Good read on a dark day in Knox County

For those of you who think of the past as a window into explaining the ways of the current day, take time to check out Betty Bean’s MP piece on the March 22, 1993 County Commission meeting in which they voted to have U.S. Reps and Senators to vote against an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that would protect on the basis of sexual orientation.

We live in a city and county with rules against such discrimination in hiring practices, so that kind of conversation seems almost of a different era. But a couple key players in the city today spoke on the issue. Including your mayor.

Here’s Mayor Madeline Rogero asking (defending the rights, even) what of the people who want to speak (skip to 3 minutes in), but through the means of defining procedure, rather than raising opposition:

… the video also shows the passion of the moment, also the confusion that it led to after three hours of debate.

I’m going to lift this from Bean’s article, which also shows a background look into how Rogero attempts to circle the wagons and gain consensus. By all observations, I can see the fundamentals of her politickin’ style from back then in some of her actions today (which, yes, they touched on over at the blab – calling it “political calculus”):

Madeline Rogero, who began her political career by serving two terms on Knox County Commission from 1990-1998, remembers being jolted out of bed one February morning in 1993 by some alarming news.

“One morning I woke up and the news came on the radio that the Blount County Commission had passed a resolution opposed to adding sexual orientation to the 1964 Civil Rights Act,” she says. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness. Next it will be on our agenda.’ And I predicted who would bring it—someone from the 9th District.”

– snip –

The first thing Rogero did after she got wind of the resolution was to call Jim Richards, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church (a Christian church that ministers to the gay community) to sound the alarm.

“I told him, ‘You guys need to know what’s coming down the pike,’” Rogero says.

The late winter of ’93 brought historically bad weather to East Tennessee, but Rogero, Richards, and others formed an informal task force that met and strategized throughout March (Commission meets the fourth week of the month). She gave them a primer on how the County Commission process works, and when they started researching the issue, they learned that similar resolutions were being introduced all over the country.

She decided that when it came time to vote, she wouldn’t.

“I certainly didn’t want this to pass, but I also didn’t want it to become a big fight in the community,” Rogero says. “We started considering ways to defeat this resolution and how we could avoid the gay bashing that would come out of a heated confrontation. I knew it was going to be difficult to get a no vote, so my strategy was to try to limit the opportunity to grandstand, because this would open the door to all the other wedge issues that politicians use to ingratiate themselves—issues we don’t have any control over in Knox County.

“My strategy was to try to get other commissioners to pass. We needed to focus on schools, roads, neighborhoods, and jobs, and I started reaching out to like-minded people. I hoped it would give some commissioners a way out.”

A mayor has much more political leverage and capital to get things done, but this is classic community organization and grassroots influence for a system. She pulls the people together to get the objective targeted and completed. Rogero also knows when a Quixotic challenge lay ahead. More on that later.

See Rogero at 45 seconds in – “It is regrettable that it is before the county commission …” She instead focuses on the local issues, those that the county influences directly (roads, schools, etc.). “Different levels of government have different levels of responsiblity …” And then the chair asks her to speed up. She is steadfast, continues to define what is actually occurring, procedure-wise, during and up to the vote.:

… From my end, knowing one’s limitations is an avenue to power, as it allows you recognize and to play to your strengths. Rogero would rather focus on that which can be influenced.

Skip to 7:20 if you want to see what then-commissioner Mike Ragsdale had to say. Interesting to note how the chairman treats Ragsdale differently from Rogero when it comes time to be cut off (which is to say, much nicer).

Looking these days as the one in charge of running meetings, Rogero does a decent job of keeping the floor open. You don’t see her rushing people along very often. Even through those epic, two-hour-long meetings. That is, she doesn’t politicize by lilmiting a person’s ability to speak in the public forum.

Speaking of city stuff, here’s the city’s neighborhoods coordinator, David Massey, opposing the ordinance during public comment:

More videos here.

Nice work, Betty Bean.


About Gerald

A journalist in Knoxville, TN. Work (mostly) inside and play (mostly) outside. I'm a part of the X or the Y generation. None of us claim the other.
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