Few words can adequately describe the horror that unfolded in City Council chambers tonight as Clarksville businessman Bo Ward, proprietor of Bo’s Barber Shop on Fort Campbell Boulevard, pulled out a handgun and shot himself to death before the council and approximately 50 other people.
The City Council councilors voted down Ward’s request for a zone change on his Madison Street property, a move that Ward felt would sink him financially. Last month the Council voted favorably on the first reading of the requested change, but apparently in further discussion shifted their decision out of Ward’s favor.
According to reports, Ward then pulled out a small silver gun and shot himself in the head as onlookers watched in shock.
In addressing the Council Ward said his business “would go under” without a favorable ruling, implying that his business and finances may have been overburdened. Ward then approached the council members and Mayor Johnny Piper after the vote, saying he “was done” [Leaf Chronicle 10/4/07] and implying that his business would become insolvent.
The Bo’s sign, his slogan “Bo Knows Hair,” and the log cabin style building that housed his shop were a familiar site to commuters making the daily run along Fort Campbell Boulevard. The shop is located near Tobacco Road. His $9 haircuts were a bit pricier than some, but satisfied customers were the heart of his business.
The specifics of Ward’s financial issues and what might have driven him to suicide were not yet known.
The police detained people for questioning and to review the eyewitness accounts of the event.
Unlike the city’s police station and courthouse, which have heavy security and metal detectors in place, the City Council Chambers does not have any such security measures, a situation which allowed Ward to carry a handgun into the building.
Bo – A Martyr for Small Business
Ronald “Bo” Ward, owner of Bo’s Barber Shop in Tennessee, shot and killed himself during a City Council meeting after members voted against his request to rezone his home as commercial. His business had served the community with honors and Bo was well respected and generous to his community. Our hearts and prayers go out to the family and friends he leaves behind.
Surely Bo was not the first person to feel the frustration of our land use ordinances. As a small business owner, I know how exasperating, confusing and railroading they can be as we fight to keep our luxury bed and breakfast from closure by our county’s land use laws. Land use zoning laws and ordinances should be about the overall protection and safety of the community they serve not about putting people out of business. Unfortunately, these laws are written for a general public favoring large residential, commercial and industrial development, without consideration for mom and pop businesses like Bo Ward’s.
When Planning and Zoning and local elected officials make decisions on land use issues for mom and pop small businesses and individuals they virtually take responsibility for the course of their lives. Running a small business is not easy. Most commit over 12 hours a day 5 to 7 days per week in it’s operation and management. They commit their life savings and personal assets and even mortgage their homes to finance their business. Balancing the accounts can be just as challenging as balancing family life, if not more so.
The roll of government workers as public servants and administrators is replaced by their actions as god, judge and jury, colored by favoritism and subjectivity. If there is a major controversy regarding a big development issue, the planners, staff and politicians along with the owners, developers, engineers, lobbyists and their attorneys get together and work out the compromises. Sometimes the project gets dropped because the compromises are economically unfeasible, as in not enough profit. But often times, things are worked out to a point that everyone gets what they need out of the project.
Mom and Pop small businesses are not afforded this luxury. First of all, they often don’t have the connections or political savvy. But most of all, they don’t have the financial resources that it takes to get to this “bargaining table”. Even if they did have the resources, navigating the political and bureaucratic channels is daunting.
Perhaps what we need is a system of seasoned citizens’ advocates placed directly in the zoning departments. Employed as a liaison, they could attempt to work out the detail of a project between the regulating departments and the small business owner, with a commitment for a win – win for all. We need to take the adversarial attitudes out of planning, zoning and land use and foster a mind-set of ‘for the people’, not against them.
We pray that Bo’s sacrifice was not in vain and that government boards, commissions and councils realize the consequences of their actions or inaction on the lives of people they have sworn to protect.
It has been more than 10 years since I left Ft. Campbell, but the memory of Bo’s Barber Shop has never left me. I have found few people in my life with the kindness and caring of Bo Ward. Like most, I was a regular there, sitting and watching old Johnny Carson videos in the waiting area sometimes for an hour just to get a cut. If there were times you were a little short on cash, Bo wouldn’t hesitate to give you a cut and a handshake and tell you to “pay me when you can”. It is tragic that a man so giving would end his life over a financial issue. My heart goes out to Bo and his family and will always be in my prayers. Bo was a patriot, a friend and a major part of the Clarksville community and should be both honored and never forgotten.
Please visit http://www.bosbarbershop.org
Please feel free to learn a little about Bo and possibly give a donation to Bo’s Family.