Sounds of Silence in Memphis 

We should be thankful that some in city government had the courage to take action for Memphis’ future.

As the band Pink Floyd once sang, "Hello, is there anybody out there?"

click to enlarge les_smith_mugshot.jpg

You know who you are. You're that Memphis Midtown woman diligently working on her flower garden, just so you can make your home and the neighborhood look a little brighter. You're that father of four children in Orange Mound who doesn't know anything about a Facebook page and doesn't want to, because you just like to keep your business and opinions to yourself. You're that husband and wife who've decided to make the decision to forego that much-needed paint job for the house for another year, because your daughter needs those braces for a smile that will one day dazzle a special young man.

You don't call radio talk shows. You don't email Memphis city councilmen. You've never been to 201 Poplar and don't even know exactly where City Hall is downtown. When you were younger, you might have marched in protest for equal rights or picketed outside a lunch counter, because you thought it was important then to have your voice heard. But now, because you think it doesn't matter anymore to other people what you think about the direction our city is taking, you've become a member of what former President Richard Nixon deemed the "silent majority."

Congratulations! As taxpayers, at least those not employed by the city, your silence in the past tumultuous week has reached deafening proportions.

It's not like you weren't aware of the crisis that led up to it: The impending need to deal with closing a $1 billion deficit in the city budget and the state's mandate to fix the shortfall in health-care and retirement benefits for thousands of city employees has been in the news for months. Responsible members of the City Council have been agonizing for weeks over the astounding numbers involved in trying to close the deficit.

On the other hand, the governmental body's "usual suspects" took the occasion of this crisis to shamelessly grandstand in front of employee unions by accusing Mayor A C Wharton's administration of putting them in a position of being forced to do the "dirty work" of voting on the lone proposal on the table. As usual, their protests came without any alternative ideas of their own.

I received an email from one such councilperson, who told me I didn't understand how she was constricted by the constitutional separation between the executive branch and the legislative arm from putting forth her own solutions. Obviously, she's never listened to Shea Flinn, Jim Strickland, Harold Collins, Edmund Ford Jr., or Lee Harris, who've come up with creative proposals for all sorts of issues.

Which brings me to Mayor Wharton, who has taken the brunt of the outrage leveled at him by angry city employees and retirees. First, there is nothing in this man's track record of public service to this community that warrants the vitriolic attacks against his character and his devotion to trying to carve out a viable future for Memphis, a city with a large impoverished and low-income population. It's unfair to label or portray Mayor Wharton as a "coward" because he didn't face down the angry mob mentality that permeated last week's council meeting. It would have only given the aforementioned usual suspects an opportunity to selfishly divert important debate on a vital issue affecting all Memphians.

This is the same man, who on the night he was elected as the first black Shelby County mayor, had a bottle thrown through an upstairs window at his home; the same man who was the target of a racist doll with a noose around its neck, placed inside a fire station by a disgruntled white city employee. He later met face to face with that man and talked over their differences.

Yes, in my first column in this space, I was critical of the mayor, but it was never personal. And it will never be personal, if and when I do it again. There are so few people of character in government; why do so many want to go after them for making the tough decisions? And why are so many so enduringly tolerant of the miscreants, the liars, and those who think they're entitled to special treatment because they hold public office?

So, my message to you in the "silent majority" is that, compliments of some courageous and painful actions on the part of the mayor and seven city council members, your city's problems were realistically addressed. For now. But, unless you opt to speak out, we might not dodge the same bullet again.

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