Every year, a few words become so popular that they enter the dictionary.
Last year, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary added such words/phrases as “f-bomb,” “sexting,” “bucket list” and “aha moment.”
Of course, some words and phrases that have been around for as long as anyone can remember emerge so often that they become annoying. “At the end of the day,” you’re pretty sick of them.
In local politics, the most abused word of all has to be “transparency,” a word so badly mangled that you wonder if those who use it have any idea of its meaning.
The root of “transparency” is “transparent” and Miriam-Webster has two definitions for it. The first definition is quite literal: It applies something that can be seen through. The second definition of transparent is “free from pretense or deceit, readily understood, or something characterized by the accessibility of information, especially concerning business practices.”
So when our civic leaders tout the virtues of “transparency,” they clearly do not have the second definition in mind.
In both Columbus and Starkville, the word has been used much and practiced not at all.
The absurdity of that abuse manifested itself most comically in the Columbus City Council’s June 18 meeting, when Lavonne Harris of the local NAACP chapter appealed to the council to hold the Columbus Municipal School District accountable for its “lack of transparency” in failing to announce the reason for its decision to fire superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell.
The NAACP just couldn’t figure out what reason the board would have to fire Liddell, aside from the well-documented cases that showed Liddell used district funds and personnel to throw a private party, that she did outside work in violation of her contract or that she spent roughly a third of the school year on a personal “Look At Me!” tour while her district was mired in academic quicksand.
Of course, complaining to the council about the CMSD board’s lack of transparency is like complaining to the fox about the dog chasing the chickens.
The council bemoaned the lack of transparency and demanded something be done. Then, three of the five council members present proceeded with a back-door move to give themselves a $4,000 raise.
At its next meeting, the council rescinded the pay raise, mainly because Kabir “Moot Point” Karriem suddenly discovered that many of the residents in his ward were “walking the streets, looking for jobs and employment.” Only Whisperin’ Joe Mickens stuck to his “Show Me the Money” position, as the council voted 5-1 to rescind the raise.
Whatever good feeling that engendered was quickly erased when the board sneaked in an item to the agenda for a new position, something called a project manager. The board voted 4-2 to create the position and hire local firm J5 Broaddus for the position without any discussion or opening the position to other bids. The council approved it without even asking what the position would pay. That J5 Broaddus is operated by Mayor Robert Smith’s campaign manager, Jabari Edwards and Edward’s wife, Jewel.
The only thing transparent about the whole sordid business is that it is a clear case of political patronage.
Now, the mayor and council will meet with J5 Broaddus to discuss how much money that patronage is going to cost the city in fees. Those negotiations, of course, will not be held publicly. You can’t take that transparency stuff too far, you know.
Starkville leaders are not sitting idly by as Columbus redefines the word “transparency.”
At its July 2 meeting, the Board of Aldermen voted 5-2 to fire its imminently capable chief administrative officer, Lynn Spruill, for reasons the board wouldn’t even discuss in executive sessions. That’s right: The board isn’t even transparent behind close doors. How bad is that?
Board members who voted to remove Spruill from her position were too spineless to justify the firing. Two new additions to the board, David Little and Lisa Wynn, would not respond to questions about why they voted to fire someone with whom they had never worked with, a person whose performance had previously been praised by the board. Wynn, of course, votes the way Ward 6 alderman Roy A. Perkins votes. We don’t expect that to change.
Little, however, is far more troubling. He arrived on the board with at least some semblance of credibility. It took him precisely one meeting to dispense with that.
Little, like his fellow aldermen and those councilmen in Columbus, are transparent by the first definition.
We can, indeed, see through them.
If you are content to let them get away with it, remain silent. Don’t call your councilman or alderman. And, please, don’t attend the next meeting demanding open and honest government.
Just sit idly by and watch your city collapse into despotism.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.