In the latest volley by some county commissioners in their holy war against Juvenile Court, there is another line of assault – a proposed policy to swear in every one who appears before the legislative body.
Frankly, we see nothing wrong with this – as long as commissioners do it too.
After all, they’re the ones whose opinions matter most to us, and we think it would be a political boon for them to send the message to the public that everything they say is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
It’s possible that the real purpose of this trial balloon was to attract media attention to the continuing dispute about the future of a second Juvenile Court judge, since there are more questions than answers about such a policy, a condition that regularly accompanies a proposal by volatile Commissioner Henri Brooks.
For example, if the board of commissioners has no power to compel someone to appear before the board of commissioners, how does it plan to make people appear to answer their questions in the first place? This doesn’t even seem to work in the nation’s capital, so it’s hard to see how the board of commissioners can pull it off.
It’s our bet that a new policy – already dubbed by top county staffers as the “Inquisition Resolution” – would result in the dumbing down of the whole legislative process, as the “gotcha” environment becomes official and makes the number of no-shows go up and the quality of the discussion go down.
Ducking Down In The Foxhole
In the world of county employees, political advantage is a primary motivator. We’d expect the hundreds of political appointees to simply stay out of the line of fire, delegating the responsibility for answering questions down to third-level Civil Service employees who can probably answer the basic question but will not be able to give any insight into the overall philosophy or justification.
We also wonder about elected officials. Would the commissioners required elected officials like the sheriff and the mayor to be sworn in as a new ritual of disrespect?
Finally, who’ll be put in charge of deciding what the truth is? After all, this is an environment – like those in most legislative bodies in all levels of government – where there is a waver-thin line between a falsehood and skillful manipulation of the facts.
Help Wanted: Solomon
Most likely, the commissioners will look to County Attorney Brian Kuhn to play the role of Solomon. However, because he is legal advisor to all of county government, what happens when one client – the commissioners – are battling with another client – in the administrative branch? Normally, the county attorney is “conflicted out” and an outside attorney – and his legal bills – are called in.
So, who would define what the truth is? Surely not the political body itself, because it conjures up images when the truth would be defined by a 7-6 vote.
If the commissioners really want to send a message about the importance of telling the truth at their meetings, we think they should go for broke.
They should hire one of the many retired FBI agents in Memphis and make this into a spectacle worthy of the Roman Circus: hook every one up, including the commissioners, to polygraph machines at every committee and full board of commissioners meeting.
The retired FBI agent will be scorekeeper. Anytime someone bends the truth or spins the facts, he’ll call a foul, and after five, the person is disqualified from the meeting and put in the penalty box for 30 days.
There could even be box scores – minutes present in the meeting, falsehoods per minute and number of disqualifications.
It would certainly solve a problem the commissioners have worried about for decades – how to get more people to attend their meetings.
It would be the hottest ticket in town.