Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Nashville's Sign Gate and Truthiness


(Disclaimer: This story is best read while drinking wine that comes in a box or your own homemade shine.)
(Disclaimer 2: If you chose to drink while reading this post, you may be drunk at the end of this post.)

On a rainy Tuesday, October 27, 2009, News Channel 4 aired a report about a stolen political sign that left many thunderstruck and speculating how political folks can be so brazen and demeaning. But whenever we are dealing with the main stream media, it is essential that we Fact check the news. A story that seemed cut and dried, or in this case, wet and soggy, failed to include pertinent facts. Instead, it opened a floodgate of questions concerning the actual events in this “she said, she said” saga that should have drowned in the Cumberland River.

I was half listening to the news when I heard the promo for a story dealing with a stolen political sign. Hearing Delois Wilkinson’s name mentioned; I was intrigued immediately. Mrs. Wilkinson was a customer of Holmes Pest Control for many years. An old school, grass roots mobilizer like my grandfather, I knew of Mrs. Delois Jackson Wilkinson’s legendary civil rights activism even though I grew up in Mississippi. After I moved to Tennessee, I spoke of her often to Daddy. She was known as “Miss Civil Rights” in social circles, but I called her the original Diva of Nashville Politics. Mrs. Wilkinson was the first perfectionist I ever worked for and her building, the famed Onyx Room, was her pride and joy. HPC had the pest control and janitorial contract. Working for her was hum-bee-ling but she taught us the rules of engaging a customer with an impeccable eye to detail. She reminded me often that she was the client and my job was to make her happy. Her matter-of-fact, candor is missing in today’s era, where sensational political punditry passes for truth-telling. I am grateful for the business and history lessons I learned from her.

Waiting to hear the WSMV segment, I was expecting a story about Mrs. Wilkerson’s work in helping organize the March on Washington or her famous remark, “Johnny does not teach himself” but Dennis Ferrier was reporting about a disagreement over a political sign involving Kathleen Wilkinson, Mrs. Delois Wilkinson oldest daughter, and Karen Johnson, Metro school board member who is a candidate for Juvenile Court Clerk. This story seemed to have all the intrigue of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bauchman at a wrestling match and you know how I love talking about political antics, rogue politicians and the media that reports “truthiness”. Keeping up with Tennessee’s politics will drive one to drink. The following is from www.WSMV.com which brought this story to our attention. Kathleen Wilkinson is on camera with Dennis Ferrier on News 4:
The incident involves a high-profile political race and a well-known woman running for office.
Karen Johnson is a Metro school board member who is running for the office of juvenile court clerk. Recently she placed a campaign sign in the front lawn of the Onyx House, a notable building in the Germantown of north Nashville.
The building is owned by Kathleen Wilkinson, and she was shocked to see the sign in the yard of the house. Wilkinson said Johnson never received approval to place the sign on her property.
Wilkinson said she does not support Johnson because she is one of the school board members who voted for the recent school rezoning. Wilkinson said her mother, Delois Jackson Wilkinson, was a former school board member who spent her life fighting for desegregation.
"Mrs. Johnson wants me to go against my mother's legacy," said Kathleen Wilkinson.
So, she called Johnson and asked her to take her sign off of her property.
"She cursed me out (and said,) 'I'm going to put your blank, blank, blank in jail, and you don't know who you are messing with,'" said Wilkinson.
So, Wilkinson removed the sign herself, since it was on her property. Johnson then filed a criminal theft report with Metro police.
"She wanted to have me arrested because I removed a sign from a building that my mother left me," said Wilkinson.
Wilkinson said Friday night that two Metro detectives knocked on her door investigating the theft of the Johnson sign.
Police said on Tuesday they have dismissed the report and will no longer investigate the case.
Johnson said she received approval from the property manager to place the sign outside the Onyx House. She said her focus is "to run a campaign in an honorable, lawful and respectful way as I will continue to do until the election.

Police reports, cussing , sign espionage, threats, trespassing, evoking the name of the dead, conduct bordering on insanity…this is not rouge politics, this is reality TV foolishness. By the way, don’t you love it when the media renames Jefferson Street to Germantown depending on what story they are telling? If this story was about a murder at the same location, the media would have said they were standing on Jefferson Street.

