As the Jackie Dole Community Center was filling up with Thirsty Hippo Supporters and media, John Lee and his legal council made their entrance to a packed house. Noticing several news cameras and reporters along with 175 plus Hippo supporters, a disconcerted Lee and council meandered to the front of the community center; then quickly exited to a back room. It was then that the back door politics began, during what was supposed to be a public hearing.
Thirsty Hippo owner Sarah Newton, Council President Kim Bradley, Carter Carroll, and their related barristers began back room negotiations while Dave Ware (Ward 4) served as a liaison between the back office meeting and an impatient crowd, Henry Naylor (Ward 5), and Deborah Delgado (Ward 2). Whispers from audience members were heard that John Lee and council were too intimidated to get in front of such a large crowd and media. Others claimed it was a face saving maneuver for Lee.
Councilwoman Delgado (Ward 2), grew extremely impatient after what became a 40 minute wait and went to the back office meeting room to retrieve the parties who called for this very public meeting. As Delgado walked to the back room she could be heard saying, ” This is a public meeting and they need to get on with it.” Many in the audience were also equally frustrated with the back door politics taking place.
Lee didn’t appear before the council in lieu of media and the many Thirsty Hippo supporters. What became clear to many (and this reporter) was Sarah Newton had all the leverage she needed to win the appeal with the overwhelming support she received from the community. Lee appeared disconcerted when he saw the show of support and media presence.
UPDATE – Video of Mr. John Lee Jr.’s subsequent withdrawal of his appeal can be seen here in the 4.3.12 Hattiesburg City Council Meeting, and the agreement reached between Attorney John Lee and the Thirsty Hippo owner Sarah Newton can be read here.