Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mayor Valley Vetos Council's Appointment of John A. Washington

December 17, 2008
Mrs. Sandra Ramsey, Clerk
P. O. Box 248
Helena-West Helena, AR 72342

Re:       Veto of Appointment of John Washington

Dear Madam Clerk:

I tender this veto of the appointment of Mr. John Washington. As required by law, I will set forth my reasons for this decision.

Prior to Mr. Eugene “Red” Johnson’s death, I spoke with him at his home. He informed me that he would not likely complete his term of office. It seemed as though he felt that his health might prevent him from continuing to serve. He described for me the kind of person he would like to see fill his seat. Mr. Johnson was adamant that none of his opponents be named to succeed him. I simply thought that Mr. Johnson might be considering resignation amid his term of office. However, in his sleep, he passed away on December 1, 2008, prior to his next term of office beginning.

Traditionally, the spouse is respected and asked if she would like to serve out the term where the law allows the same. I believe Mrs. Betty Jo Dial was allowed to succeed her husband, Tommy Dial on the West Helena City Council.

I spoke to Mrs. Ruth Norwood Johnson about this situation. She expressed that she wanted to participate by nominating someone with characteristics and beliefs similar to those held by her husband. She did name her daughter, Millicent, as Red Johnson’s successor. We should not disregard the will of the majority voters in Ward 4.  Those voters lawfully re-elected Eugene “Red” Johnson to the city council. When those voters chose Mr. Johnson, they chose his style, temperament, character, integrity and disposition. That means that they would not mind a person who shared those values replacing him.

I relayed this information to Mr. Hunt in a meeting in my office last week. Mr. Hunt and I discussed what had happened with the replacement of Mr. Robert “Bobby” Martin. Mr. Hunt said that he spoke to Mrs. Martin and she told him that she was not stating a preference on her husband’s replacement. We both found it interesting that we had both talked to her about the matter and not to each other and she handled us both the same way. Mr. Hunt also expressed his disappointment in the way Mr. Bobby Jones had used extreme profanity in talking down to Mr. Johnson while on the campaign trail. Mr. Jones allegedly told Mr. Red Johnson that Mr. Jones and Mr. Washington were going to beat Mr. Johnson’s [rear](in the election). Mr. Hunt said that he could not take it and walked away from that conversation.

Mr. Hunt then stated “if Mrs. Johnson has a preference, I will support her preference. I will do that for her.” Of course, I shared that conversation with Mrs. Johnson. Had I known that Mr. Hunt was not being truthful, I would never have shared those thoughts with the widow of Mr. Eugene Johnson.

I also spoke with Mr. Roy Reynolds. He expressed some reservations about “doing it this year.” He thought that it should be left for the “new council.” He and I discussed the matter. Our discussion included the fact that the council had disregarded Mrs. Trece Shepherd Williams’ recommendation to succeed Mr. Martin. Mr. Reynolds was not present for that meeting. He then pledged to follow Mr. Hunt’s lead.

Mrs. Johnson sent a letter to Mr. Tommy Hunt and to me outlining her desires. I received my letter on Monday, December 15, 2008 before lunch. I called Mr. Tommy Hunt after lunch and spoke with him by phone. He acknowledged that he had received the letter on Saturday. He had not spoken to Mrs. Johnson at the time of my call some two (2) days after receiving her letter. He also spoke of having cold like symptoms and his road trip the previous week. However, Mr. Hunt gave no indication that he had changed his mind regarding support of Mrs. Johnson’s nominee.
At the council meeting last night, Mr. Jesse V. Hollowell was in full bully mode. He was disrespectful of Mr. Eugene Johnson’s legacy. He disrespected Mr. Johnson’s wife. He disrespected Mr. Johnson’s daughter. He disrespected Mr. Johnson’s son Patrick.
Mrs. Ruth Johnson was speaking and Mr. Hollowell was yelling “call the question, call the question.” Mr. Hollowell did the same thing while Mr. Patrick Johnson was speaking. He yelled over and over “call the question.”
Mr. Hollowell knew, because he attended Mr. Johnson’s funeral, that Mr. Patrick Johnson is currently serving in Iraq in our U. S. Armed Forces. Mr. Patrick Johnson wore his military uniform to the funeral. Mr. Hollowell showed a lack of decorum for a widow and a currently serving veteran.
Mr. Hollowell disrespected Alderman Don Etherly by essentially telling Mr. Etherly that he had not been in the community long enough to make an appointment. Mr. Hollowell spoke of the way things were before “[Etherly] ever moved to this community.”

