A Few Surprises at Columbus City Council Meeting

The shell game. Even if you’ve never witnessed it in person, you have probably seen it portrayed on TV or in the theatre. It involves, for example, three cups and a ball. The overturned cups are moved back and forth, to and fro – with the ball being underneath one of them. The problem is that the ball ends up being under the cup that you least suspect.

So it was at the Columbus City Council meeting of Tuesday, August 2, 2012. The night’s official agenda listed three speakers on the Citizens Input portion: Larry Golden of Club Hideho, restaurateur Glenn Baldwin and Connie Jones–Brooks, who was to speak on the renaming of 4th Street South. Based on past experience and local media reports you would probably be inclined to think that the most likely sources of controversy would be either Golden – whose club seems to be a magnet for unruly behavior and police attention – or Baldwin – who has been quite vocal in his disappointment over not being considered, much less appointed, for a Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau board seat. On this night, at least, you would be wrong on both counts.

The meeting began innocently enough, with the normal minutiae of city government – the adoption of minutes, a mayoral proclamation and the approval of a consent agenda.

Then came the main event – the Citizens Input Agenda.

Golden, who was expected to air the latest act in his never-ending litany of complaints against city officials, was a no-show. No excitement there.

Baldwin, who owns two local restaurants, appeared in search of an explanation as to why his name did not come up for a vote in regards to a recently filled CCVB board position (Bernard Buckhalter was re-appointed to another one-year term). Baldwin initially directed his questioning at Councilman Kabir Karriem, who in return took offense at being singled out, both at the council meeting and in the local press. Karriem explained that he had made a motion to re-appoint Buckhalter because “he called and asked for my support.” Who knew it was this easy? Apparently, no recitation of previous accomplishments or plans for the upcoming year was required – which is a good thing, because Buckhalter would have been hard-pressed to provide either.

In the end – and despite a brief back-and-forth among the council members about what procedures for approving new board members were available to them – the council managed to stonewall Baldwin, who left with no clear resolution.

The last citizens to speak were members of the Jones/Karriem family, who came to request that the one-block section of Fourth Street South, between Main and College streets, be renamed “Sallie Mae Jones Catfish Alley” (now, there’s a mouthful).

Laura Jones-Chalmers, one of four family members to address the council on this issue, made a long, eloquent recitation of Salle Mae Jones’ many contributions to the African-American community of Columbus. She was joined in this effort by Kamal Karriem, Connie Jones-Brooks, and Helen Karriem.

This request was met with a surprisingly well-reasoned rebuff from Mayor Robert Smith, who suggested that the city should seek input from the other businesses on the block that would be affected by this name change. The mayor’s statement was met by apparent surprise and frustration from the family members, who then cited various efforts, including the circulation of a petition (with no specifics on wording or number of signatures gathered) and attempts (apparently unsuccessful) to contact the other business owners.

It soon became clear that more than one of the councilmen agreed with Mayor Smith’s suggestion to delay a decision, so that input could be obtained. Smith actually upped the ante, by suggesting that people other than those operating businesses on the block in question be consulted about the decision.

Councilman Charlie Box suggested that naming the block after an individual “would set a precedent” – apparently unaware of the numerous examples that can be found with a cursory review of a local telephone directory.

It was at the tail end of the discussion that the real fireworks erupted. Citizen Dempsey Faulkner, who appeared to be keenly interested in the proceedings, requested and was granted permission to speak before the assembly. Faulkner basically repeated Box’s argument about setting a precedent. Then, after some resistance from the Jones/Karriem family, he dropped an apparent bombshell by stating ‘Don’t make it a problem, where nobody eats there [Jones Restaurant].”

This elicited an immediate and angry response from a number of people, forcing the mayor to bang his gavel and admonish all in attendance with “Let’s have some order!”

Smith then quickly called for a motion. Councilman Box made a motion to table the matter, and was seconded by Councilman Bill Gavin. The vote resulted in a 3-3 tie which was, by rule, broken by Mayor Smith, who cast the deciding vote to table the matter.

The council then proceeded through the remaining agenda items in fairly short order, and then quickly departed to attend the evening’s “National Night Out” activities, leaving anger, hurt feelings and frustration in their wake.

The Real Story Staff Report

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5 Comments on “A Few Surprises at Columbus City Council Meeting”

  1. Thom Geiger Says:

    3-3 tie? Why didn’t Kabir Karriem recuse himself? Why didn’t the mayor or anyone else point out an obvious conflict of interest? That was his brother and that was his mother advocating for yes votes, were they not? Do these people not even know what’s meant by an appearance of impropriety? Good grief.


  2. Albert Einstein Jr. Says:

    Oh well, if you can’t dazzle them with your feats, bamboozle them with bullshit.


  3. slack water Says:

    That’s the new reality, Thom. None of that matters. It’s only going to get worse.


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