Portrait of late and controversial Jackson mayor put up at city hall

By Monica Land

JACKSON – It took 500 days, but a portrait of former Jackson Mayor Frank Melton is now hanging in city hall.

Portraits of seven former Jackson mayors grace a wall at city hall. But a portrait of the late embattled and controversial mayor was noticeably absent, WJTV reported. And prior to the hanging last week, Ward Four councilman Charles Tillman wanted to know why.

The Clarion-Ledger reported that the city council passed a resolution in August 2010 calling for Melton’s portrait to be put up.

Melton died at age 60 on May 7, 2009 after being found unconscious at his home.

Less than two days earlier, he’d been rushed to the hospital after he lost his bid for re-election, and four days before he was to go on trial.

Melton reportedly had a history of heart problems and suffered a heart attack after the polls closed that night.

“It’s right and honorable for his picture to be there with the other mayors,” Councilman Charles Tillman said.

A picture of Melton did hang in the building during a public viewing of his flag-draped casket after he passed away nearly three years ago, and city council president Frank Bluntson told WJTV that he asked Mayor Harvey Johnson about the portrait in December 2011 and was told it was upstairs in city hall and would soon be put up with the others.

Six months later – there was still no sign of Melton’s picture.

“It really concerns me…[and] that’s something we have to look into,” Tillman said earlier.

Melton’s portrait went up on the wall last Tuesday, along with one of present Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., from a prior administration.

Johnson served two terms before being defeated by Melton in 2005.

Melton’s Early History

Melton was born in Houston, Texas on March 19, 1949. He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and moved to Nacogdoches, Texas to earn his BA. While in college, he took a position with the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, serving as Director of Recreation at its Lufkin State School.

Melton entered broadcasting after graduation, first as a Sports Anchor for KTRE in Lufkin, Texas and then, in 1977, as general manager of KLTV-TV. He climbed the ranks at KLTV-TV before becoming president of Buford Television, Inc.

Melton first made himself known in Jackson in the 1980s when he became Chairman and CEO and took over WLBT. That was on Feb. 1, 1984.

He started his very popular commentary, “The Bottom Line” in the early 90s and went on to become a local television superstar for his outspoken commentary.

Melton became so frustrated with ‘big time’ drug dealers operating in Jackson with impunity that he started putting up billboards with their pictures on them, WLBT reported.

Melton was soon on the streets, himself, at night breaking up gangs and organizing gang members for summer camps in Texas – in an effort to ‘straighten them out.’

Melton also worked as a member of the board of directors for United Way and the Jackson Chamber of Commerce. He was an instructor at Jackson State University and gave numerous speeches in the inner-city high schools and city universities.

He also taught young kids to swim at the Farish Street YMCA, every summer, to try to keep them out of a life of crime.

In 2002, Governor Ronnie Musgrove appointed Melton as director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, and Melton quickly revealed his penchant for acting as a law enforcement officer.

He was fired by Governor Haley Barbour when Barbour took office in January 2004.

Melton, having sold his interests in WLBT for many millions of dollars, immediately started a campaign to become mayor of Jackson.

He was elected by a landslide in 2005 after campaigning on a tough-on-crime platform.

Melton soon drew criticism, though, for his bizarre crime-fighting tactics, which included riding around town at night in a police mobile command vehicle, with his young friends, many of whom had been in trouble with the law.

In September 2006, Melton, his detective bodyguards and a group of youths raided half a duplex on Ridgeway Street without a warrant. Witnesses said Melton attacked much of the rental duplex with a large stick and was slightly injured in the process. He reportedly returned with the young men, with sledgehammers, to finish destroying that side of the duplex.

Police arrested the tenant, Evans Welch, on drug possession, but he was discharged within days for lack of evidence. No warrant was issued for the raid, nor was the owner of the duplex – Jennifer Sutton – notified of any intention to conduct the raid or damage her property. After news of the demolition broke on Sept. 1, both the attorney general and the district attorney investigated the incident.

Melton said he was only trying to rid the city of a known “drug den.”

Melton and his bodyguards Michael Recio and Marcus Wright were indicted on Sept. 15, 2006, on multiple felony charges in the Ridgeway Street demolition, including burglary, conspiracy and the inducement of a minor to commit a felony.

Melton was also indicted on three gun charges – a felony for carrying his weapon onto a college campus and two misdemeanors for having a gun at a church and a public park. Melton took a guilty plea later that year on the gun misdemeanors and pleaded no-contest on the felony.

Melton, Recio and Wright were acquitted on all counts filed in the Ridgeway Street demolition incident on April 26, 2007. The prosecution dropped the inducement of a minor charge during the trial.

Melton’s federal civil rights trial for demolishing the Ridgeway house began on Feb. 2, 2009 and ended in a mistrial on Feb. 24, 2009 when jurors notified the judge that they could not arrive at a verdict.

The case was scheduled to be retried on May 11. Melton died four days earlier.

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