Navy debate, ad nauseam

Published 4:38 pm Friday, April 15, 2011

Watching Franklin Mayor Jim Councill’s persistence on bringing Navy pilot training to the city’s airport, we’re reminded of an old country song: “What Part of ‘No’ Don’t You Understand?”

Five of the mayor’s City Council colleagues said emphatically in February, after months of due diligence, that the prospective Navy partnership was wrong for Franklin. Two weeks later, after hearing emotional appeals from citizens on both sides of the issue, the council reaffirmed its opposition. The Navy moved on. Even the mayor himself said it was over.

It’s not. The mayor has brought it up again.

Beating a dead horse is the mayor’s prerogative, but citizens on both sides of the issue should insist that he do it openly.

If Councill is hell-bent on bringing Navy turboprop planes to the city, he needs to look citizens in the eye at the next council meeting and say so.

If Ward 2 City Councilman Benny Burgess is waffling on his February vote to end discussions with the Navy, he needs to look citizens in the eye and say so.

It would be a popular position with many in the city who see the Navy partnership as positive and were disappointed with the council’s February vote.

But for the many citizens who oppose the Navy’s presence in Franklin, Councill, Burgess and Councilwoman Mary Hilliard further damaged their trust with Monday’s back-door, secretive attempt to revive discussions of the project.

Fortunately, Councilmen Barry Cheatham, Greg McLemore and Don Blythe had the courage and competence to stop the closed-door discussion before it happened. The three cast “no” votes on Burgess’ motion to add a Navy discussion to the agenda.

Burgess didn’t disclose before or after the meeting the reason for his motion, instead reading from a prepared script about discussion of a “contract.” It’s the same legally questionable cover that the council has used since last fall to skirt Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act and justify back-room dealings on the potential Navy partnership. No contract exists or has ever come close to existing.

Does the council’s lack of transparency on this issue know no bounds? Citizens will find out in a couple of weeks when Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson, who was absent Monday night, returns to her seat and will likely be called on to cast the tiebreaking vote on whether to revive this divisive debate.

Regardless of her position, we hope she will stand firmly for openness.