I contacted both women to get additional information. Ms. Johnson was not interviewed and as there are always two sides to every story, inquiring minds wanted to know how this incident escalated to Sign Gate. Ms. Wilkinson and Ms. Johnson returned my calls and sent statements. I spent the rest of the week sorting through the details of this hastily reported piece.

Before reading any further, you should pour yourself a drink. This is Tennessee ugly, no other way to call it. I have no pests to kill in this fight, but this story just sounded too crazy to pass up and crazy stories keep me blogging.

Kathleen Wilkinson said she was made aware of Karen Johnson’s sign on her property so she went to see for herself. She was deeply outraged because no one was given permission from her directly and she believes that Karen Johnson’s political point of view contradicts her mother’s life work for equality in education. Ms. Wilkinson stated that her mother helped shatter the glass ceiling for women in politics in Nashville. Out of respect to her mother’s legacy, she should have been contacted directly. Also according to Ms. Wilkinson, Ms. Johnson became belligerent on the phone when she contacted her to remove her campaign sign that was offensive to her and illegally placed. On WSMV, Ms. Wilkinson said that after contacting Ms. Johnson by phone she was told, “I am going to put your blank, blank, blank in jail.”(In Mississippi, we say the actual cuss words. I love Tennessee politics.)

Ms. Wilkinson filed a police report after speaking with Ms. Johnson. The police report states that “Kathleen wanted documentation that they exchanged words.” What was exactly said was not stated in the report filed on October 19, 2009. On Friday, October 23, 2009 two metro detectives knocked at the former Belmont area home of Delois Wilkinson looking for the political sign. Wth?

Two metro detectives, not bike cops, are out looking for a political sign. At what rate of pay are taxpayers supporting a hunt for political signs? Nashville crime rates have skyrocketed in the last year but detectives are looking for a sign? When I went to Central Precinct to ask questions, I was told by Metro’s finest that they were doing their job by following up on the sign. When I pulled out Ms. Wilkinson’s police report, the police were unaware that more than one police report had been filed. Metro thought the case was closed. Hang on, this is one crazy story.

According to Ms. Johnson, she was not being malicious. Her only intent was to find out about her sign. Ms. Johnson stated that she got permission to put the sign on the property from Julius Herbst, the property manager for the building. She stated that she did not personally place the sign, but was assisted by Bill Hampton, another employee of Onyx Room. A few days later, Ms Johnson was in the area and noticed the sign missing. She went into German Town Cleaners asking about her sign. The workers advised her to contact Historic Germantown Nashville Neighborhood Association list serve to find out if anyone in the area might have seen the sign. Seeing painters next door in a vacant office, Ms. Johnson asked the painters if they had seen or heard anything about her missing political sign.

The painter informed her that a short dark skinned black woman with short hair knocked on the door on and claimed she was one of the owners of the building and took the sign. The painter said, “Ms. Johnson became alarmed wondering if it was her political opponent, Councilwoman Vivian Wilhoite, who took the sign and showed me a picture to make sure it was not her.” (Damn, that is too funny! Go ahead and refill your glass now.) Upset, Ms. Johnson sought advice from a friend at Metro Police. She was informed that she may want to file a police report and to declare the value of the sign, $85.00. Ms. Johnson’s police report states the incident took place on Oct 16, 2009. Ms. Johnson relayed the information to Julius Herberst who said he knew the person and would testify against them if this case went to court. Ms. Johnson was unaware that he was referring to Ms. Wilkinson, one of the property owners. (Wait, doesn’t Julius work for the Wilkinsons?) Unbeknownst to Ms. Johnson her sign was getting ready for its big media debut via WSMV on October 27. Ms. Johnson’s statement to the Tennessee Tribune and Genmaspeaks.Com:
I had no problem coming to remove the sign off the property, but I did not know that anyone wanted the sign removed. It was not until after the detectives started probing to get information after my complaint that Ms. Wilkinson made contact regarding the sign. The sign had already been removed and was at her house. I received no call prior to my complaint to remove the sign. If I had been contacted before the removal and before my complaint, this would have alerted me to the fact there was a problem with the sign. I would have removed it instead of her knocking on the window of the business and removing the sign herself. No one knew she had the sign until after the complaint was filed. There is not one sign in this county that I have put down that I have not gotten permission to do so. November 1, 2009.

