Editorial » Commentary

Dear Mr. Mayor, Please Define Interesting

By Guest Author| July 12, 2010, 4:15 p.m. Comment

Written by Bill Colrus.

According to a detailed piece by Cliff Hightower and Dave Flessner in Sundays Chattanooga Times Free Press, records show that City Attorney Mike McMahan might have to return hundreds of thousands of dollars of city money, risks losing his job for 10 years and faces prosecution for fraud after a state comptrollers report said he violated state law.

While Councilwoman Deborah Scott last week said the report is “concerning,” McMahan has angrily denied any wrongdoing, and City Councilman Peter Murphy, also an attorney, dismissed the findings, saying, “There has to be intent for something to be criminal.” Murphy told the Times Free Press that law offices have various ways of billing and that the city attorneys billing practices fell within those parameters.

Taking it up a notch, Mayor Ron Littlefield lambasted the state comptrollers office, saying no one from the office ever contacted anyone from the city, and that the supposedly illegal arrangements have been going on for 45 years.

Were essentially beating a dead horse,” Mayor Littlefield told the paper. Its not like this was anything new or interesting.

While the mayor has a point that this practice is nothing new, this story is far from uninteresting. As Chadwick W. Jackson, staff attorney for the state comptrollers office, wrote in a letter to City Auditor Stan Sewell, I am of the opinion that a reasonable jury would find it implausible that the citys own attorney, who was siphoning off hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to his own private firm, did so ignorantly and without knowledge of and intent to benefit his own finances and the business interests of his private law firm.

Jackson told the Times Free Press that he has forwarded his findings to Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox for review. Jackson said McMahan should face criminal prosecution for fraud. Cox said his office is looking over the comptrollers recommendations for prosecution.

If this story does, indeed, turn out to be a dead horse, McMahan will be rightfully vindicated. If there is any truth to Jacksons opinion, however, this story will turn out to be, at the very least, not only interesting, but likely infuriating to taxpayers. As it should be. In the meantime, any claim by the mayor that this story is uninteresting is an insult to the city’s collective intelligence.

According to Mayor Littlefield, the arrangement has been corrected. McMahan and his staff have moved into the city annex building and are now being paid fully as city employees. He told the paper that the report comes at the end of a practice that went on for nearly a half century and that he stopped it.

No good deed goes unpunished, he said.

While I appreciate his quick action regarding this matter, using the term “good deed” might be a bit premature. We’ll see how it shakes out.

More Adventures in Wording 

Blame it on EAC!”

This is the curiously worded headline of a current print ad for the city of Chattanooga’s Department of Education, Arts and Culture. The ad continues:

“Dont blame us when you wake up and realize you could have been connecting the dots all along! At EAC we CREATE things, we CONNECT things, we COMMUNICATE things, and we just make things BETTER!

The weird, combative wording of this ad makes me scratch my head. Is this ad angry? Is it picking a fight? It is trying to prove a point? I’m confused.

During these tough economic times, when each and every penny of the city’s budget is being scrutinized, you would think that city departments would be paying a little extra attention to the message they’re sending out to the community — especially EAC, a department largely deemed non-essential by the community even during good economic times.

One has to wonder how much of the more than $2 million EAC receives annually from the city budget could be better used by, say, the Chattanooga Police Department to “connect the dots” on the mounting number of crimes they’re trying to solve — or, better yet, to put more officers on the street to help prevent some of these crimes in the first place.

I think we can all agree that less crime would “make things better,” too.

Media Moves

In case you missed it, former WGOW personality Jay The Jammer Scott is the latest host to fill the revolving door that has been the 4 to 7 p.m. weekday slot on WPLZ. Scott, who has been off the air since being let go from WGOW in 2004 after multiple DUI arrests, said in a press release that the show will focus on holding public officials accountable, present all sides to any story, and offer insight beyond the sound bytes and other short-form media reports. Scott brings with him an established audience and hit the ground running during his first few days back on their air with interviews with the likes of Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam, Mayor Littlefield, Councilman Manny Rico, and County Commissioner Fred Skillern, and a swearing in by Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon. The move has also increased public speculation that recently sacked Live and Local host Robert T. Nash may also join the WPLZ ranks once his non-compete agreement expires with WGOW.

Speaking of WGOW, the ”Morning Press” crew held a dead-on discussion Tuesday on the over-the-top political pandering found in the current crop of candidate TV ads. Click here to listen.

Congratulations to WRCBs Cindy Sexton, who recently celebrated her 25th year at the station, and to WTVCs John Madewell, who was named the stations “Associate of the Quarter. While Im not quite sure exactly what Associate of the Quarter means, rumor has it John was rewarded with an extra vacation day and the stations best parking space.

The Great Flintstone Pee Pee Pool Panic of 2010

If this billboard at the corner of Tennessee and 37th in St. Elmo is any indication, the people of Flintstone are having quite the problem persuading people to keep the “p” out of their “ools.” Thankfully, ACE Hardware of Flintstone has evidently come to the rescue with its arsenal of chemicals and staff of snorkeling dogs. Also, as the placement of his sign implies, legendary outside-the-box thinker and perennial Tennessee political candidate Basil Marceaux is currently (and not surprisingly) actively seeking the support of these frustrated Georgia voters.

Bill Colrus is an easily distracted raker of muck, who is talking only to himself most of the time. He also enjoys swimming. You can give him what for at billcolrus.com or billcolrus@gmail.com.

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