It really is astonishing.
For eight months, we liberal media types in Lakeland pushed with all of our limited might against a giant bureaucratic rock of inertia. And yet we could not move the unified dead weight of Doug Thomas, Tim McCausland, and the City Commission — the people with the power to act to fix our problems.
No one pushed harder than The Ledger — simply through its accurate, relentless reporting and editorial analysis on what has happened at LPD and city government. But it wasn’t enough. Eberle wasn’t enough. Julio Pagan wasn’t enough. Tommy Hamrick wasn’t enough. Hans Lehman wasn’t enough. A decisive mayor’s election wasn’t enough. Credible allegations of nepotism weren’t enough. Negligent DUI work wasn’t enough. A grand jury presentment wasn’t enough. The “Jeremy rule” wasn’t enough. A police no-confidence vote wasn’t enough. Pointless, endless bickering with stakeholders wasn’t enough. And I feel certain I’m forgetting multiple things that weren’t enough.
It seems literally nothing could have made Doug Thomas relieve Womack of her duty. And it seems literally nothing could have made a majority of the City Commission relieve Doug and Tim of their duty. I can imagine nothing more discouraging to people who believe in the power of representative democracy than the last eight months. And yet without representative democracy and The Ledger, the inertia would be winning, not just pouting in place and ever so slowly crumbling. It takes relentless force to wear away the stone.
It’s important to remember that city government leadership did absolutely nothing about Womack while she was the permanent chief. She submitted her resignation to Thomas, who would have let her stay on forever if we are to believe the official statements. She was a wronged public servant pushed out the door by a lynch mob of 19th century sexists and racists, if we’re to believe Edie Yates and Phillip Walker.
Or at least she was for a day.
It’s amazing how silly the Lakeland leadership industrial complex made Yates and Walker look. It’s amazing how easily it cut Womack loose when she wasn’t part of it any more. People who had fought to the bureaucratic death and slammed Jerry Hill all along suddenly took his investigative report on the nepotism at face value. They’ve taken nothing else at face value. Why start now? Has any Jerry Hill critic or shouter of sexism objected to Thomas’s decision to suspend Womack? Why not?
In the real world, the record shows rampant sexism — or more specifically, abusive behavior toward women — within LPD and city government as a whole. But, like all abuse, it was aimed at women who lacked organizational or social power. All isms are about power — who wields it and who suffers from it. Lisa Womack had power. By all accounts I have seen, she used that power to pick stupid fights on behalf of the abusive rather than using it to fight for the abused.
Edie Yates and Phillip Walker had every opportunity to speak up about the institutional attitudes toward powerless women that were documented in the detailed investigations of Eberle, Pagan, and Hamrick. Crickets and inertia is what we got. Edie spent most of the key time period on extended vacation. That’s how seriously she took her government’s sexism.
It says a lot about both of them that Edie and Phillip only cared about “sexism” and “racism” when they could somehow tie it to a person of power that they personally know. There is nothing lamer than “conservatives” invoking isms on behalf of people of power. As Twain once said of patriotism — it’s the last refuge of scoundrels.
And now that the white men that Edie and Phillip ostensibly supervise have effortlessly cut loose their sister in the movement, what do we hear? Crickets again.
Let me help you guys out. If you want to go after Jerry Hill or anybody else for sexism, ask why Harold Maready got to skate off into the sunset while Womack got the rack. The McKeel investigative report documents abusive behavior towards subordinates that Womack and Hamrick and their henchmen can only aspire to. The Ledger itself documented what has every appearance of a political crime. If it were me, and I wanted to go to war with Jerry Hill, I’d be shouting that from the rooftops. But I guess that wouldn’t work very well for you, Phillip, since you sit on the McKeel Board.
That’s right. You are a McKeel board member and a Lakeland City Commissioner. That’s quite a duo. Not once, to my knowledge, have you called for dismissal or disciplinary action of the leaders you supervise. Not once, to my knowledge, have you publicly criticized McKeel for its shamefully exclusionary practices and abusive culture. So spare us your anguished public cries of sexism and racism and exclusion on behalf of the powerful. And go do something productive about it.
And really, that goes for everyone in power in this city. The Ledger is the one Lakeland institution that has done its job extraordinarily well during this annis horribilis. I hope the sustained effort on behalf of its mission in the face of incredible inertia and endless fact-free criticism wins the Pulitzer. Those reporters and editors, and the leaders who backed them, deserve it.
No one can accuse me of being a Ledger suck-up. I have fiercely criticized its leadership in the past. And yet, when everyone else with leadership responsibilities in this town refused to act to protect our reputation and our vulnerable people, The Ledger was there to take the heat and fight the fight. Executive Editor Lenore Devore is a powerful Polk/Lakeland woman and institutional leader — like Eileen Holden or Elaine Thompson. Women wield increasing power here and elsewhere. That’s a good thing. But what you do with that power is always what matters, whoever you happen to be. Are Ledger critics sexist because Lenore led the coverage? Or did The Ledger take heat because Devore and Jerome Ferson chose to do the right thing with their power, which always brings criticism? Who cares?
There’s a more important fact to acknowledge here. What does it mean, more than anything else, that Doug Thomas cut Womack loose so quickly once she no longer had power?
It means The Ledger was right all along. As was Jerry Hill, McKeel notwithstanding.
And it says that many people who should have known better — you know who you are — were wrong. Many of you remain wrong. You still have the opportunity to get right. But that’s going to require something of which we’ve seen quite little. What it always takes to look yourself in the mirror and admit you’ve been disastrously wrong.