(Update: The story below remains in its original form, but Wetumka Mayor James Jackson and the two other council members who pledged to resign have officially filed their resignation paperwork at the Hughes County Courthouse.)
WETUMKA — Today’s special meeting of the Wetumka City Council started with an accusation of stalking and an eruption from town residents. After a 45-minute executive session, controversial Wetumka Mayor James Jackson postponed his proposal to abolish the town’s police department and pledged that he and his wife, Councilwoman Rebecca Jackson, would resign.
But the Jacksons, who moved to Wetumka from Fulton, Illinois, about three years ago, left City Hall without signing a resignation letter. As frustrated residents screamed things like, “Just sign the document!” the Jacksons walked to their grey SUV and drove away, offering a series of reasons they did not want to sign documents at the moment.
“We’re going to go right now and get a lawyer to sign it,” James Jackson said as he left the City Hall.
Asked about the presence of City Attorney John Baca, Jackson replied: “What about him? Oh no, we have another attorney. He might do it. I don’t know. Maybe he’ll do it for free. If (Councilman) Randy (Hinkley) will do it right now, I’m going to do it right now. I don’t know what he’s doing.”
Hinkley was elected in April along with the two Jacksons and said at the end of Friday’s meeting that he would also resign so as to trigger a special election. Rebecca Jackson said she would only sign the resignation document if Hinkley signed it first, a requirement that confused the exasperated crowd.
“Coward!” a woman shouted as the Jacksons walked toward their vehicle.
“This is a hostile environment. I wouldn’t stay here and sign anything,” James Jackson said.
Jackson: ‘I don’t kiss babies or kiss butt’
Wetumka residents’ skepticism about whether the Jacksons will actually resign stems from recent experience.
After a contentious council meeting Jan. 14 that the couple did not attend, James Jackson messaged town leaders that he was resigning as mayor and chairman of the Wetumka Public Works Authority while retaining his council seat.
But days later, word spread that the former U.S. Army intelligence officer had reversed course and was telling people he had not resigned as mayor.
After Friday’s meeting, James Jackson tried to say he had never officially resigned.
“I told you that I had sent a text message to them saying I was resigning, and in that text message said I will go make it official by submitting the paperwork,” Jackson said.
That statement is false.
Interim city manager Joanna Hulstine provided copies of Jackson’s Jan. 15 resignation email and a resignation text message, which began:
Good morning Ladies. Wel, (sic) you can use this text as official, in writing confirmation, that as of now, since they fired (City Manager) Don (Jett), while I am retaining my Council Member at Large seat, I am immediately resigning as Mayor of the Council and Chairman of the Public Works.
Shortly after sending that message on Jan. 15, Jackson called and told NonDoc he had resigned as Wetumka mayor.
“I kept my councilman at large status, and I am no longer mayor or the chairman of the public works. I told them, ‘No, you can have that,'” Jackson said.
Asked Friday why Wetumka residents should now believe he will resign, Jackson was blunt.
“I don’t care if they believe it or not. I’m not here to appease people,” he said. “I told them I’m not a politician. I don’t kiss babies or kiss butt. I came in here as a businessman to fix their stuff.”
Former mayor: ‘This whole thing is crazy’
No matter who is serving on the town’s council, Wetumka has things to fix. Water line issues have captured the town’s attention recently, and the Department of Environmental Quality has issued a pending citation for lagoon problems that led to waste improperly flowing into the North Canadian River.
Combined with concerns over electricity rates, the Jacksons and Hinkley leveraged town frustration into lopsided victories during Wetumka’s April 2019 municipal election.
Wetumka city manager fired, mayor reported to FBI by Tres Savage
In calling Friday’s meeting, Jackson outlined a proposal to address the wastewater issues by abolishing the Wetumka Police Department and transferring its funding to the Sanitation Department “to ensure Wetumka can pay for the CRITICALLY needed, multi-million-dollar, 40-YEAR, sewer lagoon loan,” according to the meeting agenda.
The proposal did not sit well with many town residents, and a discussion broke out among attendees who waited during Friday’s executive session.
“We can’t have our waste going down the river, but to hook us up for 40 years?” former Mayor and Wetumka Public Schools Athletic Director Brent McGee said. “This whole thing is crazy. I’m about Wetumka, I have a family here, I have a home here, I have a rent house here, I have a business here. I didn’t move to town three years ago and start shaking everything up.
“We are the laughing stock of this state right now. It has got to stop.”
Jackson had clashed with the town’s police officers before, firing former Chief Joe Chitwood and attempting to change the department’s patrol practices.
Prior to Friday’s meeting, Jackson had outlined his proposal to replace the police department with two code enforcement officers in a six-page letter distributed around town.
On page five, he argued that Wetumka should follow the lead of Dustin, a town of 400 people 13 miles to the east:
I am suggesting that like Dustin, who has upgraded lagoons but has no police department, Wetumka follows suit. I too would very much like to “Have my cake and eat it too” but there just isn’t enough money for everything. (…) Yes, the response time (from sheriff’s deputies and Lighthorse officers) might be delayed as it is in Dustin. Yes, crime may rise.
That proclamation frustrated Hulstine in particular.
“If he gets rid of our police department and fire department, this city is going to be in trouble,” Hulstine said while waiting on the executive session to end. “Your insurance is going to skyrocket.”
When the council returned to open session, they moved to table all agenda items and adjourn under the premise that the Jacksons and Hinkley would resign.
Wetumka mayor denies allegations
When Friday morning’s meeting began, it did so with a bang.
“James Jackson, why did you follow me home the other night?” Councilwoman Norma Marshall said immediately.
The mayor replied: “I’ve never followed you home.”
“Yes you did!” she exclaimed.
Captured in the video above, the exchange continued for about two minutes. On Jan. 29, Marshall filed a police report alleging that an SUV matching Jackson’s vehicle had tailgated her around town at night. Hulstine, her daughter and granddaughter also filed police reports the same evening alleging that Jackson was circling the blocks around Hulstine’s house.
“I got real scared after he kept driving by and it seemed like he was following me and stalking me,” wrote Makayla Gower, Hulstine’s granddaughter.
The police reports continue a string of law enforcement complaints made against Jackson, who wrote in his letter that local police were “desperate to cause us harm” and “took something easily explainable to the FBI.” He continued:
The absolute fact is: Regardless if I am some sort of criminal or not, and I am not, Wetumka still needs someone to address getting fined by DEQ, Wetumka’s financial situation versus a failing sewer lagoons, and to deal with possibly losing the best matching loan/grant ratio and interest rate I have ever seen!
Moments before the Jacksons drove away from City Hall on Friday, Rebecca Jackson offered her thoughts.
“I really feel like we put our best foot forward, and every decision we made we made in the spirit of helping this town,” Rebecca Jackson said. “If they choose not to have us here, that is their option. But again, it will go into an election. I won’t give up my seat willingly unless it goes into an election, because I think that is fair and right.”
Asked if he was disappointed by the situation, James Jackson said no.
“I’m not disappointed in them,” he said. “Everybody has got their decisions to make. But for one reason or another, they don’t trust what we are saying about not having enough money in the budget every month religiously.”