Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Cowardly Lion

The Commercial Appeal finally gets around to asking State Senator Kathryn Bowers to resign. It's the only editorial comment they've had since their comments about the Tennessee Waltz investigation last Friday! The editorial also continues the odd trend I remarked on the other day.

The editorial almost entirely focuses on Bowers as a State Senator, and there's a certain logic to this. But she's also the Chairman of the Shelby County Demcratic Party, a very important and powerful position. Here's how the CA handles that:
Those charges also hurt her credibility as chair of the Shelby County Democratic Party. If she's unwilling to resign from that position, her fellow Democrats should take the necessary steps to oust her.
That's the 18th paragraph of the editorial and the only mention it gets. Sheesh.

Then the editors stick their other foot in it:
Former state senator Roscoe Dixon also resigned last week from his job as Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton's assistant chief administrative officer.

Wharton requested Dixon's resignation in large part because the mayor didn't want to undermine public trust in government.

"In government, perception often has the same effect as reality,'' Wharton said. "The perception that Roscoe might have done something wrong or illegal is in the public's mind and therefore, being so strongly held, it might erode his effectiveness and, in turn, the effectiveness of government."
This is curiously worded, to say the least. Wharton didn't "request," he demanded. Wharton released his press statement to local media right around 5PM, assuring a high-profile, "breaking live" splash that every station utilised. The story was still unfolding at that time, but Wharton made it clear that Dixon had until the end of the day to quit. Wharton is famous for being polite and circumspect in public; his displays of anger are rare enough to draw notice. So, when he acts as he did last Thursday, it's pretty clearly a courtesy curtain meant to warn Dixon in the most public and unavoidable way.

The second part is just politeness on the part of the Commercial Appeal towards Wharton who, by the way, was disgraced former State Senator John Ford's college roommate and has maintained his friendship with Ford ever since. Wharton, by all accounts I've seen or heard, is well-regarded and considered of high integrity. But ever since he walked into the Shelby County Mayor's office, he's been dogged by the corruption of his underlings.

There were rumors about and investigations into the administrative staff of outgoing Mayor Jim Rout. Longtime County administrative assistant Tom Jones, also considered a "go to" guy for county government co-incidentally, was eventually found guilty of abuse of County credit cards. Everything was reduced to Jones, he was asked to resign, did, and life went on. Then, Wharton's top aides Susan Adler Thorp and Bobby Lanier were found to have circumvented policies and procedures in order to get Jones an increased pension. Wharton asked them to resign. Lanier did, quickly and quietly; Thorp made protest on the way out.

All this reflected on Wharton. Either he'd inherited a corrupt staff, an invitation to futher investigations I'm sure he wasn't keen to encourage; or he was a bad judge of character, something no top politican and Mayor can afford people to think; or he was surrounded by corrupt opportunists eager for their chance at the trough. I suspect it's a little of all three, plus being hemmed in by a narrow pool of available choices circumscribed by the very opportunists he doesn't need, protecting their privilege.

Where the Commercial Appeal ought to be swinging the Blade of Righteous Investigation and turning on the Spotlight of Truth, they are instead poking with a finger and muttering to themselves. The Commercial Appeal could be ushering in the era of cleaner and more open government. They could be, but aren't. Looking at the breadth and interconnectedness of the corruption in Shelby County, you have to ask why not.

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