Mr. Mayor, perception is bigger than us all

Posted 6/13/18

Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland’s guest “Viewpoint” published in last Sunday’s edition of this newspaper served as a reminder of what we already know: Tennessee’s longest-serving mayor loves …

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Mr. Mayor, perception is bigger than us all


Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland’s guest “Viewpoint” published in last Sunday’s edition of this newspaper served as a reminder of what we already know: Tennessee’s longest-serving mayor loves our community and he is a staunch believer in the ability of State Rep. Kevin Brooks to lead it.

While the Cleveland Daily Banner was happy to give our city’s leader this Opinion page placement in order to contest a prior editorial we published about the mayoral race, we are concerned he missed our point.

Although the mayor believes we were critical of his endorsement of Brooks to become his City Hall successor, that was not our intent. Our message was a plea for him not to get directly — or indirectly — involved, and to remember public perception in his approach to his close friend’s candidacy.

Certainly, Rowland has the right to endorse whomever he chooses. And he did. But it was how he did it that disturbs us.

We are reminded of the familiar adage, “It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it.” The same principal holds just as true with a similar thought: “It’s not what you do. It’s how you do it.”

When Rowland and Brooks hosted a joint press conference in early January, it carried this three-pronged message: One, Rowland announced he would end a 27-year tenure as Cleveland mayor by not seeking re-election; two, in stepping down as mayor, Rowland endorsed the candidacy of Brooks; and three, Brooks announced he would not seek re-election to the Tennessee Legislature and would instead seek to become Cleveland’s next mayor.

Since that ceremony held at the Museum Center at Five Points, words like “coronation” and “anointing” have been tossed about in our community in conversation and in print to describe the event’s tone. Our newspaper has been among those to use them.

Here’s why: In our opinion, public perception saw the event as a handing over of the gavel. And it’s not just us saying it. It is others.

It has been said that hindsight is 20/20. In this case, we believe that to be true. In order to avoid the perception of collaboration between the existing mayor and the mayoral candidate, it would have been wiser for Rowland to announce his decision not to seek re-election in one announcement, for Brooks to announce his decision to seek the mayoral post in a separate event, and for Rowland to endorse Brooks’ candidacy in a third announcement.

Following such protocol would have been more time-consuming, but it might have helped to avoid any air of suspicion.

In two editorials — dated Jan. 10 and June 3 — we have tried to make this point. We have also cautioned it appears the mayor is getting too personally involved in the two-man race between Brooks and retired educator Duane Schriver by helping Brooks to secure public appearances that would increase his exposure.

Rowland adamantly denies it, except for one incident. Recent public events would suggest otherwise.

Another point of concern about the mayor’s “Viewpoint” is his apparent confusion about information attributed to our editorial and that which came from candidate Schriver.

In one instance, the editorial quoted a statement made by Schriver in an earlier front-page news story in this newspaper dated May 20: “The anointing process was not a positive thing. When the mayor [implied] ‘I’m not running and now here is my replacement,’ that was not a positive thing. People were not pleased with that. It was a kick in the gut to the citizens, and it was not in the best interest of the citizens to do that.”

Those were Schriver’s words, not ours ... although we did editorially agree with them, in principal.

In his “Viewpoint,” Rowland states that he feels his integrity has been impugned, and that his years of service — as well as Brooks’ 12 years in the Tennessee Legislature — have been attacked.

He should not. It is certainly not something this newspaper believes.

As mayor of Cleveland, Rowland has maintained a close eye on what’s good for the community and what’s best for its citizens. In his long-time service as a state legislator in District 24, Brooks has done the same. As a newspaper, we haven’t always agreed with their approach, but that’s an accepted fact of life.

Let’s be clear: The city of Cleveland has prospered thanks to the work of two of its finest cheerleaders: Rowland and Brooks.

But we also realize this: Whoever serves as Cleveland mayor is accepting a huge responsibility. As we have stated in prior editorials, both candidates — Brooks and Schriver — can do the job.

We simply want them — either of them — to land the City Hall role on the strength of their own qualifications and their individual beliefs. And we want the citizens of Cleveland to make the choice.

Keeping the playing field level today will better protect against unexpected tilts tomorrow, or in the weeks, months and years ahead.


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