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All articles and commentary on this page has been written by The Real Story Editor-in-Chief Joseph St. John, A/K/A Mr. Mojo Rising.

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Welcome to the Party that Never Was — The CMSD Announces Dr. Liddell as the New Superintendent

 

“There’ll be peace in the valley for me some way,
There’ll be peace in the valley for me.
I pray no more sorrow and sadness or trouble will be,
There’ll be peace in the valley for me.”

Tommy Dorsey

or maybe not–

MoJo

Rarely does a situation arise in which the process is more important than the people involved.   Regrettably, however, it is becoming commonplace in Columbus.  No matter what local entity is involved, whether it is the city council or the school board or CCVB, the dysfunction in the governance of that entity is what steals the spotlight, when it should be focused on the person that has been chosen.

There is no greater example of this than what occurred, Thursday night, with the Columbus Municipal School District.  In what should have been a shining moment for Dr. Martha Liddell, the evening turned into a three-and-a-half-hour nightmare, endured by no one except a few sadomasochistic media types, who were willing to waste a perfectly good evening to be told what they already knew four days prior.

In a scenario straight from the Marquis de Sade’s playbook, the media sat, paced the floor and ate snacks (paid for by themselves) and waited for over three hours.  And guess what, boys and girls – happy campers of all ages – Dr. Liddell was named CMSD Superintendent.

In one of the great “What the $#@^ moments in journalism, the announcement was made in front of………. (drum roll, please) …..NO ONE.

Not her family, not her friends, not her supporters, and not even her enemies.  The only people present, for what is undoubtedly the crowning achievement of her career, so far, were the media and a few school employees.

The building was as empty as a Justin Bieber concert will be, five years from now.   There was no fanfare, no trumpets and no glitter.  No – just an announcement from School Broad Trustee President Tommy Prude that Dr. Liddell was their only choice and, after a 5-0 vote, it was done. Oh, except for one very small detail – there is no contract!!!

Yes – the only thing missing from this misbegotten coronation was for Dr. Liddell to murmur, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

In the wild, wild, world of Mississippi politics, it was essential that Dr. Liddell be given a strong send-off on her maiden voyage.  She will face the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes”, over the three years of her contract.  She will be scrutinized, vilified and demonized.

What she needs is a community-wide conviction that she is the best person for the job.  This starts with the board of trustees giving her their full-throated support.  If she was indeed their first-and-only choice, Thursday should have been a wonderful moment.

She should have been announced as superintendent in front of her friends, supporters and family.  She should have had the red carpet rolled out for her, and she should have been given the respect she deserves.  There should have been no doubt left in anyone’s mind that she is now the leader of the district.

The next few months are going to be tough for Dr. Liddell.  She has made hard decisions about laying off teachers, cutting budgets and averting the near-certain disaster that she inherited from her predecessor.  And, when you make the tough calls, you make enemies.  It’s that plain and simple.

A grand announcement was in order, Thursday, but all we received was a whimper.  Four citizens were present, at the beginning of the event, but all of them had left before it was over.  Apparently, they had a life.  And, who can blame them?

One citizen, who will remain forever anonymous, did what everyone else was certainly contemplating doing.  He knocked on the door to the closed executive session, and reminded the Board of Trustees that they were taking too long.  You may never know his name, but at The Real Story, we call him “hero!”

In other notes and views:

Also, on Thursday, David Dunn was reappointed as the counsel for the Board of Trustees, for the second time in six days. Apparently, the vote on Saturday was null and void, because of a technicality or something. No one explained what had gone wrong, with the first vote. And, to make matters worse, the board had chosen not to inform any members of the media about Saturday’s meeting, in advance, apparently because they did not feel the need to keep the media and, consequently, the community, informed about the process.

Perhaps, everyone was not standing on one foot, when they voted, or something else equally silly.  No one explained this to us, so I will go with my own theory that a Yeti was allowed to vote, so the process was voided.  Whatever the reason – good luck, Mr. Dunn, and Godspeed.

And, maybe, just maybe, this will be the end of the public debacle that we call “Hiring Processes.”  We certainly advocate for openness in government, but we also believe that it is possible to have a transparent process, without subjecting the candidates to a circus-like atmosphere that will only serve, in the future, to dissuade truly qualified individuals from applying for positions of leadership in our community. And, perhaps our City leaders will someday come to understand that it is better to “keep their mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.”

In the meantime, I am going back to my deck and sip a tea with my good friend, the Yeti; he feels bad.  He did not know voting for CMSD’s lawyer would cause such a problem.  He would like to apologize to all involved.

Joseph B. St. John

Originally Published in the June 6, 2012 Print Edition

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Unfortunately, You Can Get Too Much of a Good Thing

In the case of the Columbus Municipal School District’s (CMSD) search for a superintendent, it could be said that they “almost got it right”.  They found three outstanding candidates and, for a time, it looked like they were going to set the standard to which all other boards should aspire.  Unfortunately, Friday night occurred, and all hope for consistency was lost.

The Real Story had made the editorial decision to send a different reporter to cover each night’s events.  Whit Harrington was covering Isaac “Ike” Leon Haynes Jr.  Paige Canida-Greene reported on Dr. Pamela Taylor Henson and yours truly was to cover Dr. Martha Liddell.  I would then tie all the articles together and make one nice, clean report.

But, much to my chagrin, it did not end up being that simple.  I observed Tuesday’s process and it was as smooth as any citizen could hope for, as the board performed admirably.  On Thursday, Paige and Real Story employee, Kate Spencer, observed the proceedings and found it so orderly that it was almost boring – which may be the highest compliment an organization can receive, when conducting an employee hiring process.

On Friday, while having lunch at one of my favorite locally-owned restaurants, I ran into two good friends, and the talk turned, quickly, to the superintendent search.  I expressed my amazement that the process had been so orderly, and all of us agreed that it was, indeed, a good thing for the city that this process had been so clean and polished.

