The good news for Kelvin Jones coming out of the May primary was that he received 40 percent of the votes cast for Metro public defender, not bad for a guy with zero courtroom experience running against an institution on the order of Ross Alderman, the well-respected incumbent.
The bad news? Jones ticked off the 60 percent who sided with Alderman, calling them whiners when some had the audacity to point out that Mayor Bill Purcell was not in the Jones’ camp as the candidate claimed.
Among those siding with Alderman were at-large Metro Council members Adam Dread and David Briley. Dread especially took notice of the amount of time Jones devoted to campaigning, concluding there must not be enough work to keep him busy at the Human Relations Commission, where he’s been executive director for two years.
“The office seemed to be functioning the same without him,” says Dread, who calls Jones’ campaign style “Lineweaveresque,” referring to Juvenile Court Clerk Vic Lineweaver, a ubiquitous campaigner. Dread insists his request last month to cut $75,000 from the Human Relations Commission’s $400,000 budget was not a political vendetta. In fact, Dread spins it this way: Jones brought scrutiny upon the Human Relations office with his rabid campaign style. “Kelvin Jones spent the whole year campaigning on city money,” Dread says. “He’s a nice enough guy, but he was a guy looking for a job.”
Like Dread, Briley downplays his support of Alderman. Briley and wife Jodie Bell, a former assistant public defender in Alderman’s office, donated money and encouraged other attorneys to support the public defender but stopped short of attending campaign meetings and, in some cases, disagreed with Alderman’s reelection strategy, he says. Briley says the Human Relations Commission is underutilized and redundant: it receives fewer than 40 complaints a year while offices at the state and federal level accomplish the same goals, pursuing allegations of discrimination in housing, employment and access to public accommodations in the same way the Metro office does.
“I think we need to have a Human Relations Commission on the local level, even though part of what they do is duplicative,” Briley says.
Even so, Briley suggests Jones should have taken a leave of absence during the public defender race to avoid making the Human Relations Commission a political issue, especially since Jones ran ads associating the commission with his name.
“He’s the one who sort of muddied the line,” Briley says.
In defending himself, Jones says the council members misunderstand his four-person staff’s workload. They receive 200 complaints per year, he says, based on religion, race, age and gender. His staff spends 30 hours investigating each case to determine whether it has merit while trying to push both sides toward mediation. Of 200 cases, 20 were resolved through mediation last year, he says. The rest were either reconciled before mediation or were unfounded.
Two years ago, Jones’ office successfully mediated a high-visibility case involving Muslims who walked off the job at Dell because managers had prevented them from saying evening prayers.
The Human Relations staff also conducts diversity training for Metro employees and handles in-house administrative duties. “We believe the work the commission does speaks for itself,” Jones says.
During the run-up to last month’s budget confirmation, Dread and Briley submitted
their wish lists to Budget and Finance Committee chair Amanda McClendon, who thought better of gutting funding, saying the action would look like “political retribution.” “It’s a valid question what the size of the staff is and the number of cases the commission handles,” McClendon says. “It’s not a criticism of Kelvin Jones. It’s a question council can ask, and it should be examined. But I thought it would be perceived as something completely opposite of what was intended.”
The issue is far from dead, though. Dread is threatening to have the Finance Department investigate the commission to determine to what degree state and federal equal opportunity offices duplicate the contributions of Metro’s office. “I want to find out where’s the fat and where we can trim,” Dread says.
And, no doubt, he wants to see who’s whining when it’s all over with.
Torry, it’s not too late
There are naysayers out there—you know who you are—who insist it’s way too late for District Attorney Torry Johnson to jump into the mayor’s race, which is only a year away. It seems like a long time, but in the conflated time warp of politics, it’s right around the corner. The three candidates in the race have already locked down commitments—i.e. money—from the major contributors, the naysayers say.
But here’s the catch: the donors will contribute again. If history is any indication, scores of contributors will support multiple campaigns during the mayoral cycle. Investment banker Andrew Byrd, investor Ed Nelson, developer Charles Hawkins, attorney Chase Cole, trucking executive David Dortch, Gaylord Entertainment’s political action committee and the Hardaway Construction Co. were among multiple donors from the 1999 campaign.
One more thing to consider: Johnson probably won’t need to be the top money winner. A week before the 1999 mayoral election, Dick Fulton had collected $1.26 million compared with Bill Purcell’s $743,000.