100 show up to hear new group’s goal, publisher and ex-prosecutor
Almost 100 people — men, women, old, young, black and white — crowded a conference room at the Quality Inn for one common purpose: To fight against corruption.
Several people aired their grievances in the first meeting of Citizens Against Corruption. One of the obstacles for the group was revealed early on by founding member Belinda Harrison. Two of the other founders, Greg Wyckoff and Justin Pitts, weren’t able to be there because of their jobs.
“We’re all working people,” Harrison said.
That’s what prevents many responsible people from being able to get involved in local politics, former Sheriff Larry Dykes pointed out.
“Every time the Board of Supervisors meets, that room needs to be full, but most people can’t come because they’re out trying to make a living,” Dykes said. “People need to get involved. If I told you everything, you wouldn’t believe what I’ve seen in 30 years of law enforcement. The good ol’ boy system ain’t over with. We’ve got to make a change.”
Dykes went on to say that he “didn’t raise hell” because he didn’t get enough money from the Board of Supervisors, and “I didn’t waste money.” That was a shot at his successor, Sheriff Alex Hodge, who has been in a high-profile battle with the board to get more money in his budget.
Lavon Moss, 71, also took a shot at Hodge, referring to a brochure he saw from the Jones County Sheriff’s Department at a school-supplies giveaway.
“He had 16 pictures of himself in it,” Moss said. “His name and logo were on the booksacks that were given away. Advertisers paid for that. He wants an increase in his budget, he wants more people in his organization so he can have more people and their families to vote for him.
“I’m not going to sell my vote for a catfish plate. I’m fed up with things,” he said, adding that there are “crooked black and crooked white” officials. “I’m always cautious of politicians that ask for more money.”
Leader-Call Publisher Jim Cegielski spoke to the group about the paper’s efforts to expose corruption. He talked in detail about the Laurel Police Department’s investigation into the shooting death of 23-year-old Katherine Sinclair, and how the paper’s reporting brought to light a “different system of justice for the rich and powerful.”
He also talked about the arrest of Col. David and Mary Ellen Senne, who were charged with animal abuse after a “three-month investigation” by the Jones County Sheriff’s Department. The elderly couple, who had taken in dozens of unadoptable animals that were destined for euthanasia, were taken from their homes, subjected to body-cavity searches and paraded before local and national media for the misdemeanor charge.
“If anyone should be charged with abuse, it’s the sheriff,” Cegielski said to rousing applause.
The Sennes were special guests at the meeting along with Madeline Herrington, who is Sinclair’s mother.
Law enforcement officer Mike Sims, who is a CAC founder, said he was at the Sennes’ place two weeks before the “raid” and seizure of 80-plus animals.
“You couldn’t find better people,” he said. “All that was said about them (by the JCSD) was not true.”
Sims said something that was a recurring theme throughout the night: “Remember, they work for us … The (county) election is next year. Get ’em all out and start over.”
Keynote speaker J. Ronald Parrish encouraged people to use the Public Records Act to find out how much public officials make, how much they’re spending, what they’re spending money on …
“That will help you reach judgments about public officials,” he said. “It’s very important. There’s a lot of corruption in the county.”
He said that the exchange of money isn’t as prevalent as the “buddy-buddy system” among officials and their cronies. “They’re just trying to be part of the good ol’ boy network.”
Harrison said that the organization will be looking for “working-class people” to run in county elections next year. She was moved to take action after Sinclair’s death, she said.
“People see what’s going on,” she said. “We’ve got to clean the offices out.”