February 15, 2011

A “Repressive State”--Ripley, TN

"A Repressive State" was used to describe Iran and its reaction to the demonstrations taking place.  However, after attending the Ripley Board of Alderman’s meeting last night, I found that the term aptly portrays the politics in this small town.  Think “Old Boy Network;” Cronyism; Blatant subversion of the “Sunshine Law;” Thin-skinned elected officials with a Messiah complex.  Six whites, two Blacks.

Yep, this was my first attendance at the monthly board meeting and what an eye-opener. Copies of the agenda are not available to the public unless you pick up a copy at City Hall prior to the meeting.  Therefore, you have no idea what topics are to be addressed. Likewise, minutes of the previous meeting are not read but merely adopted.  You must go to City Hall to see what was discussed.  Realistically, the entire meeting would be devoted to the reading of the minutes but I know that there is a more effective and efficient way of disseminating this information.  Posting a summation in the local newspapers, perhaps?

The public is allowed to speak at the beginning of the meeting…if you have requested and been allowed a spot to speak.  So how do you know what issues you want to address?  No discussion between board members on the items on the agenda.  The item is stated, a motion is made to adopt and seconded, often without the motion being fully stated, and always by the same two Aldermen. Discussed and decided upon beforehand?  I think so. 

Case in point:  A local businessman, from another town in the county, requested to lease or purchase a piece of land from the city.  He owns a trucking company and employs 64 people from Ripley.  The City Attorney noted that to be circumspect, the city had to advertise the intent to lease or sell the property.  Could he give them time to do so?  The businessman needs the land immediately as it will impact two important contracts and the possibility of more.  One alderman jumped to the front of the line and asked that the board give him some relief.  They had no idea of the value of the land; however, in the blink of an eye, the board had agreed to give him a lease for 20 acres at the lump sum of $200 a month.  No questions concerning security, the impact on the groundwater or other environmental concerns, no input from the neighbors.  Talking about a rubber-stamp process.

There is a move afoot to circumvent the electorate by enacting legislation to establish independent boards for the utilities.  “That will take the politics out of it.”  Be real.  Each board will be under the thumb of the alderman in charge of the utility.  That’s how you take the politics out of it. 

And the thin-skinned alderman who “resented the innuendo” that the board was not operating totally within the confines of the 1974 “Sunshine Law” and took it personally?  Get over it.  You’re an elected official, supposedly chosen to represent the will of the people.  You can’t afford to take anything personally unless it was directed at you. Thou doth protest too much.

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