Court: Jackson missed step in trying to take land by airport

Published 6:15 am Saturday, March 18, 2023

The capital city of Jackson neglected to follow all required steps when it tried to annex land near the busiest airport in Mississippi, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

The Jackson City Council voted in August 2019 to annex about 900 acres (364 hectares) of undeveloped land surrounding Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport

Judge David Chandler — a retired Mississippi Supreme Court justice who was appointed to help with a backlog of cases in Hinds County Circuit Court — ruled in December 2021 that Jackson should have sought approval for the annexation from the Rankin County Board of Supervisors.

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In a unanimous decision Thursday, the Supreme Court affirmed Chandler’s decision.

Although the airport is in Rankin County, the airport property has been part of the city of Jackson since 1964, according to court records. Jackson is in Hinds County, which is next to Rankin County.

In most annexation cases, cities can try to add land that touches the city limits. But, a state law specifies that airport land within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of Jackson can be incorporated as part of the capital city.

In their ruling Thursday, justices said the only issue they considered was whether Jackson should have sought permission from Rankin County. Justices said they were not asked to consider the “reasonableness of the annexation.”

Jackson officials said they had a 2017 strategic plan that designated the desired land for aerospace, light manufacturing and distribution businesses; and for commercial low-density office or hotel development. Some of the land has access to runways.

Days after Jackson officials voted to annex the land, Rankin County and the cities of Pearl and Flowood — which are in Rankin County — filed papers in Hinds County Circuit Court to challenge Jackson’s plans.

Pearl and Flowood already were trying to annex the land that Jackson sought, and their case was filed in Rankin County Chancery Court.

A power struggle over control of Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport has been ongoing for several years. In 2016, the majority-white and Republican-controlled Mississippi Legislature passed a bill to replace the five-member board that has members appointed by the mayor of the majority-Black city of Jackson, which is controlled by Democrats.

The bill said the new nine-member board would have four appointed by the governor and one each by the lieutenant governor, the Jackson mayor, the Jackson City Council, suburban Madison County and suburban Rankin County.

Jackson officials said the legislation was a hostile takeover attempt by white suburban business interests. Soon after then-Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill, the city sued to block the new law from taking effect. That lawsuit has not been resolved, and the city-appointed airport board remains in place.

The Supreme Court ruling Thursday referred to an “airport allegedly owned by Jackson.”