Toward the end of Monday's meeting of the Shelby County Commission, the venerable Walter Bailey read aloud the text of a letter he had dispatched to his fellow commissioners. Bailey referred obliquely to conduct by an unnamed colleague which had "ignominiously" earned public attention and demonstrated "questionable judgment" that "reflected adversely on the rest of us as public servants." He concluded, "[W]hen such action reflects on us negatively, it becomes our responsibility to at least express disapproval, otherwise it could be mistaken as the norm."
Give Commissioner Terry Roland, the outspoken Republican from Millington, his props. "Ditto," he responded, which under the circumstances was king-sized chutzpah, inasmuch as everyone in the auditorium presumably knew that Bailey was referring to Roland himself, who most recently had been fingered by Democratic colleague Steve Mulroy after an incident in the commission library.
On that occasion Roland had either challenged Mulroy, a frequent commission adversary, to a fistfight or made a joke about the two of them putting on a celebrity boxing match, or something in between. (The two commissioners disagree on just what happened.) On top of a mounting history of what even Roland might concede have been over-the-top outbursts on his part, Bailey came to feel that a rebuke of some sort, however cloaked in anonymity, was called for.
Coincidentally, the commissioner's reading of his prepared statement had closely followed another incident with untoward proportions. This came in the form of a statement from the audience by one Richard Fields — the same Richard Fields who, a few seasons back, loudly protested his innocence of a charge of blackmail levied against him by the then Memphis mayor, Willie Herenton. Fields claimed then to have been smeared by unconscionable hearsay. As if unaware of the irony involved, he then launched a wide-ranging assault on several individuals, including county attorney Kelly Rayne, by way of commenting on a current scandal in Chancery Court involving an employee's apparent theft of public funds.
In rapid sequence, Fields made an unelaborated accusation that Rayne, who has issued at least an arguably comprehensive report on the Chancery situation, was "incompetent," made unsourced allegations of oral sex performed by employees on Chancery officials, told Commissioner James Harvey, who was commenting on the Chancery situation, that he had no right to speak, and was finally gaveled into silence by commission chairman Sidney Chism, who must have wondered if a full moon had somehow risen in broad daylight.
Under the circumstances, a succeeding statement of some importance by Commissioner Mike Ritz — that he intended to file ethics complaints against various Chancery Court personnel, including clerk Dewun Settle — came off as mild and almost anti-climactic by comparison.
It isn't just on the premises of the Shelby County Commission that circus-like behavior has come into vogue. Public venues everywhere are increasingly subjected to various forms of freak-show theater. Under the circumstances, Commissioner Bailey's complaint is well taken, and the liberal use of the gavel by presiding officials may be the last recourse available this side of first responders.