I know this is a long one, but this is what we’re up against.
When a confrontation happens, one of the things you have to consider is how much to share with others about the back and forth. Whom you have the exchange with will factor into that consideration, as will whether the confrontation was over a matter of public or private interest. In this case, the confrontation involved both an elected official and a matter of public interest.
So I choose to share the events that transpired this afternoon, after the State of City-County-Town Luncheon hosted by the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce and Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union because one of the parties is an elected official who serves at the pleasure of the voters, who serves their community, who should strive to seek collaborative solutions to every issue or problem, and who should never demean or belittle any of their constituents.
Many have read the letter to the editor published in the Johnson City Press on Thursday, April 25, 2018. There, I articulate the concerns I have with the Johnson City Commission’s support of the anti-homelessness ordinance and the conversation that transpired between Johnson City Mayor David Tomita and I in the parking lot after the meeting. Today, Mayor Tomita decided to respond.
I didn’t say anything to Mayor Tomita before the luncheon or ask any questions during the question and answer portion of the event because I didn’t believe it would help the cause by anything in that moment. The point had already been made.
After the event, Mayor Tomita found me and two other Democrats I was in attendance with waiting for the elevator. There wasn’t a line for the elevator and the stairs were available. We were actually one of the last attendees to leave the luncheon. My point here is that Mayor Tomita had options rather than confront us—taking the stairs, waiting for the next elevator, or simply riding the elevator either in silence or by simply stating that it had been a nice event. But none of that is what happened.
First, Mayor Tomita gave the other two Democrats hugs and then gave me a hug. It was a one armed hug on both of our parts. Clearly, it was awkward. We all stepped into the elevator—I stepped in first and David stepped in last. As the doors closed he stated that, “I guess we can’t disagree without respect anymore.” I knew he wanted me to say something, maybe an apology for my letter to the editor(?); but I said nothing.
One of the Democrats in the elevator took the opportunity to again ask him to table the proposed ordinance—the one that would fine the homeless population. He told her that wasn’t going to happen. As the elevator doors opened, she further suggested a taskforce to take on the initiative to find real solutions, because all of us understood what the business owners were saying. He told her he was one vote on the commission, but that his vote wasn’t changing.
At this point, we’d stopped by the doors that would exit to the outside, the four of us in conversation—Mayor Tomita stationed on one side and the three of us on the other. At this point, I said that the community wasn’t behind this ordinance. He said he didn’t care. I pointed out that all of the letters to the editor have been against the ordinance. He still said he didn’t care. I pointed out that there was a petition the community was signing, urging the Johnson City Commission not to pass this ordinance and he said he didn’t care. Then he told me that he’d already done me the courtesy of talking to me (referencing the discussion that happened after the April 19, 2018 Johnson City Commission meeting).
I’m not exactly sure why talking to a constituent is extending a courtesy?
I told him that members of the community had met with a member of the Johnson City Commission, presented ideas on how to move forward without this initiative, and it all still fell on deaf ears—both during the meeting where it was presented and while explaining that that had happened to Mayor Tomita.
Mayor Tomita characterized his comments on April 19, 2018 as being in reference to legal advice when the conversation we had had was on constitutionality of laws. He told me he would go to a doctor for medical advice and a lawyer for legal advice. Except, on April 19, 2018, he stated that the only person qualified to speak on the constitutionality of laws was a constitutional lawyer—which neither he nor the Attorney of Johnson City are.
At this point, I pointed out that we have been working with a national organization that does provide council regarding city, state, and national laws that are unconstitutional and that the proposed ordinance was identified as unconstitutional. I asked him if he was willing to waste the taxpayers of Johnson City’s money on defending an ordinance that was unconstitutional. He told me that was what the city attorney was for.
So I have to wonder, does Jim Epps, the attorney for Johnson City, have nothing else to do? If passed, and when this is challenged in court, would Jim Epps spend all his time coordinating the legal defense for the city? What happens to all of his other job responsibilities during this time? Will the city not have to hire another attorney?—which would cost taxpayers more money. This also doesn’t include the simple costs associated with going to court regarding depositions, outside counsel, etc.
I know that we aren’t lone individuals speaking out against the proposed city ordinance as I read these letters to the editor, have conversations around town, and watch the number of signers on the Change.org petition climb. (Thank you!) We are a community and we are linking arms to make positive change together. It’s unfortunate that our voices continually fall on deaf ears and closed minds with the Johnson City Commission and reprehensible that our city mayor would use tactics of bullying and gas lighting to demean and dismiss one of his constituents.
We need elected representatives who truly do practice open door policies. We need elected representatives who don’t bully or gas light their constituents. We need elected representatives to actually serve their communities and represent everyone. Together is the only way we will succeed.
We have an opportunity to do something great here; so I challenge all of us to do it together. Will you join me?
- Sign the petition.
- Share the petition with your friends and neighbors.
- Talk to your friends and neighbors about what is going on. Compassion and collaboration aren’t partisan.
- Continue helping out when and where you can; when and how you are called to serve.
- Run for office. We need compassionate people like you who care about their communities elected to office.
- Vote! Mark your calendars!: May 1, August 2, and November 6, 2018!
Two seats on the Johnson City Commission are open this November. Petitions can be picked up starting May 18, 2018.
Washington County Democratic Party