City Watch

We Could Use a Little Mayor Bob About Now

By Kevin Fisher
Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Where have you gone, former Mayor Bob? A city turns its troubled eyes to you, woo, woo, woo. What’s that you say, Cola Citizen? Gentle Bob has left and gone away, hey, hey, hey …hey, hey, hey.

First, my apologies to Simon and Garfunkel. And also to Mayor Bob, if he’s offended. I hope not, because it’s meant as a compliment.

Indeed, we could use a little Mayor Bob about now. Can you imagine him fighting with council members in public? With concerned citizens? With anyone?
Of course not. As I wrote about Bob upon his retirement: “Coble was eminently approachable as mayor, making each person feel worthy in their opinions and welcome to share them.”

While I disagreed mightily with him on a wide range of policy and management decisions (or the lack thereof), I always liked the way Bob conducted himself both personally and in his role as the city’s elected leader. Council followed suit, as the mayor sets the tone. And therein lies a lesson that Steve Benjamin needs to learn.

Perhaps he has. He did issue his “Let Us Choose Civility” op-ed piece, and though it was a bit bizarre (“there is a battle between two wolves raging inside all of us”), I’ll give him credit for taking the initiative. But the fable-based, rhetoric-laced, consultant-faced nature of the column came across more as posturing than peacemaking.

Moreover, nowhere in that statement was there any acknowledgement of him having contributed to the problem, much less any apology for having done so. The whole thing had kind of a junior-high feel to it. As does City Council.

Whether its members are fighting publicly with the mayor, with each other or with concerned citizens, the lack of decorum at council meetings falls well short of the distinguished environment of the newly restored Council chambers. If nothing else, they should live up to the room.

Their failure to do so brings to mind another slightly modified verse of “Mrs. Robinson”:

Sitting at a meeting on a Tuesday afternoon / listen to the Council folks debate. Laugh about it, shout about it, when you’ve got to choose / every way you look at it, you lose.

An increasing number of citizens seem to feel that way, regardless of who they supported for mayor or Council seats. While some may favor any given issue and some oppose it, I think they all want a more professional environment when it comes to politicians making public policy.

And again, Benjamin must lead the way. There is only one mayor, and he should act like it. In fact, he should act like it even when his colleagues on Council or citizens on the opposite side of an issue are making life tough for him politically.

Failure to take the high road will lead to failure on policy initiatives. Indeed, I think Benjamin’s combative personal style was a major factor in the landslide defeat of the strong mayor proposal. Voters — even many who supported him for mayor — just didn’t feel comfortable giving him more power.

But while I favor decorum and civility, none of this should be taken to mean I don’t think Mayor Benjamin, members of Council or concerned citizens should not make their points, rally their troops and fight to win. I try to do that in this column every week, and urge everyone else to do the same. Healthy debate leads to wise decisions. Just fight fair, and keep it down in there.

But if Benjamin and Council fail to straighten up and fly right, here’s another modified verse of the song to comfort us in our time of need:

And here’s to you Cola Citizen, Jesus loves you more than you will know, whoa, whoa, whoa. God bless you please, Cola Citizen, heaven holds a place for those who pray, hey, hey, hey … hey, hey, hey. 

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics. Let us know what you think: Email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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