Bottom Line: A Vote for Wiggs is the Only Chance for Reckoning

Gow Fields weaves together condescension and content-free word strands as skillfully as my grandmother braided hair. It is his core political talent. And it was on full display during my little visit to the City Commission last week. With two exceptions, I have a hard time remembering anything he said.*

But those two exceptions are pretty important. To paraphrase:

1) Gow thinks city government leadership change isn’t necessary or wise. He says the city government that city leaders run has already changed and will continue changing. Yet, when I asked him to name a single change in policy or procedure or anything related to city government culture, the mayor could not. He said only that the city might do an employee survey at some point in the future and that it will change some button on the city website to make it easier for employees to maybe report something. (Someone may need to clarify on the button. It was pretty vague.) That’s how seriously your mayor and city manager and city attorney take reforming the culture of the city government they lead.

2) Gow says the people who are talking to him want to keep city leadership and that popular sentiment, as he understands it, is important to him.

Bottom line: Almost a year after all this garbage really started, the city government has done nothing tangible to prevent or discourage future scandals. And city leadership thinks the public is fine with that.

Thankfully, that’s where democracy comes in. It’s how we check, in an official way, how the public likes the taste of Gow’s mellifluous verbal porridge.

To his great credit, Howard Wiggs has now made this election a referendum on city leadership. It is, in a sense, a non-binding referendum. They mayor is only one vote. Howard Wiggs can’t unilaterally deliver on his desire to replace city leadership. But he has given a meaningful voice and political path for those of us who think there must be some consequence for the behavior of leadership in this series of sorry episodes.

This isn’t Gow against Howard; it’s we might get around to doing a survey and changing the web site button versus there should be some consequences for the important people, too. Wiggs is a vote for change. Fields is a vote for more of the same. Very simple.

Likewise, a vote for Don Selvage is also a vote for change. Don does not see the need for change in exactly the same way I do. He’s focused primarily on the chief, rather than the city manager and city attorney. But Don was also the first commissioner to take the risk of coming out in favor of some type of regime change. And I am not surprised he was the first to act on his conscience — especially when there wasn’t much in it for him. I think Don is, by far, our best city commissioner.

Nothing makes a political point like consequences for bad behavior. A vote for Wiggs and Salvage provides consequences — and the potential for a fresher start.

On the other hand, if you’re happy with a city commission so weak that it can’t even bring itself to issue public support for its embattled leaders unless a jerk like me drags it out of them through face-to-face confrontation, you know who to vote for.

*Thankfully, The Ledger has done a very nice and very accurate job of describing what went down. See this link and this link.

Key passage from Glenn Marston’s outstanding editorial:

Vital for the question of whether Thomas should be kept on as city manager is the consensus rationalization that the mass of scandals discovered in the Police Department — and elsewhere in city government — amounts to only one problem.

The scandals include police withholding of public records, which led to a grand jury inquiry and report called a presentment; the city paying more than $200,000 in lawyer fees for employees to use tactics in court to keep the presentment secret; two on-the-job sex scandals, one involving more than 20 people in the Police Department and another involving 12 in other city departments; falsification of documents for use in court trials; a traffic-stop practice that demeans women; officers so uninformed about the cases they worked that they were unable to provide testimony about them at trial; an officer arrested and charged with stalking and raping a Lakeland woman in her home while he was on duty, in uniform and armed — and more.

Too many commissioners have taken the convenient mental path of packing the sprawl of scandals into one event. Such rationalization is shameful.

Could not have said it better myself.