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Demolishing credibility

A CAREER IN JOURNALISM has taught me that one of the unmistakable signs an enterprise is failing—be it a store, a restaurant, or a government—is when it openly complains about the media.

Blaming the media is the sound of panic.

Last week, Alderman Van Johnson, who is generally thought to be interested in a future mayoral run, went on record along with some other City Council members in accusing the local media of sensationalizing the string of 24 shootings in as many days.

Johnson’s a sharp guy and no newbie to local politics, or to local media for that matter. I know that he knows the shootings are newsworthy and the media is obliged to report on them.

I chalk up his reaction less to incompetence than to something approaching fear —a rational response when your political aspirations appear suddenly cloudy due to an average of one shooting a day happening on your watch, with no new ideas in sight.

When a downward spiral begins, all news is bad news and only adds to the flush down the toilet.

For example: In less controversial times, the City’s proposed purchase of what seems to be the deliberately neglected property on Waters Avenue owned by the family of State Sen. Lester Jackson might be just another minor political peccadillo.

(FYI: Sen. Jackson is no relation to Mayor Edna Jackson.)

In the context of the City’s flailing response to the crime issue, however, it becomes something more: Further proof, if you’re looking for it, that City leadership has lost its moorings and is out of touch with its constituency.

It’s not improper for an elected official to have an ownership stake in private property. It’s not unusual for a municipality to purchase private property for a public purpose.

But the proposed purchase of the Jackson parcel now establishes a pattern of the City seeming to prefer to purchase the property of politically well-connected people for its “community development” goals, as we’re assured is also the goal on Waters Avenue in the event of a Council-approved purchase.

For some, the fact that the Jackson property was a known public safety hazard before the City stepped in—with a demolition which the City says will be charged back to the owners, whether or not taxpayers buy the property—is the red flag.

Why did it take six years for this “deal” between Jackson and the City to come close to fruition, when there were safety issues?

And would you or I be cut the same amount of slack—not to mention taxpayer money—for letting our building contribute to the urban blight our politicians say they’re trying to alleviate?

For others however, the real red flag comes by following the money. According to the Chatham County Board of Assessors property card for 1101 Waters Ave., the property jumped in value from $35,200 in 2012 to a very unrealistic $55,500 in 2013.

$55,500 for a dilapidated property boarded up, falling apart, and needing to be demolished—as indeed happened last week, as we see in these photos by Jon Waits.

Is that why the deal can be made now?

I realize other variables can affect property values differently from neighborhood to neighborhood. I realize that this particular appraiser is well-respected. I realize the recession is lifting. And I realize that under scrutiny the City is unlikely to actually pay fifty grand for the property.

However, I’m also familiar with property values in nearby similar-to-marginally-better neighborhoods north of Victory Drive, and many don’t approach $55,500. And unlike 1101 Waters Ave.—which the Jacksons bought in 1990 for $17,500—those houses are habitable.

I don’t pretend to know all the backstory.But I do know that this bulldozer tore down something in addition to an old building.

As events spiral out of control, threatening the credibility of our elected and appointed officials, it gets harder and harder to give them the benefit of the doubt they might otherwise deserve.