Monday, September 14, 2015

This is What Dysfunctional Looks Like Down at Memphis City Hall

Memphis City Council obstructs the people's business with politics, fear-mongering and slander

         It’s midnight.  Do you know where your city council rep is? 

Better yet, do you know if he or she is making you proud out in the community or is up to childish mischief?

Too scared to look?  You should be.

But, if you can work up enough guilt about needing to be a better informed voter, watch this video, “This is What Dysfunctional Looks Like:  Memphis City Council Aug. 4 2015.”

Was this politics over progress?

Council members Kemp Conrad and Berlin Boyd and others running for re-election said they were making a bow to police by putting off a much-delayed vote on improved police oversight until November, after the Oct. 8 city elections. 

Police Director Toney Armstrong made a dramatic appearance and
Officer Sean Bolton
leveraged the tragedy of a police officer’s death into spiking an ordinance which already had been put off twice at the request of police administration.  He and Boyd pleaded for respect for the officer’s family. 

Can anyone honestly imagine that officer Bolton’s family was sitting there worried about minor amendments to a 1994 ordinance?  Or that the concept of citizens reviewing internal affairs complaints was connected with Mr. Bolton’s death?

You’ve heard of shoot the messenger?

Complete with a slide show of Facebook pages, Conrad launched a personal attack against one Memphis resident who had worked hard to upgrade oversight.  Conrad demonized an entire class of citizens, whom council members unanimously had voted to do a bunch of research and work –- for free.

You want to set up the City of Memphis for libel and slander lawsuits?

Conrad called concerned citizens and members of local community organizations “law breakers at heart” among other things.

Do you believe citizen oversight of police would increase crime?

That’s preposterous, or it’s Opposite Day, right?  Conrad said it would increase crime and the murder rate.  But then, Conrad also said civilian oversight was a good thing, see next.

You’ve heard the political adage, Watch what I do, not what I say?

Conrad, Boyd and crew shot down the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board while they all said they thought it was a good thing and wanted to vote for it – except, they didn’t. 

That made it super easy for editorial writers and commentators to analyze this stunt, since council members admitted it had nothing to do with substance, and everything to do with trying to impress police while spiting citizens in the community -- you know, those irritating people council promised to represent.  Also, there’s an amateur political notion that if they put things off until after election day, they won’t have a voting record to catch flak over.  Wrong – now they have a not-voting record!

Maybe the city should just dock the obstructionists' pay for not doing their jobs, huh?

It seems as though many, or most or maybe all of those council members who voted against internal affairs accountability had not actually read the ordinance in front of them – which was prepared by the city administration, Chief Administrative Officer Jack Sammons and his staff.  They claimed it was written by Memphis United, whose earlier draft of proposed ordinance changes had been shot down in July.

How can they get away with it, you say?  You could vote them out, which would be not-getting-away-with-it.

Since most people tune government out because of these kinds of antics, or because we are too satiated with celebrity news to pay attention to anything else, or because we are working two or three jobs to make ends meet and are too tired to watch -- that enables the dysfunction to continue.

As the charge of “anti-police” goes, Conrad voted against the compensation and benefits that police had asked for earlier in the year.  On the contrary, Memphis United members had supported the police union then.  Funny how nobody slandered them at that time.

Shouldn't police officers and teachers be paid more like doctors and lawyers?  Those are important roles in society, in position to do a lot of good and a lot of harm.  Many police-related problems that show up on the news result from policy makers rather than the men and woman in the field.  Hiring standards, policy, training and culture -- which starts at the top -- most impact citizen complaints.  Did you know that the number one trait which predetermines an effective police officer is outgoing personality?  De-escalation usually works better than amping up the tension.  

The better narrative and action for the city, the police and the police union to follow would be to build a bridge with the community, rather than a wall of belligerence and suspicion.  Sure, they have community policing and outreach programs now, but citizen oversight of complaints hits more at the essence of the job.  Criticism does not have to be taken as a personal attack, and police don't have to play the persecution card.  No doubt, it's hard out here for a cop.  But, unless we critically self-examine, we will never improve.  Better police and better Memphis seem like worthy goals.

Most of this video came from the City of Memphis media archive, and you may notice an audio lag when people are speaking.  Website:

Watch the video, then if you really want to geek out and be informed, below are links to the following documents:

1---Resolution passed unanimously by city council May 6, 2014, which tasked Memphis United, a coalition of concerned citizens and local community organizations, with holding nine town hall meetings across the city; researching civilian oversight of police, and reporting back to council with their findings – at no charge to the city.

2---Amended ordinance proposed to city council by Memphis United on April 7, 2015:

3---Edited ordinance as ready to be voted on July 7; this version of the ordnance made two key concessions to police – taking away subpoena power from the oversight board and taking away the board’s power to conduct an independent investigation:

4---Version of the ordinance prepared by the city administration and up for vote Aug. 4, 2015:

5---The original CLERB ordinance which was enacted in 1994:

6---Memphis United’s findings and report as commissioned by and presented to Memphis City Council: