Giving Process its Due

Shelby County Commission
Shelby County Commission
The crazy clown car show that has become the Shelby County Commission rolls on…but at least it may hold off until after the fourth.

Of course, the troubles are well known. Now at least two members of the Commission are under scrutiny for not living in their districts: Henri Brooks and Justin Ford.

Oh to be a fly on the wall at MLGW this week. I suspect they got a lot of $175 deposits from area politicians who have made a home outside of the area they represent.

But my purpose is not to throw out allegations, or anything of the sort (I’m not nearly the attention whore that some are…ala Thaddeus Matthews), but rather to mock the maker of the original accusation, the target of the accusation, the so called “conclusive” investigation, and the County Commission for making a mockery of itself.

Terry Roland Loves Checkers

Its too bad for Terry Roland, we live in a chess world. The guy plays checkers pretty well. I’m sure he has all the strategies to get that last checker cornered in such a way that he can go in for the kill.

But Roland hasn’t been as successful in the real world of politics where chess reigns. Sure, he’s garnered a lot of media attention, but most of it, in the end is just the fruitless flailing of a guy who quite frankly is more about attention than effectiveness.

Terry set off this chain of events, and in one way I’m glad, because this has been known a problem for some time, though not necessarily in this instance (that remains to be seen). But in another way, like checkers vs. chess, he forgot that the queen can “move” anywhere on the “board”, and the absence of a queen in one place doesn’t mean the queen isn’t still on the board.

Marcy Ingram and Mishandled Investigation

In the letter to Commission Chairman James Harvey, Ingram provides evidence that Brooks does not live at the location listed on her disclosures, and offers one eyewitness account that she frequently visits her daughter and grandchildren in Cordova (which is what grandparents do, by the way) and may have established MLGW service at that Cordova address (which is also something a parent might do if their child is in financial distress).

Unfortunately, Ingram does not establish anything other than the fact that Brooks does not live at the address on Crump, which is problematic. There are literally thousands of other addresses in District 2 that Brooks could live at. Merely proving she no longer lives at one of them does not prove she doesn’t live at another.

In fact, the lack of evidence establishing that Brooks lives outside District 2 (rather than just not at the Crump address) means that Ingram’s conclusion that Brooks lives outside the district is a huge leap in logic, not to mention other things.

In essence, Ingram sets up a “guilty until proven innocent” scenario in her letter…a flaw that Brooks was ready to exploit.

Defining Residency

I wasn’t at the County Commission meeting on Wednesday, but coverage from the event show Brooks sitting next to Walter Bailey looking like the cat that ate the canary. And despite her counsel getting the address wrong, Brooks did exactly what you would expect her to do in the face of a faulty report by the County Attorney…she offered up another address in District 2 as her residence.

The media guffawed at the new assertion, while failing…as I did initially, to note that Ingram’s report only established where Brooks does not live…rather than affirmative proof that she DOES indeed live outside the district.

Because Ingram never affirmatively proved where Brooks lives, she also hasn’t proved that Brooks doesn’t live in District 2.

Henri Brooks the too willing martyr

All of this could have been avoided if Henri Brooks had only provided the address on Mississippi to the County Attorney. But Brooks seems to relish being in the limelight this way.

Indeed she’s built her career on “standing up for her constituents” by launching invective at both friend and foe, while seeking to highlight an issue. Its unfortunate that she chooses this tactic, because it has made her one of the most disliked and ineffective members of the County Commission during her time in office.

Brooks doesn’t seem to understand that in order to be effective, you can’t shit on everyone around you and then claim moral superiority in the same breath. Her unwillingness to cooperate with the County Attorney’s investigation is just one example of the arrogance she demonstrates on a regular basis to the detriment of both her self, “her constituents”, and the County Commission as a body.

Indeed, she did set off an unnecessary shit show as Memphis Flyer editor Bruce VanWyngarden put it.

Yes, I still hold that she should prove her residency and end this foolishness.

But this is classic Brooks being Brooks as this CA profile put it. I’m not sure why anyone would expect anything different.

Doing Due Process

Now that there’s another Commissioner whose residency is in question, the County Commission should put in place a process by which they may remove a member who has violated the residency requirement set forth in both State Law and the County Charter.

I tend to agree with this editorial at the CA, the lack of a defined process, and the legal tests that must be met to “prove” someone to be in violation of the law, means that future efforts to enforce the residency requirement will indeed be met with both resistance, and dragged out to the point that they are moot (which is what will most likely happen in the Brooks case).

Residency questions should fall to a body outside the County Commission itself, to remove the appearance of playing politics. Perhaps the County Ethics Committee should be the one to investigate such claims, or the District Attorney (though neither necessarily mean the claims themselves, nor the investigations would be devoid of politics at its worst).