And, then Friday night happened.  I had spoken too soon.

First, it should be noted that Dr. Liddell is an outstanding leader and that any school district that hires her to be their leader will be blessed.  She is fiery, dedicated and determined to get the job done.  She can be overtly aggressive and charmingly soothing, simultaneously – which is no easy task.  On Friday night, these attributes shined through.

During her “fifteen-minute presentation”, which lasted an hour, Dr. Liddell clearly laid out her plan and agenda for the CMSD.  And, that is where the School Board let the train come off the tracks.  Having participated in a number of these hiring and promotional processes, I operate under the assumption that, if I am not being stopped, I am to continue.  Dr. Liddell received the unspoken “go ahead” for her PowerPoint presentation, when no one on the board took the initiative to enforce the time restrictions.

And, with that decision, all concepts of fairness and order were destroyed.  Quicker than Drowning Pool could sing, “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor”, the idea that all of the interviews would be conducted in a fair and timely manner was crushed like a small bug on a pizza car delivering papers.  That hope was over.

Liddell wooed the partisan crowd with her “go for it” attitude.  Starting off strong, she plowed through her presentation and even confronted the ghost of Del Phillips and the ever-expanding school budget of the past few years.  She did it with charm, wit and flair.  It just should have been accomplished in the hour and fifteen minutes that the other two candidates recieved.

Looking over at a citizen sitting beside me, I could see the same confusion on her face.  She had watched the other two candidates, and she had the same “what the &%##” look that I am sure that I had on my face.

After the hour was up, the board began their questions, after a strange comment from Board President Tommy Prude: “That was a strange way to keep time.”  The crowd laughed, and that was the problem.

Friday night belonged to Dr. Liddell.  She was preaching to the home team and they loved her!  Regrettably, it is the people outside the stadium who are circling, like sharks in the water, that are going to be the problem.

For the few inside the room, as well as others out in the community, who want Dr. Liddell to fail, here is their chance to open the wound and let the feeding frenzy begin.  I am sure that there are voices already clamoring that she got an unfair advantage.  I can hear the echoes of “See, I told you it was rigged; she did not even have to follow the rules.  There you go Marge. Just another snow job from the city.”

And, the greatest loser in all of this was Dr. Liddell, herself.  She is a super-qualified candidate, and needs no assistance.  She just needed a board that kept the playing field level.

After the one-hour-and-fifteen-minute time limit, I discontinued taking notes.  It did not seem fair.  The board’s questions were moot; their concerns hollow; and their authority impotent.  They had lost the biggest race many of them will ever be in.

After the meeting, I spoke with Board President Tommy Prude and asked him about the situation.  He was honest and contrite, as he always is.  When asked if anyone would question the decision to let Dr. Liddell speak an extra forty-five minutes, he simply stated, “I am sure they will.  But, what she was saying was relevant, so I did not stop her.”

And, therein lies the dilemma waiting in the shark tank – waiting like a small drop of blood, soon to fully bloom to an open wound.

Let’s hope this cut doesn’t allow the sharks to destroy a fantastic person!

Joseph B. St. John

MoJo

Originally Published in the May 30, 2012 Print Edition

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 Remember Memorial Day Like Your Life Depends On It – Because, It Does.

                           In America every man is free
To take care of his home and his family
Randy Newman, “Sail Away”

Memorial Day is set apart from America’s other military-orientated holidays. There are no parades, no fireworks, and, unfortunately, very little fanfare.  Honoring the dead is always a delicate endeavor and, in the case of Memorial Day, it has been lost in a barrage of summer sale ads and vacations. Long after the sting of death has lost its meaning to the populace, the business of a having a holiday becomes the paramount focus.

Memorial Day has long been the gateway to summer, and a reminder that fun is close at hand. Like most of our holidays, the original concept has been lost on the business of business. It has become a day off for government workers, an opportunity for an increase in commerce, and a strange celebration of nothingness.  People are just glad to be off work – nothing more, nothing less.

Wikipedia sums up Memorial Day with an awkward entry:

On June 28, 1968, the Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971.

And, there you go – boys and girls – the loss of countless American lives, so that we can have a convenient three-day weekend. But, even that has gotten lost, today.  Like most other holidays, more and more businesses remain open. People participating in commerce, without any understanding of what the day really means. What is Memorial Day? Why observe the tragic?

Death is never pleasant. No one wants to talk about it. Sacrifice is nice, but to reflect on it goes against the nature of today’s society – everything in a nice package and no one bleeds. But, that is not the way it is in the real world.

Nothing is free and sometimes it takes tremendous sacrifice to ensure that the masses can be safe in their homes and in their lives. Many men and women have given their all to make sure that our communities are drenched in freedom. Freedoms that are often taken for granted.

It should never be forgotten that America has been built on the shoulders of the soldiers who were willing to fight and die for our country. The notion of ultimate sacrifice should never be eclipsed.  It should remain squarely in the forefront of every American’s mind.

Time should be devoted, daily, to reflect on what it means to have freedom – on its responsibilities and its pleasures; its greatness and its flaws – a remembrance that should permeate the mind of every American.

For all of the positive aspects of the 1960s and 70s, many of the tragedies of the era eroded the trust of the federal government.  The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy rocked the country to its core. The battle over Vietnam still lingers in the hearts of many people. The hurt and frustration of a war that people, to this day, have trouble defining, can still be seen at veterans gatherings. Serving your country during an unpopular war, may be the greatest sacrifice of all. However, the unappreciated always have a seat at the table of the righteous.

Watergate, Nixon, Ford and Carter left many people feeling empty; trust in the government was in shambles and there was no faith in what America was built upon. In many ways, America was an empty, cold shell of itself.

But, as the saying goes, “time heals all wounds”, and America has come together to celebrate our military. After 911, it was very apropos to speak well of the service branches. That good feeling has not waned, and it never should. They are the reason we are free. No other truth is more evident.

Here, in our own community, we should be extra grateful. We have a wonderful community partner in the Columbus Air Force Base. The men and women who take care of this country also take care of Lowndes County. We should be forever appreciative.

Columbus also takes pride in being the community that started Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day. We should be proud of that heritage, and infuse it into our community’s identity. It is something that should be a part of our daily lexicon.

Monday, May 28th has been set aside as Memorial Day in 2012; it should be seen as a major holiday, in our hearts, if only for this reason:

On June 6, 1944, with the Allied Forces facing the dilemma that Germany and the power of Hitler was on the verge of victory, they launched the greatest military assault in history. The beaches of Normandy turned into sands of red death. Most of the men, who were part of the first wave of the assault, were killed almost immediately.

The D-Day Museum and Overlord Embroidery, Britain’s only D-Day Museum reports:

The Allied casualty figures for D-Day have generally been estimated at 10,000, including 2,500 dead. Broken down by nationality, the usual D-Day casualty figures are approximately 2,700 British, 946 Canadians, and 6,603 Americans. However, recent painstaking research by the US National D-Day Memorial Foundation has achieved a more accurate – and much higher – figure for the Allied personnel who were killed on D-Day. They have recorded the names of individual Allied personnel killed on 6 June 1944 in Operation Overlord, and, so far, they have verified 2,499 American D-Day fatalities and 1,915 from the other Allied nations, a total of 4,414 dead (much higher than the traditional figure of 2,500 dead). 

Germany collapsed, on May 8, 1945, and with Germany’s unconditional surrender, the war in Europe was over.  There was no luck, there were no coincidence and there was no good fortune in the victory. No – just the blood, sweet, tears and death of the individuals who fought to win the war for our freedoms.

Thousands of men and women have now paid the price for our liberty. Let’s never forget. Let’s never take for granted the price that has been paid for the luxury of our human rights. The cost of freedom has been paid for with the greatest price a human can pay – their very life.

Remember Memorial Day like your life depends on it – because it does.

Originally Published in the May 23, 2012 Print Edition

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Let’s Hope We Don’t Get Too Much of a Good Thing – CMSD Superintendent Candidate Interviews   

Editor’s Note: At press time, one of the candidates for superintendent, John G. Ladner of Moss Point, notified the CMSD Board President that he was withdrawing his name from consideration.

This week it was revealed that the search for the new Columbus Municipal School District Superintendent will be more of a marathon than a sprint.  In what can only be described as a near “Gauntlet of Death,” the interview process will span four nights.  No interviews will be conducted on Wednesday, either because it is an assumed church night, or maybe everyone realizes that even Jesus would had seen enough by this time, and thus it will be a welcomed day off.

Over the past several days, a series of e-mails have been sent to the media.  These press releases, summed up, stated:

“All interviews will take place at Brandon Central Office – 2630 McArthur Drive – Columbus, MS 39705 at 6:00 p.m.”

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dr. John G. Ladner
Interim Superintendent of Moss Point School District
Moss Point, MS

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mr. Isaac Leon Haynes
Superintendent of Jefferson Davis County School District
Prentiss, MS

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dr. Pamela Taylor Henson
Director of Instructional Support of Baldwin County Board of Education
Bay Minette, AL

Friday, May 25, 2012

Dr. Martha Liddell
Interim Superintendent of Columbus Municipal School District
Columbus, MS

All the Board Meeting interviews will be public and anyone can attend to observe any or all of the interview meetings.

The Board of Trustees will each select five community members to attend each night of the interviews, as well as an additional 25 randomly selected members. These 50 individuals will provide feedback and comments on the candidates that interviewed on the date they were selected to attend.

Any interested person who resides within the Columbus School District boundaries or who is currently employed by Columbus School District may submit an application to be randomly selected to attend and provide feedback on one particular night of interviews.

Applications can be found at www.columbuscityschools.org or at Brandon Central Office, 2630 McArthur Dr.

 

Since there is no math wizard on The Real Story payroll, it is assumed that this process will last about 75,000 hours, give or take a bathroom break or 20.  This is a fine example of meaning well, but falling flat on your face.  By the time that many questions are asked and reviewed, they run the risk of becoming meaningless – a pointless stew of convoluted chatter mixed with political agendas and silliness. And, what is at stake?  Only the future of our school system.

And, wait, we have not complicated the process yet with the omnipotent Google search.  That’s right dudes and dudettes, how do you select a fearless leader without mindlessly searching the internet?  Nothing is every wrong on the internet. Ever! (Just a note: If you Google your own name and nothing comes up, that doesn’t not mean you are a good person. It just means you’re not important.)

So, here we stand with four days before us, filled with more questions than can be counted and where do we go from here?  Let’s hope it is not in the direction of the last Columbus Police Chief search process that left everyone with egg on their face.  The school system deserves better.

In other news, Dr. Liddell sent the following message:

 

Teacher Vacancies to be Filled Total 49 Positions  

Even though Columbus Schools’ budget was challenging, this year, due diligence has been accomplished and the district is heading toward a more secure financial future. The budget team and I met with all building principals and department heads, last week and this week, to do another full assessment of our personnel needs, based on student enrollment and cost-efficiency needs. Columbus Schools’ RIF- impacted teachers will receive hiring priority.

I’m am pleased to report that Columbus Schools will be able to fill 49 RIF-Impacted teacher positions for FY 2012-2013 budget . These teacher positions are a combination of state, federal and local funds. Fortunately, Title I, Title II and Special Education funding projections for next year have enabled the district to exceed projections for hiring vacancies for next school year. We are investing all the resources we possibly can toward classroom instruction and reducing class size for FY 2012-2013.

