Good news for the Simpson County’s branch of Tammany HallBy PAT BROWN,
The local branch of Tammany Hall opened their doors in Magee with the last municipal election. Cronyism seems to be at a peak and things are running smoothly, depending on which side of the coin you look at.
First of all, a little history on Tammany Hall. It was a political organization founded in one of the five burroughs of New York City. It was known for its cronyism and one of its most famous characters, Boss Tweed.
In an effort to extend the proverbial “Olive Branch” when the new board took office, the paper cut them some slack on how things should be done legally versus how they were operating.
At Tuesday’s meeting last week Boss Tweed (city mayor Dale Berry) irked the paper, namely the publisher (me), when he started discussing a recent article and editorial in regard to the Washington Street Park.
Berry asserted that Alderman Patrick Brown, who headed up the project, should be recognized for his efforts by the Simpson County Development Foundation and the Magee Chamber of Commerce for landing the Headstart Center in Magee with the new jobs that created, in addition to his “noble” effort of having the land donated to the city from the Simpson County School District.
Berry finished his accolades, and Alderman Brown said it was unfortunate that he would be attacked by the paper for carrying out his responsibility.
He added that what they do is part of a board effort and everyone was to be commended for helping to improve the community. Brown said he was confident that the board would be hearing from the school board shortly on the matter.
Berry failed to mention the fact that the city has done little to no maintenance at this park they want possession of, or in the rest of the city parks with the exception of the Magee Sportsplex.
When the meeting ended, Berry suggested that the board go into executive session to “discuss a police sting operation.” He had mentioned this prior to the meeting, and I told him to do as he pleased but that the topic didn’t meet the standard for executive session. This was before he made comments about the paper and its misplaced judgments of the way the city does business.
The board has been told by city attorney Bruce Smith that meetings should be public when doing the city’s business, whether or not the subject is an elected official. The same laws of notice and announcement of meetings hold sway.
But the board apparently thinks it is okay to authorize an alderman to handle city business any way they choose.
If not, there would not have been a contract offer from the city to the Simpson County School Board to broker a deal on the Washington Street Park. But there was and we have a copy of it, written by attorney Bruce Smith. When Mayor Berry was asked about it, he said that Alderman Brown was negotiating that deal. This was the third time the paper inquired as to the status of the park only to get the same information, “Alderman Brown is in charge of that.” We spoke with Attorney Bruce Smith after the fact and he contends that the meeting of he, Brown and David Dunn did not require notice because they were not a subcommittee. They were discussing city business. We contend it should be open. Smith pointed out that the meeting could have been in executive session because it was real estate negotiations. That is correct but we feel people have a right to know how the city brokers deals.
It is the role of a newspaper is to inform the public and be a watchdog on government.
So the board discussed going into executive session about police business. I challenged that they did not have the authority to go into executive session to discuss a police matter in which children have been reported throwing rocks. They are not criminologists, and besides, micromanaging police affairs is not their job. I reminded them of the three branches of government of which they are a part. They can not be involved in another branch, which is the reason government is set up the way it is with a check and balance system.
The standard they use to go into executive session is to discuss “personnel matters.” Acting board attorney Chris Purdum instructed them accordingly. They said they would do so under personnel-- which still doesn’t meet the standard for executive session. I asked whose performance they were discussing and they said Randy Crawford, police chief. I accused them of making up the rules as they went. Since they were discussing Patrick Brown’s ward and how the police are enforcing the law we hope it is not considered “Racial Profiling.”
I then moved to the podium and asked if I could address the board before they went into session because the local paper had been called out and I wanted to express my opinion. Berry said he did not know if he could do that and I told him he could.
I starting by telling the mayor that he was misrepresenting the truth. I reminded him that I had asked about the park on three occasions, and his response was that Alderman Brown was handling this. Mind you, Alderman Brown had already told the public that “the board” had been involved in all decisions.
I told him the committee meetings were open to the public. Brown stated that he, Berry and David Dunn had approached the board in a public setting, which they did, at a school board meeting. But meetings have since been held that were not open to the public where the terms of the contract were discussed. When the matter of the park came up at the city board meetings, the statement was made that it was being negotiated.
It was “negotiated” enough that a contract offer was made from the city that the city board had not approved.
Brown countered that the deal was about to be finalized. Comments from the recent school board meeting indicate that it is far from being settled, partly because of the school district maintains that they have already given the city the entire old elementary facility. Not to mention the fact that the school district built a new elementary facility that the city held the school board hostage over.
Alderman Brown stated that the holdup was over a misunderstanding about the lease agreement and it would be worked out, indicating that the lease was perpetual and that the district had a responsibility of maintaining the park. The high school coach mows the field using city equipment. Brown went on to say that utilities for the fields in the entire complex cost the city over $70,000 a year and part of the contracted amount went to pay utilities.
At about this time my voice got loud and I told the board that they should be ashamed of themselves. Alderman Lane Steele responded, “Wait a damn minute,” and told me that I should be ashamed of myself. I stated that this was going nowhere and started to turn and walk away. Alderman Steele stood up and said, “You said what you wanted to say, now you are going to hear what we have to say.”
Tempers were flaring. Attorney Chris Purdum, who was standing in for Bruce Smith at the meeting, stated that this meant the conversation was going nowhere.
I turned and angrily left the board room.
The outcome of all of this is the fact that the paper will no longer be allowed to ask questions except during public comment. The agenda for meetings is the same one every meeting you have no idea as to what is going to be discussed so how would you know what to ask. It seems a bit unfair that the board can sit there and run someone down and not allow response. They do it quite ofter, Berry called some tree trimmers jake legs, he said the guy servicing the airport was extorting the city. he called a recent bidder on city services a bait and change artist.
This doesn’t seem right. I do have to say at least the board attorney was willing to speak to the paper. He agreed to provide information the board discusses at their meeting which is a big improvement. And also to answer questions after the fact of the meetings.
So don’t go to board meetings with questions because they will not be answered this is according to the board’s attorney.