Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Brown-outs Short Circuit Civility And Logic

Here’s our advice to Memphis Councilman Shea Flinn:

When confronted with the rantings of Councilman Joe Brown, just say: Councilman, I simply refuse to go into mental combat with an unarmed man.

Those are the immortal words used by former City Councilman Fred Davis to a colleague decades ago when his colleague’s argument crossed the boundaries of simple logic and good manners.

We needed Mr. Davis at Council today, because if ever there was a time when it was clear that Councilman Flinn’s adversary was completely unarmed, it was at today’s meeting.


And even his fellow Council members, who’ve heard any awful lot of circular reasoning and race-baiting from Councilman Brown, were shaking their heads over his flight at warp speed into a parallel universe. One wag has taken to calling such moments “Brown-outs,” or short circuits that shut down the system.

To punctuate his outrage over the Council’s consideration of Memphian Steve Ross as a member of the Memphis and Shelby County Metropolitan Government Charter Commission, Councilman Brown shouted at Mr. Flinn: “I'm a real black man. I hope you're a real white man."

It’s enough to discourage us from thinking that Memphis Mayor-elect A C Wharton even has a chance to spread his gospel of “One Memphis” to the Brown apostolate of division and scarcity mentality.

Scarcity Thinking

In the Joe Brown worldview, there’s only one way to see the world: If you’re winning, I must be losing. In that worldview, there’s only one thing to do: to pull you down to my level of dysfunction and mediocrity.

The first casualty of this approach is the fundamental civility and candid, calm debate that is the essential grease for sound public decision-making. And yet, the greater casualty is the public involvement that is the essence of our system of government.

Yesterday’s outburst against Mr. Ross sent the unmistakable and clear message – the one Councilman Brown undoubtedly wanted to send – that all people really aren’t welcome in public discourse.

Defining Diversity

When Mr. Brown talks about the importance of diversity, he clearly doesn’t mean diversity of opinions. To the contrary, nominees to any city board or commission who express a different point of view do so at their peril. Councilman Brown’s regular canings of good people suggests that he’d be just as comfortable as a criminal judge in Singapore as a public servant in the U.S.

There was the former City Council member, a solid advocate for civil rights, who was called a racist by Councilman Brown. There was the citizen who was told he was stupid. There was the staff member berated and vilified. Then, there was yesterday’s question about whether Councilman Flinn is a “real white man,” whatever that means.

Steve Ross needs no defense from us, particularly since he proves on his blog just how much he loves this crazy place and how much he has to offer in knowledge and insight for the charter commission. There is little argument that he is progressive and open and a fighter against fear and doubt, just what a charter commission members needs. He is also a firm proponent of the Thomas Jefferson advice: “An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will.”

Opening Up The System

While most of us lament the recycling of the usual suspects time after time on public boards, there’s little wonder that people aren’t beating down the front door of City Hall to volunteer. For most young professionals in particular, there’s just no reason to get into such a hostile sphere, and God knows, there is precious little mentoring taking place from the elected officials now in office, especially the old guard like Councilman Brown.

With little voice in public affairs and even less traction on political decisions, it should be no surprise that so many people simply decide that it’s just too hard to do good deeds in Memphis. Sadly, it also reinforces a common Memphis narrative: we are stuck in time where political patronage and paybacks are the ways we do business and newcomers need not apply. It is a damning narrative, because it creates low expectations here and serves as encouragement to move somewhere else.

It’s a shame, because there is no lack of impressive young talent in our city. If you doubt it, check out the FedEx world headquarters cafeteria at lunch some time. There are talented managers of every race, of every ethnicity and of both genders in abundance, and they are seen nowhere in the public life of our city.

New Blood

It’s just too hostile, and there’s just too little reward for the bruising welcome that normally awaits new faces in the public sphere. If we were in charge, we’d immediately enact a policy that 75% of all appointees to boards and commissioners have never served before.

We’d also require that either the director or deputy director in every city division is filled with a young professional. It may sound drastic, but we have to do something to inject new energy, imbed new ideas and import new experiences that can inspire new solutions. In addition, we need to begin succession planning, training more and more people with courage and creativity to move up and transform the City Hall culture.

But first, citizens who are willing to step up and serve city government have every right to expect common courtesy from City Council. It’s the least all Council members can do for the people who pay their salaries in the first place.

Sadly, all this bad behavior was rewarded when Mayor Wharton and Memphis Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery pulled Mr. Ross's nomination. It was just another day in City Hall.


Steve Steffens said...


Thank you for saying what I felt, in a far nicer way than I could say it. You and I both know what Steve Ross would have meant to the Charter Commission, and to take nothing away from Richard Smith, this hurts the whole city.

Anonymous said...

More of the same old memphis, that's the way things will always be around here. My advice: make your exit plans.

Maria said...

Wow - very well said. this exchange ruined a rare proud moment yesterday when Mayors Lowery and Wharton were both at the table during Executive Session. one good thing that may come out of this is more exposure for Steve Ross. I never heard of him until his nomination to the charter commission. I visited his blog for the first time today and plan to return.

Tom Guleff said...

Let's be honest, Joe Brown is mayor of Crazyland. Although, I am against the current consolidation push - Steve Ross would have been an excellent choice. Mr Ross is bright and sincere. He is the exactly the kind of citizen that Memphis needs to hold on to. How much trash does a guy like him have to put up with before he hits the road to another town that is more welcoming? Joe Brown should be publicly rebuked by the politico class if they really want to change our city. Just another opportunity flushed away.

Anonymous said...

One other aspect of this the fact that Steve Ross really isn't qualified for this commission.

I know he is sincere and writes a lot of blogs.

However, he is relatively new to Memphis, lacks a college degree (or I beleive has little college at all), works on the road as a videographer, and has rather inflexible opinions that may prevent good dialogue.

Unfortunately, Joe Brown was not the right person to bring up his lack of qualifications to be on the Board.

Tom Guleff said...

Anon 12:49 Qualified ?? Are you crazy? Your statement is untrue. Nice try, crawl back in your hole.

Tom Guleff
West Point '86
US Army Ranger

Anonymous said...

Guess he would fit right in with all the other unqualified citizens and members of the commission.

Steve Steffens said...

Anon 12:49, if I had written something that untruthful and devoid of reason, I wouldn't want to sign my name, either.

Anonymous said...

I am glad you guys support your friends.

Anonymous said...

anon 12:49, since when have lack of qualifications been any barrier around this town? Got an axe to grind? (I don't know Steve ross from Hogan's goat either).

Anonymous said...

What do you expect from Councilman Brown? He once refused to let a delegation of journalists into City Hall for a tour because they were from Iraq. He's simply a local embarrassment.

antisocialist said...

I heard that when Joe Brown goes to Tunica they tell him to roll the dice and he starts shaking his head.

vast_conspirator said...

>>>Let's be honest, Joe Brown is mayor of Crazyland.

Would that it were. Listen to any city council or county commission meeting and you'll hear several just like him ... nothing to offer but warmed over and irrelevant race baiting. Fortunately, the newer generation is less so inclined (as, to be sure, are many from previous generations).

Vvixen said...

So true. There are many Joe Browns in local politics. Most hide the crazy a little better than he does, but it eventually comes out.

Gwyn R. FIsher said...

You are absolutely correct that the shenanigans of local government are a serious impediment to recruiting and retaining new, young public leaders. I freely admit myself to having passed on the opportunity to voice my thoughts based solely on prior officials' behavior. No thanks!

Anonymous said...

Here's a problem I've got with Mayor Wharton on this one.

And its similar to his appearence on the Thaddeius Matthews show.

He claims "One Memphis" and says he sees much racial disparity and disfunction.

So WHY, when Mr. Brown was spouting his ghetto tirade, didn't Mayor Wharton attempt to settle the waters ?

When he was on Matthews show, Matthews kept calling Myron Lowrey a N$%#^#.

Mayor Wharton sat there and chuckled. No attempt to stop the guy, no getting up and walking out in disgust, NOTHING !!

I SAW this on the webcam with my own eyes.

And then when questioned about it, he states he was shocked and dismayed !!

so I ask you this, Mayor Wharton, WHY DON'T YOU WALK THE WALK YOU TALK ?

Aaron said...

Anon 3:22 PM: You nailed it.

If OneMemphis is your battle cry, stand up and fight for it!

C'mon AC, stand-up be the parent and tell them "not in my house!"

Be the leader you said you are!

Which "friends" are you prepared to lose for the sake of your city?

I have great hopes for your administration and clearly this exchange sent the message that the old guard is more then willing to push you around.

Yes, if you wait long enough they will go away but we have waited already. Enough!

Zippy the giver said...

Joe Brown HATES anyone "he thinks" is white, which is anyone who isn't black, of course, anyone can plainly see if they drive by his office, that he is in control of drug dealing and gang violence in North Memphis, and it's weird, because he isn't stupid, just ignorant and petty.
There is no reason for him to be on city council. He hasn't actually served his community in 40 years. He has profited off their ignorance and misery, but, that ain't service.
Never a federal investigation on him though, maybe there should be one. Drive around his office and tell me he's serving his community. CH5 did an expose last year about the gang that says they own that block behind his office, but, never connected his office and never connected the dots.
There's why these thiugs get their way here, your media outlets are great big wussies, they don't investigate anything and never stay on a story till it's fixed. Just flash in the pan.
Now they have a section called "overnight shootings". BIZARRE!!!
How about the store that was burned to the ground two blocks from his office?

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