It been a long uphill battle for Dr. Liddell, this year, but she kept her promise to try to bring back as many teachers as she could.  It has not always been pretty, but the school year is complete.  Now, the real work needs to be done.

CMSD is still not out of the woods.  Without a strong and hard- working leader, the school system has the potential to go under.  The people of Aberdeen understand this dilemma.  This should be paramount in everyone’s mind, as the School Board looks for a new leader to move our children forward.

Joseph B. St. John

Mr. MoJo Rising

 Originally Published in the May 16, 2012 Print Edition

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The Real Story and the Quest for Truth

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconnquearable soul

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud,

Under the bludgeoning of chance

My head bloody, but unbowed

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate;

I am the captain of my soul.

“Invictus”, William Ernest Henley

As the Real Story moves into its fourth month in print and our seventh month of existence, it is time to give thanks to the people who matter most—our readers.  Without the people who buy the paper and support us through purchasing ads, there is NO Real Story. While I attended Market Street Festival, this weekend, I was overwhelmed by the love and support that I felt from the people who approached me.  And, after this weekend, I truly felt that the transformation from former police chief to “newspaper man” is complete.

The encouragement I have recieved from the community has always been amazing. I don’t always understand it, but I am glad I have it.  During my “Dark Journey of the Soul,” I was often asked what I was going to do and whether I was going to move.  A couple of well-meaning friends even said I would have to move.  “What would the ex-chief do in Columbus, if he wasn’t chief?” they asked.

And, even when I didn’t know the answer to that question, I knew this: I was not moving!  Columbus is my home.  My experiences, over this past weekend only reinforce this decision.  I love C-town.  I love Lowndes County.  And, now I can say without a doubt, “I am a Mississippian and I am proud to be from Columbus.”

A really smart guy who is the Star of his own book, but never wrote a word of it, once said, ”In patience, you shall win your soul.”  These words ring true for all of us, and should be our governing concept in life.  To win is to fight and to overcome adversity.  It is the glue that keeps everyone on focus.  The words, “Even when failure seems certain, cling to your ideals and principles” are words I will never forget.  They have been brought to my attention, most emphatically, over the past few days.  I didn’t know much about the author, beforehand, but I understand his words’ meaning.  And, that is the important part – understanding.

The most common admonition that I have heard, since the inception, of the paper has been for The Real Story to keep it real.  And, that is what we plan to do.  We will endeavor to keep it real for as long as The Real Story exists.  It’s the only way to get things done.

The support I have received, over the past 10 months, will never be forgotten; nor will the commitment I have to the community.  The Real Story will be there and, yes, will even stir things up, when necessary.  We want to be “the community’s newspaper”.  We want to be the publication that you can send to anyone, anywhere in America and be proud of the content, the layout, the photos, the writing, and the ads; in short, we want you, the reader, to be proud of everything we do.

From the onset, the paper has said, we will be the “government watchdog.”  That concept should be every paper’s true agenda.  It is not acceptable for a legitimate media outlet to prey on the unfortunate, the wreck victim, the one-time, minor offender, while “Rome burns and Nero fiddles.”  It is not only sloppy journalism – it is a disservice to the community.  It’s that plain and simple, and if you’re in the media and have to look up either “Rome” or “Nero” that is also a problem.

So, for all the people who approached me this past weekend and told me to keep giving “the man” hell – rest assured that we will never stop.  The Real Story is dedicated to being a community watch dog.  And, I promise that we will never hunt rabbits and squirrels, while there is big game in town.  That is a waste of your time and mine.  It is a sophomoric attempt to be important, in a troubled world.  Using your power to promote silliness and irrelevance is never truly journalism.

In closing – because 2,700 words are 1,700 words too much, two quotes resonate with me, as I come to the climax of the article:

Meet failure and disappointment with courage. Rise superior to the trials of life, and never give in to hopelessness or despair. In danger, in adversity, cling to your principles and ideals. – Dr. William Osler

Think often of how swiftly all things pass away and are no more – the works of Nature and the works of man.  The substance of the Universe, matter, is like unto a river that flows on, forever.  All things are not only in a constant state of change, but they are the cause of constant and infinite change in other things. Upon a narrow ledge thou standest!  Behind thee, the bottomless abyss of the Past!  In front of thee, the Future, that will swallow up all things that are now.  Over what things, then, in this present life wilt thou, O foolish man, be disquieted or exalted – making thyself wretched;  seeing that they can vex thee only for a time – a brief, brief time!  – Marcus Aurelius

 These are words we can all live by!

Joseph B. St. John

Editor and Chief

The Real Story

Originally Published in the May 9, 2012 Print Edition

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The Right to Bear Arms Has Nothing to Do With Wearing a Short Sleeve Shirt – The WOW of the Second Amendment

Oftentimes, a synergy occurs that cannot be denied.  In discussing the front cover of this week’s edition, the idea of the Second Amendment was brought up as the page two topic.  Not all news weeks are equal. Sometimes there are a hundred stories and other times there are none – not hard news, anyway.  So, the question becomes what do we put on the cover during the slower news cycles?

The Constitution is always big, because, for many politically-minded people, these rights are being eroded every day.  And, whether real or imagined, it drives their voting habits and their thought processes.  They view any government that would try to control their right to own a gun, as a government that cannot be trusted.

Well, lo and behold, what was waiting on “ye olde” email?  A message from God, for sure.  A digital miracle.  A gift from a dear friend.

And, what would this miracle of biblical proportions be?  A message on gun control – the answer to all of this week’s problems – coming through the post-modern medium, like a bullet in the night (pun intended).

The body of the message was intriguing, and went like this:

Attorney General Holder says, “WE HAVE NO RIGHT TO POSSESS GUNS.”

