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Mayor made decision not to press charges in rape hoax

By By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
Feb. 12, 2001
Mayor John Robert Smith admits he personally  not the police department decided not to press charges against a woman who made a false allegation of rape.
Smith made the comments in an interview with The Meridian Star's editorial board. He discussed some circumstances surrounding his decision in the rape hoax and other issues in the upcoming municipal elections.
Smith said the decision was made after prayerful consideration of what he decided the public needed to know following the incident, which was reported Jan. 27 and announced as a fabrication on Jan. 31.
A still unidentified woman called E-911 and reported she had been raped. An investigation by the Meridian Police Department revealed the allegation was false and part of an "ongoing domestic dispute."
Some reports had indicated the incident involved the wife of a police department employee, but when pressed on the question at a hastily-called Jan. 31 news conference, Police Chief Gregg Lewis declined comment.
According to Smith, he made the determination not to charge the woman with providing false information because "no good could come of it." He would not reveal the names of those involved and declined to give any other details of the situation.
Smith said the family has children and he believed releasing the names of the individuals involved would be more detrimental than helpful.
As part of his job responsibility, Smith said he is heavily involved in the decision-making surrounding "major crimes and events" facing Meridian.
School district
On another matter, Smith said he hopes a bill recently passed by the state house of representatives may help alleviate a controversy surrounding appointment of a city school board representative who lives outside the district but within Lauderdale County.
The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, would require that at least one member of the city school board come from the county. Failing that, parents could choose to send their children to county schools.
In March school board member James Vance's term expires, leaving Smith to nominate a replacement who will face city council approval or non-approval. In September 2000, Smith nominated Elaine Maust, who was hailed as an outstanding educator. Her nomination was defeated on a 3-to-2 council vote because she lived outside the city of Meridian.
Smith said he would prefer making an appointment from the separate district in order to keep the children in the city schools, even though students in the district but living outside the city make up less than 5 percent of the student population.
Smith said he would be willing to nominate Maust again if he was certain the council would approve her.
Economic opportunities
Smith, who will be seeking his third term as mayor in the upcoming elections, said he wants to see Meridian take advantage of what he sees as tremendous opportunities during the next several years.
Smith said property surrounding the Grand Opera House needs to be fully developed in order to harness all the potential economic impact the $27 million project can bring to downtown.
Smith said one of his top priorities will be to secure an interchange on Highway 45 to connect with the new industrial park and to fully develop Meridian's transportation capabilities as an inter-modal hub.
According to Smith, the announcement of Nissan's automotive manufacturing plant in Madison County gives Meridian a unique opportunity to capitalize on spinoff industry and support facilities.
With legislation passing the state Senate last week, Smith said Meridian is also being quietly reassured it will be the site for the proposed Southern Arts and Entertainment Center. When and if the final legislation is in place to formally designate Meridian as the site for the Center, Smith said he and other leaders will begin working to make the dream of the center a reality.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at balexander@themeridianstar.com.

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