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A Look Back: A community teetering on the edge

 

Clarksville, TN

As the city faces ongoing questions related to its Title VI compliance status, it’s worth reflecting on observations noted in a Leaf Chronicle editorial (5/17/06) in the aftermath of the city’s ADA lawsuit settlement. Is it still just ‘the Clarksville Way’ to needlessly waste taxpayer dollars?

Kudo’s to the Leaf Chronicle editorial staff for their editorial acknowledging the need to bring the City into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A second round of Kudo’s to the three members of the ‘Wheel Me On’ group who brought the lawsuit in the first place.

This excerpt from the Leaf Chronicle seems to acknowledge, for the first time, that we have a community problem:

“All of this is eerily similar to the City’s approach to the minority rights [issues] in the police department where ongoing claims of racial discrimination by black officers have led to millions of dollars lost in judgments against the City in Federal Courts.”

“ It’s time to change this mindset about oversight of civil rights. For when the Federal Court has it’s say, you do it right, or pay. And too frequently, that [the latter] is the Clarksville way.”

But does it have to be?

Part of our dilemma is that the whole community doesn’t see the full problem, so they fail “to connect the dots,” as it were. The powers that be, which includes the media, keep treating each situation as an isolated case. Thus it was refreshing to see the editorial group talking about “changing the mindset about Civil Rights.”

You see, it’s not just the ADA, but also Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 and all other federal nondiscrimination laws that must be addressed. City and County leaders will continue to needlessly waste your tax dollars until they follow federal law to the letter and adopt enforceable policies and procedures that leave no leave no room for doubt. The results of such actions will speak for themselves.

This will not happen as long as our city’s leadership maintains its current avoidance mindset. It had taken three years and a court decision to get them to begin to act right on the ADA issue, and that isn’t finalized yet. The Community may not have the same luxury of time in the Title VI issues because fraud charges have been brought regarding the use and expenditure of public assistance dollars. Unlike a civil rights complaint, it is likely only a matter of time before GAO and OMB money.jpg auditors and inspectors are here, and those folks go by the letter of the law. When they shut off the money, it is not easily restored the next day. The taxpayers could see a major disruption of services, a loss of jobs, loss of revenues; businesses doing business with the City and County could themselves be audited. It doesn’t have to be this way. However, as the Leaf Chronicle editors noted, “too frequently, it’s the Clarksville way.”

Let’s connect a few more dots for those who have taken the time to read this far. To their credit, The All State, the student newspaper at Austin Peay State University wrote a headline story titled “Civil lawsuits sweep through APSU (2/22/07),” which said six discrimination lawsuits had been filed since December 2004. Although none have gone to court [as of this writing] , it shows that we do have a serious problem of community racial disconnect. What will the settlement of those lawsuits cost the community? Not just in monetary awards, but lost prestige, image and appeal?

But the issues that could do the most damage concern the fraud charges involving expenditures and use of public money to rebuild the city after the tornado, build schools, improve Dover Road and other highway projects. It has to do with other transportation projects as well, and before it’s over, the Industrial Park and hospital projects could be affected. When charges of fraud are leveled, the highest officials in government– bureaucrats and elected– must investigate, because we are talking about an accounting of the taxpayer dollar.

There’s an old saying that goes “ the Wheels of Justice turn exceedingly slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.” Again, as the editors noted, the Community will pay, but only because leadership is not sincere in compliance with federal civil rights law! Here again, “It’s the Clarksville Way!” Or, is it, finally, time for that to change?


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