Rodney King made these words famous -- "Can we all just get along?"
They were words spoken after the 1992 acquittal of Los Angeles police in his beating trial. He was pleading for an end to rioting sparked after the court's decision.
But, when people are mad, and they feel justified in being so, it's hard to reason with them. It's hard to reason with many people when they think -- in their heart of hearts -- that they are right, and that you are wrong.
That's what's happening in Snellville. It was displayed -- once again -- for everyone to see at Monday's council meeting. (Yea, Snellville!)
First of all, the meeting was late. It started an hour after it was supposed to. Lots of people were upset by that. Audible groans were easy to make out. Restless citizens shifted in their seats. A band of children -- with their coaches and parents -- to be honored for their soccer skills stood waiting and waiting. (Bedtime, anyone?)
The was holed up in their work session, no doubt going back and forth over some of the very same issues brought forth at the actual city council meeting. Afterward and before the council meeting started, we saw Councilmen Mike Sabbagh and Bobby Howard having what did not appear to be a jovial conversation. (Body language is hard to hide.)
Then the real fireworks began.
Out of Order
I'm not really sure how many times the mayor said "you are out of order," but she did for at least three of the agenda items. The one drawing the biggest gasp from the audience and head-shaking was when Councilman Tom Witts tried to appeal the decision of the mayor to not open a vote on the nominations made by the STAT board. (Our understanding -- based on STAT's bylaws and the city's charter-- is that the mayor decides appointments with the council's vote. There is no vote on the nominations.)
So, "out of order!" the mayor decided. Witts just kept talking and appealing, talking and appealing, talking and appealing. The mayor banged on her gavel numerous times, yelling "Councilman Witts you are out of order, you are out of order!" Then she said the words that shut him down and wowed the standing-room-only audience: "You can appeal all day long you want Councilman Witts, but you are out of order, and we are moving on to agenda item No. C."
(Reserving my "whooaaaa" comments.)
In all my years of reporting on government, I've never seen something like that. Not even when I was working in Blythewood, S.C., and the mayor decided kind of out of nowhere to fire the city manager at a council meeting. He didn't even see it coming. One second he was there, and the next second he was gone. (I've talked to him since then, and he is doing just fine not being the city manager and enjoying time with his grandchildren, but at that moment, several years ago, he was completely dumbfounded.)
Dumbfounded is probably how you could describe the audience after the entire meeting. Not only where council members literally arguing on the bench much of the time, but a critical decision to appoint members to seven other boards (excluding STAT) was stopped in its tracks. For some reason unknown to the rest of us, council members Dave Emanuel, Diane Krause, Tom Witts and Bobby Howard elected to vote against all of them. That leaves all the positions vacant. (Confused? Me, too.)
At one point, Sabbagh also defended himself against allegations that he may have violated city ethics rules in an appearance before the Marietta City Council. (Yes, an investigation will cost the city money.) Certain folks are pushing "really hard" for this, he said.
"This is a fantastic opportunity to let the sun shine in and show the real true colors of some of the city council members' intentions that are set forth," he said. "Absolutely, I have done nothing wrong."
Each of the council members went on to say in their final comments that they want to move Snellville forward and do what's best for the city. One of our favorite quotes came from Witts when he said, "This is Snellville, not Havana." (Havana, as in Havana, Cuba, where the Castro family reigns supreme in a dictatorship.)
By the time the end of the meeting came, I was surprised to see the audience still full of people. Normally, everyone has left by then. But, they wanted to have their say-so in the public comment time. And, so they did.
Rita Sabbagh got up and defended her husband, basically saying that the council's actions were shameful. She also defended the mayor to the chagrin of audience folks.
The Rev. Mike Garrett of felt the need to say something, too. (He thinks they need a mediator at the upcoming retreat. (We do not recommend that this could-be mediator bring boxing gloves.)
Dennis Lawton, a Board of Appeals member, implored the council to work out its differences or Snellville will not move forward like everyone keeps touting.
There were many more comments from others. But, we think Adrienne Britt Levesque stole the show. She's Don Britt's sister (president of STAT board), and their family runs the . She spent a good deal of time commending council working in a tough environment, and then she lit into the mayor.
"Mayor Kautz, I want you to know that there are many of us in Snellville and beyond who see your games. We recognize your spin, and we intend to hold you accountable for every misuse of power you attempt. You've come into your position with claims to take Snellville back, and we say, 'No thank you.' The old Snellville is not what we want."
(She had a few other, shall we say, choice words, and you all can listen to them later when the council airs the video.)
One city staffer told us, in regards to the mayor, that this was all a case of "be careful what you ask for because you just might get it."
The mayor seems to think that's just fine: "I'm here for four years, so this power struggle is not going to get rid of me."
So, you be the judge. Can we all just get along?