TAKES 10 SECONDS … DO IT AND PASS IT ON.

Guess they were not happy with the poll results the first time, so USA Today is running another one…Vote now…

Attorney General Eric Holder has already said this is one of his major issues. He does not believe the 2nd Amendment gives individuals the right to bear arms. This takes literally 2 clicks to complete. Please vote on this gun issue question with USA Today. Then, pass the link on to all the pro-gun folks you know. Hopefully these results will be published later this month. This upcoming year will become critical for gun owners with the Supreme Court’s accepting the District of Columbia case against the right for individuals to bear arms.

Here’s what you need to do:

First – vote.

Second- launch it to other folks, then we will see if the results get published.

Click to vote: click link below

USATODAY.com

I clicked the link and voted (yes, I think the Second Amendment gives us the right to own guns.  That’s what my daddy taught me.)  To no one’s surprise – certainly not to me – the vote totals were overwhelming.  Of the 10,752,497 people who voted, 97% voted “yes”,  2% voted “no”, and 1% of the respondents, who are too confused to understand that voting in a poll, when you don’t have an opinion, is a colossal waste of time, voted “undecided”.  God Bless them!

So, where is the confusion?  Is it in gun ownership?  Is it in government control?  Is it simply in the citizens’ responsibility to be safe gun owners, or is it making sure we all receive due process under the law?

Whatever the case, the Second Amendment receives lots of attention.  It is one of the “BIG DADDY” amendments, along with the 1st, 4th, 5th, 13th, 14th, and 15th.  These freedoms can start either a debate or a fight, depending on the situation.  Make no mistake – not all amendments are created equally.

No one is fired up about the 3rd Amendment – “Prohibiting the forced quartering of soldiers out of war time.”  In Columbus, the citizens feel a commitment to help the Columbus Air Force Base that is unparalleled in most communities.  If the base were suddenly overflowing with personnel, many people in this community would welcome the soldiers into their home, with no hesitation.

The topic of guns is different. It is a “hot button” and “deal-breaker”.  Right or wrong, it drives a lot of politics.

Prior to the latest poll, the following results were gathered from USA Today/Gallup:

 POLL EXCERPT
Do you believe the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the rights of Americans to own guns, or does it only guarantee members of state militias, such as National Guard units, the right to own guns?
  Right of all Americans Only state militias
All adults 73% 20%
Gun owners 91% 6%
Non-Gun owners 63% 28%

Source: USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of 1,016 adults, Feb. 8-10. Margin of error for all adults: ±3 percentage points; for gun owners: ±6 points; for non-gun owners: ±4 points; Julie Snider, USA TODAY

Without the push from the internet and pro-gun groups, Americans still overwhelmingly believe that the Second Amendment is in support of private citizens owning guns.  It is what many Americans have been taught, and that belief is not going to die very soon.

What may be the more important question is how and when do people’s rights have to be restricted, for the safety of the community?  Most people want the simple balance of having the right to own certain guns.  They do not, however, advocate people owning tanks or machine guns.  The citizenry wants rules on when and where you can use firearms, and they understand that, with gun ownership, comes an awesome responsibility.

And, most of all, folks want strong laws that ensure that when people use guns to commit crimes, they are punished.  Violent crime should be the focus of all police departments and prosecutors.  Period. No debate.  The rest of it is window dressing and busy work.

In the final analysis, however, Americans should view every amendment with a jealous eye.  If the government can change the meaning of the Second Amendment, where will it end?  Freedom of the press? Search and seizure?  Civil rights?

Once a single right is nullified, when do the others come under attack?  As Benjamin Franklin so famously said, “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

Rules to ensure our safety are important, and some gun restrictions will always apply.  Let’s keep the rules in focus, without giving up our rights.  Even if the government doesn’t think we have them.

Joseph St. John

Mr. MoJo Rising

Originally Published in the May 2, 2012 Print Edition 

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Voter IDs, Redistricting and the Future of Mississippi Politics

Nothing ever comes easy in the world of politics.  Even being fair and forthright, turns into the politics of power. Despite efforts to portray an image to the contrary, the simple fact is that politics is about control and those who participate in it often have their own best interests at heart.

In the meantime, “regular folks” have to fight and scratch, to be heard.  The city of Columbus and the state of Mississippi are facing two critical situations, during the next year.  The first issue to confront our communities is the fact that Voter ID legislation has been passed by the Mississippi Senate, and is awaiting approval from the U.S. Justice Department.

On April 16, 2012, the Daily Mississippian On-line reported:

If approved, Mississippi voters will be required to show current photo identification, which would include a Mississippi driver’s license, an Indian tribe identification, a U.S. passport, a Mississippi pistol permit, or a student ID from any public or private college in Mississippi. Voters will also be able to present any other form of identification issued by the federal or state government or a Mississippi city, county or local agency. 

At first glance, it does not appear to be a difficult task, but as the article quickly reminded, “Proponents of voter ID laws tend to like the idea of limiting voter fraud, while those against it think the rules go back to Jim Crow Laws.”

And, there is the crux of the matter.  How are the sins of the past and the needs of the future to be reconciled?   When do our communities become one people and eliminate the politically-charged nature of the issue of fairness?

Nan Lott, Chairman of the Lowndes County Republican Party, stated,” A couple of years ago, we, along with the local Tea Party chapter, worked hard to get the petition signed to make Voter ID the law.  We went to football games.  We went everywhere where people were, to get signatures.  I am really perturbed that the Justice Department is going to ‘dilly dally’ until after the election.  Democrats say it is racist, but many African-Americans signed the petition.  Some Democrats compare this to poll taxes, but over 120,000 signatures were gathered in Northern Mississippi – District One (the area roughly between Lowndes County and Desoto County) alone.”