I am missing my grandfather tremendously as I am writing this story. He would be on the floor laughing, while trying to keep his teeth in his mouth. Anyway, the following passages are from Ms. Johnson’s blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The signage which I placed on the property of the Onyx Room located at address 624 Jefferson Street was permitted by Julius Herbst, the property manager and a supporter of my campaign. I was never contacted by Ms. Kathleen Wilkinson until after a report with authorities was filed because she was identified as the person who vandalized and stole my property and currently has a trespassing waiver issued against her from the co-owners of the property. After Ms. Wilkinson was contacted by the authorities who were attempting to recover the sign, she then called me. Her tone was very rude, brash and nasty; therefore, I saw no reason to continue the conversation. My focus is to run a campaign in an honorable, lawful and respectful way as I will continue to do until the election. www.facebook.com/karenyjohnson http://karenyjohnson.blogspot.com/2009/10/karen-johnson-issues-statement.html Oct 27th 2009


Ms. Johnson also sent a mass email to members of Historic Germantown Nashville Neighborhood Association about the missing sign which was posted like other neighborhood crime reports. Oct 20th, 2009:
This is Juvenile Court Clerk candidate Karen Johnson. I had permission to place a campaign sign on the property where GermanTown Cleaners and the Onyx Room sits. CC who is painting a vacated room in the building was painting inside on Friday evening. A short dark skinned black woman with short hair knocked on the door and claimed she talked to the owners and was told she could take my sign down.
Everyone on the property was aware that I had permission to place the sign. Please be on the lookout for anyone removing my signs. Please call me directly should someone tamper or try to remove my signs.
Karen Y. Johnson

On Twitter, there was some criticism about the mass email that was sent out and here are some of the exchanges:
kimu@micchiato Johnson also had hgn send out a mass email on this last week. Her tone in the email was really unpleasant & off put 6:14 AM Oct 28th
kimu@micchiato I have no clue who she even is, but it wasn't a pleasant way to be introduced.

Ms. Johnson responded to her twitter criticism on Twitter.com/karenyjohnson
karenyjohnson@micchiato I shared information on the listserv and it was pleasant and a plea for help. At the time no one knew who took the sign.

(Hat tip to @micchiato)
Are you keeping track? What a mess! I don’t know if I should laugh, cry, or refill my glass. Are you wondering how the police got involved? Ms. Johnson believed she had permission to put her sign up because the property manager told her she could. Ms. Johnson believed her sign was stolen and/or destroyed by someone playing a political prank so she filed a police report. Ms. Wilkinson believed the verbal threats which she attributed to Ms. Johnson. Ms. Wilkinson believed her mother’s legacy was mocked so she filed a police report.

When I met with the officer whose name was given to me by all parties involved, he believed this was much ado about nothing. The sign was taken off the property by one of the owners; the sign was retrieved by the candidate to whom the sign belonged after Metro was contacted. I asked him if the sign was damaged, he said, “No.” He was surprised that this story made the news because by the time the story aired he had already closed the case. I asked about the dueling police reports which as I stated early he was unaware existed until I showed them to him. Police reports are issued as a “matter of record” to provide a paper trail. He noted that Ms. Johnson was upset about her sign, but she got it back. Ms. Wilkinson delivered the sign to the detective at Metro Central Precinct and offered to pay for any damages. The officer said a pole was missing but it was returned also. I asked about the trespassing waiver that Ms. Johnson referenced on her Facebook page against Ms. Wilkinson. Three separate police officers explained that a trespassing waiver could not be issued against an individual and most businesses have them to keep homeless people off their property after hours. As for verbal exchange, let’s not play insane; I am sure a few choice words were said between the two women at some point.

This narrative is making Michelle Bauchman seem warm and fuzzy. Y’all are different in Tennessee that’s for sure. In Mississippi, if we don’t like you and you put a sign on our property, we put your sign in the trash! But we are country folks so what do we know about not showing out in public. This should have ended this saga, right? Wrong. Enter the media, new and old. Refill you glass and keep reading.

