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Confehr: Councilman responds to firebrand moniker

Friday, July 15, 2011

A city councilman says he's a bit disturbed about being labeled a firebrand in a column here. He suggests that consultation with a dictionary is in order.

Obviously, he's not a piece of burning wood, as the Second College Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary suggests in its first definition of firebrand.

"A person who stirs up trouble" is another definition. That might fit, given disagreements over cemetery decoration rules just before the city's election 75 days ago, especially if one agrees that democracy is messy.

The immediate past editor here wrote three years ago that democracy is messy. Nine rules were laid down on how the public might stand at the lectern in City Hall and address city councilmen on subjects over which the council has authority. The nature of the planet Mars is out of bounds for comments to the council, although there once was a Metro Nashville councilman who advocated changing the zoning ordinance to include UFO landing pads. That gained some national network news commentary.

Abandoning that digression, the Internet's ubiquitous free dictionaries seem to indicate that someone with a penchant for vigorous and aggressive speech, usually at a political forum, is a firebrand, although the well-known councilman isn't combative. Nor is he advocating revolt from a conservative approach to the city's financial security.

Quite the contrary. Strict adherence to standards of financial security is embraced by the most conservative of professionals in American life. Accountants abhor deviance from standard practices such as keeping work at the office.

However, that's virtually impossible in this day and age of computers and the Internet. Few of us are unaware of identity theft risks arising from someone taking home a public job's laptop.

A number of Lewisburg residents objected to having "two city managers" after one became a consultant for six months to help elected leaders before a successor was named. Those and others residents disagree with having "two treasurers" for up to two years.

Issues of trust, frugal operations, and awareness of the difference between business and municipal accounting are at the crux of the concern. There are major differences between commercial and municipal accounting. It's clear that a 4-1 majority of the council decided to trust the city's immediate-past treasurer to provide advice that's needed, instead of piecework that's required of the treasurer, one of only four City Hall jobs beholden only to the council. The others are the city recorder, the city attorney and the city manager.

A few final points:

* Firebrands can get things done. If everybody's saying the same thing, as the saying goes, only one person is doing the thinking.

* An alderman in another town was dubbed a firebrand. Within a week he had a set of business cards that listed him as firebrand.

* Returning to the digression: County commissioners voted to keep a rule that lets a majority of the panel prevent public comment. How many firebrands and/or potential candidates will that generate for the August 2014 election?

These views are the author's and not necessarily reflective of the Tribune's views.