To add to the confusion, waiting for the Justice Department could be a crap shoot.  As Ms. Lott added, “Alabama voters have to show an ID, but the Voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas were rejected by the Justice Department.  I don’t understand it.”

District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks took a different position, in regard to the situation.  “I disagree with it.  It discourages people from going to the polls,” he said. “There is no documentation of voter fraud in Mississippi.  If there are any problems, it would be in absentee voting.”

The Voter ID debate should not be a black-or-white issue, but it does deal with fundamental problems from the past.  In discussing this article, no one who spoke with The Real Story wanted people to vote fraudulently or be denied their legal right to vote. Unfortunately, in a world where black and white does exist, there is no denying that it revolved around the issue of trust.

Requiring that voters present an easy-to-obtain State ID seems a far cry from “Jim Crow”; however, there is the simple matter of faith in the process and, therein, lies the problem, for many people.  They do not trust the system to work, because they do not trust the government.  It makes people leery, even in something as simple as showing an easily-obtained State ID card.

The reality is that most people who are pro-Voter ID, want people to vote.  They just don’t want people, whose address is in either Friendship or Union Cemetery, voting.  However, like most things political, it is never that simple. Let’s hope the Justice Department evaluates the law solely on its merit, rather than on arguments which may have no basis in fact.  Hopefully, the day will come, where the past and the present converge to form a palatable future.

Nowhere does the area of race and politics rear its ugly head as much as in redistricting.  In what can only be described as an “uncomfortable situation”, the politicians who are in office have to divide a given geographical area into segments that are demographically balanced.  It would take an exceptional individual to refrain from loading the dice to maintain their position of power.  We will soon learn whether we have such people, here, in Columbus.  If the last redistricting meeting was any indication, the City and its citizens had better brace for a long process.

The May 2013 elections are fast approaching, and it appears that “The Night of the Long Knives” may be in our future.  The fighting has already begun, and people are showing their true motivations.   For better or worse, redistricting will be the battleground – especially at a time when everyone on the Council feels vulnerable.

Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin, who chaired the last redistricting meeting, in place of an absent Mayor Smith, was quick to point out the dilemma. ‘This is something we have to do,” he said.  “I want to keep all the people in my ward, but I have to give up 300 people.  I don’t want to, but I have to.”

Gavin went on to explain that it is not only about race, but is, instead, about restructuring the districts in regard to population.  He added that the racial makeup in each ward may not see any radical change.

Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem was quick to point out one of the problems with last Wednesday’s meeting. “I was under the impression that we were going to listen to Watkins (the consulting firm hired to oversee the project) about what our direction was going to be.  I get here and some things have already been decided,” Karriem stated, in explaining the complexities of changing the boundaries of the wards. “I am down 269 people, Mr. Stewart is down 427 and Mickens was down 118.  Box and Gavin are over 300 people, each.  We have to do what we have to do to move this community forward and get the wards balanced, and I don’t think we should do anything until we address all the options.”

Karriem even spoke about the difficult situation of race.  “Gene Taylor’s ward is 90% African American.  He does not want to change anything.  But, anything over 65-70% is stacking. No ward should be over-stacked with one race.”

When questioned about the conflict between Mickens and Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box, which was reported by numerous sources, Kabir addressed the issue.  “Mickens never said anything about excluding anyone for his ward, but if he had to lose people, he would select the downtown area.  Box was the one who made the accusations about why he wanted to lose the area.”

A phone message left on Mr. Box’s voicemail, by The Real Story, was not returned.

As the elections approach, the community has to look at these concerns with a suspicious eye.  No one wants anybody to be cheated, as a result of this process, but no one wants a “feel good” attitude to triumph over justice.  Every option should be employed, to ensure it is a fair vote.

Let’s just hope the politicians involved keep this in mind and keep their own desires secondary.  It is not an exaggeration to say our future depends on it!

Joseph B. St. John

Mr. MoJo Rising

Originally Published in the April 25, 2012 Print Edition 

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The Politics of Crime and Race

Race.  It’s on everybody’s mind, but no one wants to talk about it; not only in Columbus, Mississippi, but throughout America.   It is the two-ton elephant in the living room, but the country acts like it’s not there.

Not until the community gets rocked, does it become an issue.  So, over the past few weeks, everyone in the country, including the Golden Triangle, has stood up and taken notice.

In Sanford, Florida, the case of Trayvon Martin has set off a firestorm of protest and concern.  His killer, George Zimmerman, is either white or Hispanic, depending on what account you read. And, as everyone knows by now, Trayvon is black.

And, what is most clear about this case is that no one is satisfied – not the people who see a young man “gunned down” in his prime, nor advocates of the now controversial “Stand Your Ground” law.  Both sides stand up and want to be counted, but what do they want to count?

There is talk about hoodies, Skittles, crime watch, laws and protest.  There are groups that act like it is acceptable to shoot a young man and that everyone should just accept that the “shooter” was standing his ground.  No questions asked.

You have others who get lost in the fact that the young man was murdered, unjustly, and yet it happens every day.  What makes Trayvon different?  What makes his case a national story?

In this case, at first glance, it is about race.  In a time when the President of the United States has a black father and white mother, race still matters.  It never went away.  It has just lain dormant, until a big enough event brought it back to the forefront.

And, that event was Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. On an otherwise uneventful NBA Basketball All-Star Sunday night, a young man went to the store for some Skittles, and a few hours later, a “hellfire” was born.  Have no doubt, a controversy of biblical proportions is alive and well in America, and it is not going away anytime soon.

Meanwhile, on the MSU campus, a young man was gunned down outside a dormitory.  The victim, John Sanderson, is white.  The suspected shooters, Trent Crump, Dontae Harvey and Mason Jones are all black.  As soon as the murder occurred, there were posts on many local blogs, arguing that this case get the same attention as the Martin case. On the surface, the two cases have at least one similarity: people of one race killing someone of another race.

