at City Hall.
Melton would face 11 Democratic challengers in the primary. The general election is June 2.
In the criminal case, Melton and his former police bodyguard are charged with leading a group of troubled young men to damage the duplex in a poor neighborhood with sticks and sledgehammers. They face maximum possible sentences of 25 years in prison if convicted on all counts: conspiracy to violate the civil rights of the home’s owner and tenant, violating those rights under color of law and using a firearm in a crime of violence.
Melton, a one-time head of the state’s narcotics agency, says he was only trying to keep a campaign promise to fight crime and illegal drugs. Prosecutors say he was drunk on power and scotch.