At the end of their rope

Published 11:11 am Saturday, March 16, 2013

There’s an old adage that if you give someone enough rope to play with, they’ll typically wind up hanging themselves with it. For someone who desperately craves publicity and will stir any pot they can, it’s usually only a matter of time before that happens. Not in the literal sense, of course, but in such a way that their constant attempts to create controversy causes their opinion to become marginalized to the point that no one pays attention to them anymore.

I’m reminded of this as the saga over rising utility bills in Franklin continues to unfold.

I’m neither an electrician nor a heating and air specialist, so I’m not really qualified to render an official opinion on why someone’s heating bill would go up during the winter months. But common sense tells me that if it’s colder in the winter, it’s probably going to cost me more to keep my house warm. I’m also pretty sure that if I felt my bill had gone up more than it normally should just because it’s cold outside, I’d have someone check out my heating system to make sure it was working properly. If that checked out, I’d then investigate to make sure my insulation was up to par. After that, I’d get in touch with the utility company that provides my electricity to see if there was some sort of irregularity with the meter reading. I feel confident that, after taking those steps, I’d have been able to determine the cause of the problem.

But if not, it’s unlikely I would ever assume that the electric company was arbitrarily charging me a higher rate just because of the part of town I live in or the color of my skin.

Yet that is the charge that has been levied by Thomas Councill, a frequent contributor to this newspaper and someone who fancies himself a spokesman for the residents of Franklin’s south side.

In fairness, Mr. Councill is not the only one who has suggested foul play. Among those who live on the south side that have been vocal in their concern over rising utility bills, others have made the same suggestion that the city is intentionally charging south side residents a higher rate for their electricity.

But Mr. Councill, who speaks out on almost every issue that riles him, has managed to inject race into almost every discussion. From him, it has become an expected, and unfortunate, response on almost every issue. Mr. Councill’s two most recent columns submitted to The Tidewater News (“Something needs done to help Franklin’s poor,” Feb. 15, 2013, and “So little spent on youth in Franklin,” Jan. 23, 2013) have attacked Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn and Councilwoman Mary Hilliard not for their actions as elected officials, but for their actions as elected black women. Mr. Councill has also stated recently, specifically as it relates to the utility bill issue, that blacks on the south side feel they are being charged higher rates than their white neighbors on the north side.

It’s a charge that is not only ridiculous, but also completely unproductive.

Should residents be concerned if their utility bills are rising at an alarming rate? Absolutely. But a strong community leader would first help lead his neighbors through a thorough investigative process, before either accusing the city of discriminating based on race or questioning elected leaders’ efforts because of their race.

Continuing to perpetuate what could be a narrower racial divide does nothing to move the community forward. And it certainly does not advance the cause of the city’s residents he claims to represent. In a city working hard to move forward, this type of attitude only serves to hold it back.

Back to that old adage, it’s unclear at this point how much rope Mr. Councill has left. But for those in Franklin tired of the racial politics of the past, many have reached the end of theirs.

TONY CLARK is the associate publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at