But, here is where the cases are different.  Within days, all three suspects – Crump, Harvey and Jones – are in jail, with no bond.  They are not walking around their community, free. They are in J-A-I-L.

Talking to Chief Georgia Lindly on Friday, I asked her about that development, and she was quick to point out, “Yes, the arrests made all the difference in the world between the two cases.”

She is right.  Here are two cases that appear, somewhat, the same, but in the case of John, his accused killers are in jail.  Trayvon’s case just continues to linger.  There seems to be no resolution in sight, and it’s like a festering sore – it is just getting worse.

What we have left, now, are more questions than answers. We have a 911 tape, on which the shooter is advised not to follow Trayvon.  We also have a young man screaming for help, and we have no arrest or explanation why there isn’t one.

We do have a police chief that has taken a leave of absence, and a country talking about race again, without really talking about it. But, the scary part is that, in conversations involving race, the issue of justice is often lost. And, justice is the only thing we should be talking about.

In the case of John, his friends and family have the peace of knowing someone is in jail.  It does not bring him back, but there is some closure, as strange as that may sound to someone who has not been the victim of a violent crime; but, it is true.

Trayvon’s case remains in a legal limbo.  If the “Stand Your Ground Law” was the reason George Zimmerman was not charged, the local police should have been ready to stand their ground and explained the who, what, when, where and why of their investigation. But, right now, all explanations appear limp.  It appears that very little was done to investigate this shooting.

For the millions of people who are upset over this case, a cautionary tale, then, is needed.  The FBI offers the following statistics (emphasis added):

  • Of the 12,996 murder victims in 2010 for which supplemental data were received, most (77.4 percent) were male.
  • Concerning murder victims for whom race was known, 50.4 percent were black, 47.0 percent were white, and 2.6 percent were of other races. Race was unknown for 152 victims.
  • Of the offenders for whom gender was known, 90.3 percent were males
  • Of the offenders for whom race was known, 53.1 percent were black, 44.6 percent were white, and 2.3 percent were of other races. The race was unknown for 4,224 offenders.
  • Of the homicides for which the FBI received weapons data, most (67.5 percent) involved the use of firearms. Handguns comprised 68.5 percent of the firearms used in murders and non-negligent manslaughters in 2010.
  • In incidents of murder for which the relationships of murder victims and offenders were known, 53.0 percent were killed by someone they knew (acquaintance, neighbor, friend, boyfriend, etc.); 24.8 percent of victims were slain by family members. The relationship of murder victims and offenders was unknown in 44.0 percent of murder and non-negligent manslaughter incidents in 2010.
  • Of the female murder victims for whom the relationships to their offenders were known, 37.5 percent were murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.
  • Of the murders for which the circumstance surrounding the murder was known, 41.8 percent of victims were murdered during arguments (including romantic triangles) in 2010. Felony circumstances (rape, robbery, burglary, etc.) accounted for 23.1 percent of murders. Circumstances were unknown for 35.8 percent of reported homicides.

Never forget whites have no trouble murdering whites and blacks have no trouble murdering blacks. So yes, race matters, but not more than justice; and JUSTICE should always be our FIRST concern!  It is a lesson that can never be forgotten.

Joseph B. St. John

Mr. MoJo Rising


Originally Published in April 4, 2012 Print Edition    

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Why Have a Mayor’s Unity Picnic,
When There is No Unity in Your Own House?

The problem with bullying is that if everyone is afraid of the bully, who is going to stand up against him?  That was the fundamental problem with what occurred at the March 20, 2012 City Council Meeting.  Most everyone stood impotent, as the parade of ignorance occurred over and over again, at the meeting.

After the meeting, Sir Robert tried to deflect the illegal paving.  (No dice, Coach.  The Real Story stands behind its source and the fact that you gave permission about the illegal paving.  We both (The Real Story and you) also know that nothing is done in the Public Works Department without your approval.)

Well, boys and girls, just when you think it can’t get more ignorant, it does.  After the meeting, as many of you know by now, Chief Operating Officer David Armstrong filed a grievance, in regard to Mayor Smith’s behavior.  Apparently, Sir Robert went a little crazy over the “Free Paving” article in The Real Story and treated David, in David’s own opinion, in an unprofessional manner.

But wait, it gets better.  Who is overseeing this grievance hearing?  You guessed it – Robert Smith!  No one could make this stuff up.  It was such a bone of contention, that Councilman Kabir Karriem left the Executive Session, for the second time.   The first time was over the handling of the paving situation.  That’s right, campers – at two critical moments involving the misadventures of Robert Smith, no one other than Kabir and Joseph Mickens had the guts to speak out.

Kabir left the meeting and Mickens fought loudly to stop the madness.  However, the other four councilmen sat in silence and were gutless.  They let Robert Smith run the meeting about the possible misdeeds and discipline of Robert Smith. It would be funny, if it was not so sad.

This is so obscene, that it defies logic.  However, it gets worse.  The four councilmen sat on their hands, limp, as the Mayor called department heads before his court to ask them if he was a bully.  Yep, the bully got to browbeat his subjects, one more time, as four councilmen set silently, like small children frighten of their own shadow.

No one said a word.  No one, other than Joe and Kabir, showed any backbone.  Charlie, Bill, Fred and Gene let the madness continue and did nothing to protect the City employees or the community. And, why should they.  They are frightened children.  They no longer have the intestinal fortitude to do their job.  It is sad, but it is true; and, yes, it did happen.

Don’t get lost in all the hype that this is about Public Works.  This is about the Mayor and four Councilmen who are very scared of him.

Of course, all of the department heads stated that Robert was not a bully.  They had to; they needed their jobs.  And, they could see that he had the four votes to fire them, if they said the wrong thing.  Can you blame them?  Watching grown men cower is scary.  Better to lie than lose their jobs. It is understandable.

