Last week's meeting of the city's Charter Commission was a disappointment in several respects. For an hour, the commission, presided over by one of its stars, former Circuit Court judge and state Supreme Court justice George Brown, deliberated on questions of when and where its next several meetings would be held, how what was regarded as an inattentive media should be handled by members, and why several invited guests, including Mayor Willie Herenton and assorted members of the City Council, including Charter Commission member Myron Lowery, had chosen not to come.
Period. End of story. No discussion, even theoretical, of points the commission might address in the future, no putting forth of anyone's agenda, no philosophical discussion of the purposes of the commission, etc., etc.
Granted, one major purpose of the Charter Commission is to solicit the views of the community as to what, if anything, should replace the current decades-old city charter. But, given the air of crisis now pervading a city government at loggerheads with itself and under persistent challenge from the public, especially on ethics issues, the commissioners charged with coming up with solutions should be offering some themselves. Several of the commissioners are veterans of public service, and the newcomers on the commission all expressed interesting ideas when they were candidates. Now that the commission is up and functioning, it should be more than a collective complaint desk.
Part of the problem, as Brown explained, is a legal ruling that would seemingly prevent a referendum bearing the commission's recommendations from being voted on before the next "general election" in 2008. No vote this year, in other words, but in our opinion the commission should not allow itself to become so dilatory and relaxed that it loses momentum. Procrastination is the same kind of vice for public bodies as it is for private citizens. And we are reminded of that line in Hamlet's soliloquy which deals with the kind of detached contemplation that can, the Prince of Denmark reminds us, "lose the name of action."
Parallel to the start-up of the Charter Commission have been a series of public meetings conducted by the Shelby County Commission on the issue (or issues) of Juvenile Court. These, too, have been problematic but in a different way. They have tended to be occasions either for the sorts of undifferentiated citizen complaints (for reduction of child-support payments, for example) that the County Commission cannot itself service or forums for the pre-existing and largely political views of commission members as to whether a second Juvenile Court judgeship ought to be established.
In the latter instance, county commissioners tend to be "finding" evidence to substantiate their own side of the case.
Still and all, the county commissioners are getting valuable exposure to the real-world problems of people. For all our misgivings, we remain optimistic about both sets of public meetings and the actions that presumably will come of them. We'll keep you posted on the Charter Commission's meeting times and places, upcoming in March and April.