By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Clayborne is intensely defensive of Jones and gets angry when anyone suggests Jones's city job and reporting job create a conflict of interest. "He's more reliable than anyone I've ever met. He's a very honest young man, and he always meets a deadline. You want to talk about integrity? C'mon, give me a break. Every newspaper has an agenda. You think you can question him? Nobody else knows better than Elgin Jones what's going on in the city."
Jones feels that he can objectively report about his employer. His response to the criticism is simply, "Freedom of speech. It's my right to report what I think is going on."
After dropping out of high school and later getting his GED, Jones worked odd jobs until he joined the city of Fort Lauderdale as a landscaper in 1989. Jones, now age 39, worked his way up to his $38,000-a-year engineering inspector post. He's also a chief steward in the city's union -- a group about which he frequently reports. His personnel file shows that the beginning of his tenure was mostly smooth. He was promoted within a year of hire and praised by supervisors for his spotless attendance. Jones was again promoted in 1994 but declined the advancement because it would mean taking a job that required only manual labor. He wanted a post that would allow him to think and advance through taking tests.
In 1997, Jones performed poorly on an oral exam for the engineering position. He later scored well on a written test, but by that time, the job had been filled. Feeling cheated, Jones filed a complaint alleging he was refused the job because of his race. He was promoted seven months later. Years of harassment and discrimination followed, he says. He has described much of it in the pages of the Times.
Over the past few years, many accusations of racial discrimination have been leveled against the city. In late January, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights announced that it had recommended that the Justice Department review hundreds of Fort Lauderdale employee discrimination complaints. Jones, who was the first to bring public attention to the issue in both his reporting in the Times and through the several complaints he's filed, has emerged as a kind of Braveheart among city employees.
Broward County Human Rights Board member Jeff Gorley investigates employees' complaints and reports to the County Commission. "When Elgin first contacted me, I thought this guy has to be crazy, but that's because he so passionately wants to clean up the city. I couldn't believe what he was showing me -- examples of discrimination. But it all was factual." Yet, Jones's reporting about the board hasn't always been so solid. For example, in a November 15 "Around Broward" column, Jones reported that Gorley is "finalizing a resolution to ask for the dismissal of city attorney Dennis Lyles." Gorley says that's not accurate. "I'm considering the request and haven't begun to finalize anything," he clarifies.
Yet Gorley believes Jones is not only an asset to the paper but one of its main selling points. "He's the ultimate insider. The people I talk to who are concerned with what's going on with the city, I don't think want to squabble about what's right journalistically," he says. "People always say to me, "Did you read the Times this week?' Maybe they aren't always accurate, maybe they don't even come close sometimes, but it's getting people to talk. It's generating a buzz."
And that, at least for Broward Times readers, has so far proven itself good enough.