While Ms. Wilkinson told her side of the story on Channel 4, Ms. Johnson channeled Palin and took to her social networking sites to share her version of events. I am a lover of new media so I get it. I asked Ms. Johnson why she was not interviewed on camera for this story. Ms. Johnson was at work when Dennis Ferrier called her and she does not conduct Metro school business when she is at work. Ms. Johnson responded by the second airing of the story featuring Ms. Wilkinson. She sent a statement to News Channel 4 but only the last sentence was read. Ms. Johnson felt WSMV rushed this story without examining all the facts. (Please tell me the media would never do such a thing!) To be totally transparent, the publisher of the Tennessee Tribune is Ms. Johnson’s play mother and mentor. I am not. The publisher, who is also the founder of Greater Nashville Black Chamber of Commerce, was not notified of the stolen sign until I contacted her. I asked about businesses in the area being alerted and she was not aware of the list serve email. Ms. Johnson stated that the sign was returned damaged; the officer’s and Ms. Wilkinson’s claimed that it was not.

What the hell is the story really about; a property manager’s duties, bad communication between owners of a property and it's employees, a missing sign not showing up on Google earth? After speaking to Ms. Wilkinson, Mr. Wilkinson, Ms. Johnson, the property manager, several metro officers, the painter, the baker and the candle stick maker, I question how much time was invested in researching this story by the media when it was originally aired. What made this story appealing to run with half the facts is the ever presence elephant in the room: Ms. Johnson voting for the rezoning of Metro school district. Some folks in the African American community, especially those that can remember attending raggedy schools that were not equal, have not forgotten that vote and the emotions that surface whenever this matter is broached were played upon in the reporting of this story. For people of color, the media should not be allowed to use those passionate feelings about the Civil Rights era to pit one against the other over and over again. No one wins, especially the community of color. It waters down the meaning of the struggle and set the community back further. Mrs. Delois Wilkinson and my grandfather did not fight tooth and nail until they took their last breath for folks to go backwards. Sign Gate, the missing political sign debacle; comes with the territory of running for office.

As for the sign being on the property, Ms. Delois Jackson Wilkinson, the business woman that I worked for and respected, said to me, “money is green.” The Onyx room is rented most weekends to reputable party goers for wedding receptions, birthday parties, fraternity events and even political figures. You got the money; you sign the security deposit, the building is yours until your time or money runs out. As crowded as this race has become for Juvenile Court Clerk, I don’t think she would have run the risk of offending any potential client whether they are a Democrat or Republican, from Alaska or Tennessee. In this economic climate, she would not have placed a political sign prominently on the front lawn of her beloved Onyx Room. (The focus is on business and not the politics.)She said often, “Business is business sweetheart, don’t take my criticism personally.” When I was asked once by a promising young man who was seeking office to drive around with signs on my trucks, I had to quickly decline. Not that I did not support him, not that I did not think he was a good candidate, but my client base was heavily supporting his opponent. I had to break it down economically to him. His people only paid $45.00 a month for pest control and I had to call him to get that. I serviced nine homes on Chickering Lane that paid $45.00 for their dog houses. Nothing personal, business is business and political signs can cost you business. I gave to him financially, but I did not put his signs on my truck.

Now, you know the rest of the story(or least as much as I could write without it being 5,000 plus words). I will be very “Presidential” and offer both women to have a glass of wine with me, my treat of course! I do not plan to solve any issues between them; I just would like a glass of wine. (Twitter hash tag #nashvillewinesummit09)

Recap of what we have learned:
1. Channel 4 did a mucky job reporting this story. Check
2. Channel 4 should have sent the reporter who follows Vic Lineweaver to funerals to investigate Sign Gate. Check
3. Ms. Johnson had permission to put the sign on 624 Jefferson Street by the property manager. Check
4. Ms. Wilkinson did not give her approval to put the sign out and is not voting for Ms. Johnson. Check
5. Ms. Wilkinson has rogue employees who make decisions without her. Check
6. Vic Lineweaver attends funerals of people he does not know. Shameful
7. Councilwoman Vivian Wilhoite did not look like the woman who took the sign. Check.
8. Holmes Pest Control treats dog houses. Check
9. We should all be drunk by now. Check
10. Mrs. Wilkinson fought to make Nashville a better place for all. Thank God!

1 comment :

RiPPa said...

Good lord! Was it that serious?!!

So serious she had to call the police?? C'mon people, we gotta do better than this. I didn't know Nashville politicians were anything like our local people here in Memphis.