But, here is the real question, the real concern of it all.  Is anyone every going to stand up to Robert, or do the City and its employees just get ripped apart?  Right now, the answer is that the Mayor has the votes to do whatever he wants.  And, as long as that is the case, Robert rules.  No questions asked.

The bully gets to rule the playground and the City sleeps, as Columbus falls deeper and deeper into the abyss.  It will soon be the eyesore, and not the crown jewel, of Lowndes County.  In the minds of many people, who have fled to the county, this has already happened.

It is time for the community and the business leaders to stand up and let their voices be heard.  The city is dysfunctional, and it is only a matter of time before the house of cards collapses.  Are we going to be on the forefront of change, or are we going to be standing on the sideline, wondering what happened, when the town goes bankrupt?

The City is at a tipping point. The future is now.  Do we ask for accountability, or do we watch, as the town collapses?  There is no need to lie to ourselves.  Columbus is at a crossroads. The next few years will make or break the entire community.

It is time for us to understand that the Mayor doesn’t get extra privileges.  It is time for everyone to know that he is the bully who scares the four Councilmen silly.  And, most importantly, it time for it to stop.  If our elected officials will not do it, then the community must.

The Real Story proudly accepts the fact that we were the lead topic, in the opening segment of the last Council meeting.  There are times when it is necessary to speak truth to power. We were honored to be the first; let’s just hope that we’re not the last.

And, for Robert I will paraphrase a little Shakespeare: “Robert, you protest a bit too much.”  I think we may have hit a nerve.

Joseph B. St. John

Mr. MoJo Rising

Originally Published in March 28, 2012 Print Edition

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Education.  It has been a topic of great debate for the past several weeks, or ever since the community found out that the City of Columbus was going to cut 69 jobs from its work force.  The unfortunate problem is that no one ever says anything about education until there is trouble and, in the case of the Columbus Municipal School District (CMSD), it’s a huge dilemma.

No one likes to see a person lose their job. It is a personal trauma, and treating people like numbers is never the popular thing to do.  However, the financial reality is that the CMSD is overdrawn.  The checks have been written and now it’s time for the bill collectors to collect.

Understandably, it had to be a shock to many that a school district that could build a reportedly 22 million dollar school, a few years ago, is now on the brink of having the Federal Government take over its day-to-day operations.   And, boys and girls, if that happens, don’t expect the GOVERNMENT to come into town and play nice.

They will slash every program, every event and everything they can get their hands on, and that includes jobs.  Interim Superintendent Martha Liddell has explained that on numerous occasions, and many people now understand her concerns.  Individuals are going to lose their jobs.  It can be now, while the school district is still in control, or it can be later, when the Feds are in town.

However, it is also understandable that teachers, students and parents are concerned about these developments.  Everyone loved the “What a Wonderful World” feel-good story Del Phillips told.  But, know we know that the CMSD has been dipping into the reserves for almost a decade and the school district has now entered a “full-blown” financial crisis.

Even now, you have media outlets and citizens acting like they are stunned that this is happening.  How can this be?  Where did all the money go?

The simple fact is that there never was much money and what little the school district had, was spent like sailors on the town.  And, when the money was gone?  No Del was in sight.

This faux surprise by some media and the Mayor is stunning and should be looked at as the smoke screen that it is. Just once, while looking over Market Street from their penthouse view, do you think Del and Robert looked at each other and said, “It’s great to spend money you don’t have and run your organization into the ground.”

That’s right!  Our city will soon be having this same concern.  The City of Columbus has been dipping into its reserves for years, and it’s only a matter of time before these checks are due and the city is left in a bind.

That is what the summit with Joe Max Higgins was about, on February 7.  The City needs cash and they need it now. But, all they received that day was a public spanking from Joe Max.  And, why not?  Joe is in the “catbird seat”.

It is time to call the Mayor and your City Councilman and ask them the tough question, “How much money is left in our reserves and where did we spend the $700,000 that was given to the city from the county, each year.”   We can all be sure that it’s not the roads.

Next Wednesday’s issue of The Real Story is going to focus on education.  We will address student character-building, Charter Schools and much more, including finances.

But, the most important part of the story is to hear from you, the reader.  Give us your two-cents worth and your voice will be heard.  We will publish the “best of the best” comments in our next edition.  So, open up and let your opinion be known!!!!  We are waiting for your comments.

If you do not stand up for what you believe, others will be glad to Fiddle, While Columbus Burns!

Mr. MoJo Rising

Originally Published in February 29, 2012 Print Edition

Reader Comments

Raider commented on At Week’s End for February 24, 2012

Last summer, as the school board was putting together a budget, the CC and the mayor was trying to have a meeting with them to discuss their budget. As I remember it, the school board refused to meet with the CC and mayor on multiple occasions but had plenty of time to meet with other folks. As the stories were being written, it appeared clear to me that the school board and Del Philips had been playing fast and loose with the budget numbers and selectively releasing the info they wanted to release. As the CC became more frustrated, it was pointed out to them that they had no control over the school board and they needed to butt out of their business.

During that period, there were a few people that tried to call out Del Phillips and the school board. But, most of the public seemed to be on the side of the school board because everyone was mad at the CC for making the decision to fire St. John. I know certain people want to make Robert Smith one of the scapegoats here but, I believe it would be more appropriate to blame the “autonomous” school board. The school board are the folks who failed to do their job when Del Philips was here. Now that we are in crisis mode, why are we trying to blame someone else. The blame should fall squarely on their shoulders of the school for not doing their jobs over the years. Why is no one calling for members of the school board to step down? Why haven’t any school board members voluntarily resigned? Do the members and their supporters really believe that they have done a good job?

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