BY JEFF CLARK
Political favoritism or cronyism is as old as politics itself. The old “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” mentality is nothing new. Not everyone is cut out for the political limelight, but those who work hard behind the scenes sometimes feel they deserve a slice of the capitalist or board appointee pie, and who can blame them? Capitalism is the core of our American existence.
The recent creation of a project manager job for Columbus and the firm hired for the position has created a whimper of outrage in the community. The position was awarded to J5 Broaddus, an affiliate of Broaddus and Associates. The company is owned, at least in part, by Mayor Robert Smith’s former campaign manager, Jabari Edwards. Yes, Edwards’ wife Jewel is listed with J5 and yes, he’s Smith’s “co” campaign manager, but the truth is Edwards organized Smith’s fundraising efforts and is the brains behind J5. He is a high-ranking official in Smith’s inner circle.
So is it really surprising that one of Smith’s cronies benefits from cronyism?
Although the word “crony” means “friend or associate,” cronyism sounds harsh and judgmental. How about we apply Southern terms to it and call it the good ol’ boy system?
I think the bigger question surrounding Edwards and the good ol’ boys is why is everyone so late to the party? Edwards is a major player in Columbus politics, especially in Smith’s camp. He was appointed to the Columbus Light and Water Board and was then made its chairman, the youngest in the city’s history. Where was the outrage and ire of the community then?
Are you really shocked that Smith would play favorites with his allies?
But Smith is not alone in being a good ol’ boy. An article from the New York Times on Aug. 22, 2012, calls Illinois-based utility company Exelon Corporation “the President’s utility” because its execs helped fund Barack Obama’s run for the presidency. As a matter of fact, Obama’s “Karl Rove”, political strategist David Axelrod, once worked for Exelon. Obama’s top man Rahm Emanual is credited with helping to form the company, according to the article.
We know, right? The conservatives are sitting there pointing fingers at the Democrats. Smith is a Democrat and this is typical of what they do, right?
Well, let’s take a look at some Republican good ol’ boys.
According to a June 1, 2012, article in Mother Jones, Mitt Romney allegedly gave $4.5 million in loans to two firms, Acusphere and Spherics, Inc., while he was governor of Massachusetts. The firms later defaulted on the loans to the tune of $2.1 million. By the way, the board members of the firms were top Romney donors.
And who could forget Haliburton? Former Vice President Dick Cheney allegedly received $35 million from the company after he left to run for vice president. Haliburton, of which Cheney was the CEO from 1995-2000, was then awarded the contracts for food, shelter, fuel and logistics in Iraq during the war.
Sometimes good ol’ boys like to keep you guessing and blur all party lines with things such as Green Tech Automotive in Horn Lake. This was a project headed by one of Bill Clinton’s top soldiers, Terry McAuliffe, his brother-in-law Anthony Rodham and former Gov. Haley Barbour, who makes a living as a lobbyist, the greatest good ol’ boy network of them all. Barbour has had an entire career based on cronyism and the good ol’ boy system.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Paul Elliot was named the chief Washington lobbyist for TransCanada after Clinton was awarded the cabinet position.
The list goes on and on and on.
And yes, Edwards is one of the mayor’s soldiers, and yes, Russell Sheffield is involved with J5. Although there once was a deal at Columbus Light and Water to buy some land from Sheffield to be used as a dump for sewage sludge, the deal fell through. The land was never permitted by the MDEQ.
Ralph McClain is also listed as a member with J5, and he is rumored to be at the top of Smith’s list to be the joint-appointee to the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Board of Directors as a replacement for Harvey Myrick.
It goes on and on and on. It’s not that the good ol’ boy system is wrong, although Dr. Lawrence Britt named cronyism as an element of what composes a fascist society. However, it is the way things have been done for years. But when the good ol’ boys are black, it makes many white folks uncomfortable.
Edwards is a capitalist; he helped put Smith back in office and he wants what we can assume he was promised. You can’t fault a man for wanting to make a living and expecting to get what he was promised.
Love it or hate it, this country was built on the good ol’ boy system, as was this county and the City of Columbus. It would be naive to think otherwise. Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins paints a colorful picture of what economic development in the area is not — Higgins says it’s not whiskey and cigars and secret back room meetings with the governor. But this is exactly what politics is — clandestine back scratching and favoritism.
One of the bigger problems with the J5 deal is the manner in which it was (not) handled. It was added to the council’s agenda during the July 2 meeting. It wasn’t on the printed agendas given to the public and it wasn’t on the public access documents made available at council meetings. There was literally no mention of it until Smith asked for it to be added to the agenda for consideration. This is when Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box and Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin should have voted not to accept the policy agenda.
You can bet there was plenty of discussion on J5 among some of the council members before the July 2 meeting. Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem has stated many times he doesn’t vote for anything without knowing all of the details. That in itself means there was some prior discussion about J5, just not with Box and Gavin. And if it had been the other way around and Box or Gavin had attempted to sneak something on the agenda, all hell would have broken loose.
The council currently does not have a rule for agenda additions, as items can be added until the meeting starts and the policy agenda is approved. It is time for the council to revisit this policy and set some firm rules. Perhaps no additions to the agenda after 4 p.m.?
But the council also has alliances to Edwards, as Smith was not the only man whom he helped to make king. He had a hand in the re-election of Karriem and Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens, even if he did nothing more than make some calls or endorse them to his friends. Edwards is an influential person.
He also helped Marty “The Party” Turner get elected, and this may be his biggest misstep as Turner, who some in his circle have deemed “the next Mayor of Columbus,” is a liability to Edwards, the voters and non-voters of Ward 4 and the city. Turner thinks it’s no big deal that he owed money for a second DUI that occurred almost three years ago, that it’s his past and therefore has no bearing on him as a council member. The fact that he took the oath of office with a warrant out for his arrest is selfish, misleading and a disservice to his constituents.
And now, all eyes are on Edwards. Sure, it’s political favoritism, although Smith never cast a vote to hire J5. In a previous conversation, Edwards told The Packet the city already has the money budgeted for the position and it would, in the end, save the city money. This remains to be seen. The legitimacy of J5 is not what’s at question; the company will be partnering with the Mississippi Development Authority and other companies to sponsor a contractors workshop for those hoping to get contracts at Yokohama. By the way, J5 does not have the minority concrete contract with Eutaw for Yokohama, according to Edwards.
The questions are why was this position created without any public discussion and how is it going to work?
The deal is done and J5 is the new project manager for Columbus. We don’t see this being rescinded. Good ol’ boy politics can either work like a charm or be disastrous like good ol’ boys Dickie Scruggs and Trent Lott. Edwards said his work will speak for itself.
Jeff Clark is the Managing Editor of The Packet. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org/packet.0