Regardless, there needs to be a real process in place rather than what is happening now, which is a half-assed attempt at best.

Failing to do something of this sort almost ensures another “shit show” such as this one…which is something the public shouldn’t have to endure again.

Conclusion

Lets give credit where credit is due…this whole misadventure getting to this point (and the future if the Ford question comes up) is the direct result of an elected official believing they don’t have a duty prove they meet the qualifications of service.

This belief is founded on something more akin to divine right rather than representative democracy, and has no place in our government on any level.

Scrutiny is the check that should help give us faith in our government. This may have been lost somewhat in an era of scrutiny for sport, which has dominated the past several years, but that doesn’t make elected officials any more immune from answering to the public, even when the question is stupid or politically motivated.

It speaks volumes about the individuals who believe they don’t have a duty to answer to such scrutiny. It says they don’t understand the fundamental nature of their relationship with the public.

It says a lot about a person who would rather allow a fight to escalate unnecessarily than choose to bat it down before it matures into a crisis. This kind of self-absorbed lack of care is all too present in our current political climate…at all levels of government.

But while Brooks’ character flaws (both real and perceived) may make it easy to dismiss her, dislike her, or hold any number of ill wishes on her political future…the simple fact remains that this process is as flawed as the witch trial in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail…which is at least as bad for our republic as Brooks’ irrational behavior, and many other completely preventable incidents she’s been a party to.

You don’t have to like her. You don’t have to support her. But until the County Attorney can prove where she lives and that her address is actually outside of District 2, the conclusion that she’s in violation of any State or County statute is not based on the fact that she doesn’t live in her district…only evidence that she doesn’t live where she previously said she does.

While the standard offered by Ingram may seem on its face to prove something, it doesn’t rise to the standard of proving a violation. Until the County Attorney can provide hard evidence that proves guilt (by proving where Brooks lives and that it is outside the district) rather than lack of innocence (which what Ingram has proved thus far), this whole charade is nothing more than a distraction initiated as a political ploy, continued by a hasty determination, fueled by a bullheaded and self-absorbed elected official, and fanned by an all too compliant and complacent media.

14 thoughts

  1. It’s not up to the County Attorney to prove that Brooks lives in the district. Like any employee, Brooks filed a residency form where she claims to live and the investigation revealed that she does not live there. At any point in the last three years, Brooks could have updated her residency which is what employees are required to do. She did not. As a result, the investigation–which she declined to be a part of it–concluded what it did. The burden is on Brooks to show where she lives–not where she might spend a night or two or end up being a floater in her own district. She has to establish residency, which is done in a number of ways. But this isn’t a distraction anymore. It’s a matter of state law and the Commission is wise to deal with it as soon as possible.

    1. No Richard.

      In no kind of legal forum is it the defendant’s role to prove their innocence…at least not in the United States. It is always the claimant’s role (prosecutor/accuser whether civil or criminal proceedings) to prove the defendant’s guilt, and give the defendant the opportunity to both cross examine witnesses, and offer evidence to the contrary (unless the defendant pursues an affirmative defense, which is not the case).

      What happened here is an administrative investigation with no due process, no cross, no established process, and no legal precedent to back it up. The offer for Brooks to participate, is not an offer any defendant in their right mind would accept.

      Yes, Brooks’ actions are ridiculous, there’s no question about that. But the way this has happened follows no legal precedent that I’m aware of…outside of a kangaroo court.

      Further, this is not merely a employee/employer situation. Brooks was elected, not appointed, not hired. To seek to “fire” an elected official without the benefit of proof that they don’t live in the district (which has as of yet not been achieved), nor the benefit of any established legal process is setting up a dangerous precedent.

      Brooks’ bullheadedness doesn’t help her in the court of public opinion…but this isn’t about public opinion. This is about a violation of the law…which as of yet has not been established. All that has been established is that she does not live in the House on Crump.

      1. I agree with Richard. The burden was and still is on Henri to assert her residency in the district, provide a qualifying address, and prove it if necessary. It has been proven that she does not live at the address she stated. Therefore she has made a false statement which may itself be a crime, and is disqualified from holding that office and subject to removal.

  2. Also, one more thing, Brooks can offer up as many addresses as she would like. The fact remains that none of them appear on the residency form that she’s required to file with the county. And even more, she still have to provide evidence that whatever address is her primary address. Thanks.

  3. “Yes, I still hold that she should prove her residency and end this foolishness.”

    Yes. I;m not sure why the burden is on anyone else to prove she doesn’t live in her district. It’s a requirement of office that she live in the district. Isn’t it a legal requirement that she be truthful about her residency? And hasn’t it been proven that she doesn’t live at the address she claimed on the forms?

    I’m wondering what address she put on the form when she filed to run for office in the upcoming election. I’m wondering where she votes.

    I’ll be glad when they decide on a process to handle this issue.

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