Mr. Hollowell was disrespectful to me and Mrs. Ruth Johnson by stating that she had been coerced into action. As I tried to explain a cultural item to him, he flew off the handle talking about bringing in the race issue. The fact of the matter is that in the African-American community young people do not coerce their elders. Mrs. Johnson is my elder. She and my mother are nearly the same age. She will always be my elder no matter how old I get. She is “Mrs. Johnson” and I am “James.” She has, out of respect for the office, addressed me by the title of this office “Mayor Valley” or “Mr. Mayor.” My point to Mr. Hollowell was that he was out of order in making a statement that had no factual basis. Because of his racial past, he took offense as if I were pointing to his racial past. I was not. It is not uncommon in the African-American community for children to grow up and never know the first names of their elders. We are taught to use Mr. and Mrs. and yes sir and no sir. My statement about Mrs. Johnson being an African-American woman was factual and culturally based and nothing more.

However, since race has been invoked, I must point out the fact that four (4) out of five (5) African-American council members thought that Mrs. Johnson’s nominee should be elected to the city council while four (4) out of four (4) white council members disagreed. Certainly, we are heading in a different direction now. I have received calls stating that someone is a “turncoat.”

There is an effort by this council to delay every action that must be taken until the new council is installed. This council certainly has the power to delay necessary business for another day. We are fully aware that new council people will be serving next year including Mr. Eddie Clark who is Mr. Bobby Jones and Mr. Joe Thelman’s brother; Mr. Bruce Hudson who is Mr. John A. Washington’s brother and Mr. Joey Grubbs, who is Mr. Hollowell’s cousin. These associations of themselves are not problematic.

I am fully aware of how Mr. Roy Reynolds and Bro. Kenneth Harman were essentially forced out by the vitriolic behind the scenes actions of a few people in this community. I know that we are heading for troubled times because of these efforts.

Mr. Hunt said last night that he had not shared his nominee with anyone. I do not believe that to be the truth. Mr. Hollowell kept egging Mr. Hunt to “make [his] nomination.” Mr. Hollowell knew something. Moreover, Judge Jesse “Rusty” Porter was waiting in the lobby with his judicial robe such that he could swear-in Mr. Washington. Judge Porter had received his communication to be at the meeting from Mr. Hollowell.

Mr. John Washington showed up for the meeting at about 5:30 p.m. His arrival was well before anyone else. About ten (10) minutes later his brother, Mr. Anthony Lewis, showed up telling me he was there to “support his brother.” Mr. Lewis entered through the back door of the Mayor’s office.

Mr. Washington had several family members in the audience in support of him. The people in the audience that taunted Mrs. Johnson and her daughter knew something was about to happen and that’s why they were there at the meeting.

Mr. John Washington is a friend of mine. I attend church regularly with his sister. He and my elder brothers grew up together and remain cordial to this day. Public service is an honor. Mr. Washington is being pulled into an honorable situation under a horrible cloud. He deserves better circumstances than these. The people of Ward 4 deserve better treatment too.

I have received numerous calls expressing disappointment in this process and the way Mrs. Johnson was treated. Clearly, this could have been avoided. Mr. Hunt could have simply stated his desires and all of this would have taken a different direction. Instead, Mr. Hunt has allowed himself to be pulled away, perhaps, from his own core beliefs. Common courtesy would have led a concerned husband, neighbor and fellow Christian to tell the Mrs. Johnson, I cannot support your request. She could have been disappointed at home rather than being publicly humiliated on at the meeting, on the radio, on the television and in the newspaper.

Acrimony has not been the tone of our council meetings. However, I see the play developing in the backfield. We, if this trend continues, are going to see some dastardly different changes being made and some hidden agendas revealed.

Carter G. Woodson wrote a book which was published in 1933. One of his most often quoted statements is this: “If you can control a man's thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do.” In 2008, Woodson’s words are very clear and our council’s actions were based upon thinking that is contrary to the best interest of our community. Woodson also said the man accustomed to going through the back door would make a new back door for his own convenience if there were no back door.  We had ushered backdoor politics out of city government.

In conclusion, Madam Clerk, this action in appointment of Mr. John Washington is contrary to the best interest of this community because it is the source of acrimony and it runs contrary to the progress that has been made by this community. We are about to see days similar to those in the old West Helena City Council meetings with Mr. Eddie Lee being replaced by his equal and opposite counterpart, Mr. Hollowell.


James F. Valley

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