How do you solve a problem like Councilman McLemore?

Published 12:07 pm Saturday, April 13, 2013

When I was young, one of my favorite movies was “The Sound of Music.” My great-grandmother had been on a trip overseas a few years before I was born and actually witnessed them filming part of the movie. I always thought that was pretty cool, and so as a kid whenever the movie came on TV we would watch it. For those that haven’t seen it, the movie is based on a true story about an aspiring young nun named Maria who takes a job as governess to several children whose mother has died and whose father is a captain in the Austrian army during Hitler’s rise to power. The children can sing and dance, and their musical act helps them escape Austria as Hitler is preparing to invade his European neighbors.

In the movie, there’s a particular scene where the nuns at her convent are lamenting what to do with Maria, who’s free spirit and headstrong ways often cause her to run afoul of the convent’s rules. The movie is a musical, so of course the nuns break out into an impromptu song called “How do you solve a problem like Maria.”

This week, I watched a video recording of Monday night’s Franklin City Council meeting. I watched it a couple of times, in fact. And whenever I came to the citizen’s time portion of the meeting, I sat in pure amazement at what I was witnessing. City councilman Greg McLemore’ histrionics and grandstanding are nothing new to observers of city council. Rarely has his behavior led to productive debate regarding city business or had a positive outcome for the constituents he claims to represent. And, generally speaking, his oftentimes ridiculous outbursts and flagrant ignorance regarding the rules of decorum rarely serve to do anything but make a spectacle of himself and frustrate and embarrass his council colleagues.

This time, however, McLemore’s behavior sank to a level below even his own low standards.

As the director of the Western Tidewater Free Clinic, Texie Camp Marks, was called to the podium to give a presentation on the clinic’s request for city funding, McLemore interrupted her, saying she was not a city resident and had no right to speak during citizen’s time. As Ms. Marks stood in disbelief, Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn asked the councilman to refrain from commenting per council rules. Of course, he only became more agitated. When the mayor reminded him that Ms. Marks had every right to speak having signed up to be on the agenda, McLemore essentially flailed around in his chair and told the mayor she was going to do whatever she wanted anyway. Ms. Marks and Ms. Johnson-Ashburn somehow maintained their composure, and Ms. Marks finished her presentation. Mr. McLemore stormed out of the meeting.

As I have replayed this incident over and over in my mind this week, I came to the realization that if Franklin city council meetings were to be conducted as a musical, I could imagine council members breaking into song and singing, “How do you solve a problem like Councilman McLemore?”

Former mayor Jim Councill, who is nothing if not a gentleman, was widely and unfairly criticized during and after his last term in office for failing to run an orderly council meeting and for his perceived inability to control McLemore’s outbursts. And for the first several months of Johnson-Ashburn’s time at the helm of city council meetings she has been largely credited for returning orderliness to meetings that had become circuslike and for keeping McLemore’s behavior under control. But she probably didn’t deserve so much credit any more than Councill deserved criticism, because as anyone who watched this last meeting can attest to, it is incredibly difficult to run a productive council meeting when one individual is hell-bent on creating a disturbance.

One is only left to wonder what in the world Councilman McLemore thinks he is accomplishing by not only making a fool of himself and embarrassing his fellow council members, but by humiliating a respected individual who had every right in the world to rise and address members of council. His behavior does nothing to help city council execute its business at hand. It continues to cast Franklin in a bad light to outside observers. And I hope by now the constituents of his ward have come to realize that the foolishness prevents him from being able to effectively represent their best interests.

So how do you solve a problem like Councilman McLemore? Well, since he managed to kill the city charter amendment that would have allowed city residents to remove him from office in a recall vote, it will have to be solved when his council seat next comes up for reelection.

In the meantime, one can only hope that after he apologizes to those he embarrassed in his most recent outburst, he decides to conduct himself in a way befitting of not only a member of city council, but civilized society as well.

I, for one, won’t be holding my breath.

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