Where to start?
What an incredible sight it was, Tuesday, as I arrived at the Columbus Municipal Complex. I knew I’d better arrive early (got there at 4 p.m.) if I expected to get a good seat. I knew that Chief St John’s attorney David Owen, his assistant Mike Cooper and many others had amassed over 400 signatures on a petition to try and persuade the city council (who had apparently already made up their minds despite the outpouring of support) to keep the chief and allow him another chance. It wasn’t to be!
In fairness, there’s much more to the story than what was seen at the council meeting Tuesday evening. A recording had been made where St John had apparently opened up to the mayor and council (beforehand). That recording supposedly had information that made some speculate (ahead of Tuesday’s meeting) that the chief would be the victim of a 6-0 vote to fire him! In the long run, that didn’t quite happen as Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens voted ‘no’ on firing.
The gathering of citizens who spoke in favor of the chief was impressive, regardless how you feel about him. Many of us who regularly make those meetings were thinking…wouldn’t it be great if we could have that kind of turnout at every meeting. Bet it would go a long way in reducing the chances of illegal executive sessions or improprieties by our elected officials in case they were to try and scoot something by us while we were asleep at the wheel. Not saying they would…but we all know it happens in other municipalities and we’re no different.
But I also feel sorry for the council (I’m sure that’s a surprise to some). Though they took a lot of potshots and flak Tuesday evening (some deserved, some not), they also had a tough decision to make…an unpopular one to many. Maybe (just maybe), they felt they were doing the only thing they could do in terminating the chief. With the exception of Kabir Karriem (who has long wanted St. John gone), I know that Gene Taylor, Fred Stewart, Charlie Box and Bill Gavin had to have very good reasons to make such a tough decision. A decision that would leave them open to much criticism. And criticism they’re gonna receive!
Having said that, I feel sorry for Joe St. John. You could visibly see the hurt in his eyes after the decision to fire him, though he was trying to remain upbeat for the masses that came to support him. Every person that came up to speak on his behalf Tuesday did so with passion…and it came from their hearts! As soon as the decision was announced, that hurt (to many) turned to anger. So much anger that one person called the council “scum” as they were leaving the room. Another threatened “we’re gonna fire you come the next election.”
You see, this was a no-win situation. As another city official told me last week, “we all lose in this one.”
He was right. The biggest loser is Columbus and its citizens. While it’s certainly true that not everyone in Columbus liked Joe St. John (if not, they’d probably never met him), the city is a loser in this case. He had been described by many of his supporters as a “bridge-builder” and a “friend of everyone in this city”…and all those attributes are absolutely accurate!
Some argue that the council didn’t have to terminate St. John and could have given him another chance. Many also point to the ‘don’t throw stones when you live in glass houses’ theory, which makes an excellent point. (The example that no one will ever forget is the fight between Robert Smith and Kabir Karriem…a poor spectacle that brought more ridicule and shame to Columbus politics…with literally no repercussions! RW)
And as much as I like Joe St. John, he knows who is to blame for all of this. His position is an appointed one, as opposed to an elected one (like Smith and Karriem who can only be diciplined by their voters! RW). So…he has to walk the line while the elected officials may or may not pay for their actions come next election. The council could have given him a break…absolutely! But he put himself in this position, unfortunately.
Now…a national search for another chief? Really?…after speaking with St. John and former Chief J.D. Sanders, who do they think will want to come here?
As I said, this was a no-win situation. And now, the citizens of Columbus has to start over. The council has to start over…St John has to start over.
St John supporters woke up this morning with an empty feeling. His detractors (yes, there are some out there) woke up happy. Where do we go from here?
Thom Geiger Threatened
Thom Geiger, a longtime Columbus activist/candidate for public office, who also oversees ColumbusTalks www.ctalks.net , (a website about local going-ons where many can post anonymously, even before they could on the Commercial Dispatch blog or The Packet website. RW) was threatened with arrest Tuesday as he tried to enter the city council meeting. Geiger was attempting to bring in a camcorder (as he has done at many meetings before) but was told that he could not. Apparently COO David Armstrong had given orders to not allow any recording devices unless the recorders were carried by the media (which is nonsense…Geiger is as much a media person as I am or anyone else in this area. RW).
Armstrong has long taken a beating on the ctalks website by many anonymous posters (which is no reason to retaliate…i’ve taken my share on there as well. Comes with the job, ya know. RW).
Even before I became aware of what happened to Thom, I had issues with Armstrong because as he first entered the lobby of the Municipal Complex about 4:20 for the council meeting, he did so by galloping in as if the many people who had gathered to support St. John were in his way. “Excuse me…excuse me…” he said with an apparent obnoxious attitude as he entered the lobby (most of the people in the lobby had no idea who he was…several asked me, “who is that guy?” RW).
After practically pushing his way through the crowd, he went through the metal detector telling the bailiff to “be sure and check all these people for recording devices!” (The bailiff, though i didn’t catch her name, is a real sweetheart. RW) .
Mr. Armstrong needs to check his attitude at the door. The people of this city have a right to know certain things and if it was left up to him….you’d leave without ANY information, whether you had a right to know it or not!
And if i recall, the last person threatened with arrest for bringing in recording devices to public meetings was Roger Larsen (along with Geiger in the past). It was Larsen and Geiger who actually got those injustices changed by practically having to go to jail to get it done.
Armstrong, it appears, wants to turn back the clock to the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s when the media was treated as intrusive, nosey, busy-bodies who they could pick on and kick around.
I’m certainly not worthy (and likely never will be), but thank God for the Roger Larsen’s and Thom Geiger’s for their tireless pursuit of the truth, and to bring you that truth by knocking down those doors of exclusion!
Ron Williams can be reached by email at Ronsings2you@aol.com0