Everybody knows the old adage about the wheels of justice grinding slowly. In the case of the Memphis City Schools Transportation Division -- rumors concerning were examined in this space two weeks ago -- they have begun to grind more quickly.
School board member Wanda Halbert had asked publicly for a staff meeting to discuss "problems" in the division but had been somewhat less than forthcoming about the identity of these problems. Various board colleagues, as well as Superintendent Johnnie B. Watson, were put out by her vagueness. So, we confess, were we. It's not enough to hint darkly that something is rotten in Denmark. It's helpful to know just where and from whose backyard the smell is coming. Otherwise, as we noted, what you might end up with is more innuendo than information.
The Flyer's Mary Cashiola has been looking into things and has amassed a good deal of detail about the situation (City Reporter, page 6). It will repay a reader to take the time to read Cashiola's story carefully. As is so often the case when something may be amiss in the conduct of public business, the complexities involved may be off-putting. To provide historical context, this is why a very real conflict-of-interest problem involving then-President Richard Nixon and the communications monolith ITT failed to make an impression on the public in 1971, despite months of dutiful attempts to explain it on the part of newspapers and other periodicals. A year later came Watergate, however, and the end was near. Anybody could comprehend what bugging and burglary were all about.
More recently, Republican foes of former President Clinton flailed away at arcane real estate issues for years without getting anywhere. It took a sex scandal for them to get their man before the bar of justice. Both the end and the means of doing so were dubious, to say the least, but that's another issue.
The questions now being raised about the school system's transportation system are, indeed, complicated, and they may lead to more questions rather than quick and immediate answers. But the allegations cover a wide variety of possible misdeeds: overbilling, poor (and even dangerous) bus procedures, violation of federal mandates, and collusion between private interests and present or former school-system personnel.
To his credit, Watson has acted on the information which has surfaced, directing the school system's internal-affairs department to make a "comprehensive audit/investigation" of the transportation division covering the period from April 2000 to the present. Even more notably, he has asked that evidence of "unlawful" activity be forwarded directly to law-enforcement authorities.
We hope this is not just a pro forma gesture which will ritualize the problem out of existence. We trust that the superintendent means for the inquiry to go forward seriously. We know not where the journey leads, but the vehicle of investigation is under way, and that, as they say, is exceedingly fine.