Brandon Lewis, a man who is so fed up with the Chattanooga City Council he started a website in an attempt to unsuccessfully thwart a tax increase, had just thrown another rock. A page-one article in Saturday’s newspaper affirmed he had evermore hit his mark.
After the City Council recently approved a 19 percent tax increase, Lewis spend about $700 of his own money to send a mail-out to about 1,600 voters in Councilwoman Carol Berz’ district that was most uncomplimentary to the politician. The card read, “Tax Increase Notice” and on it was a smiling photo of Berz.
In a classic example of “it’s a hit dog that hollers,” Berz yelped loud enough to get front-page attention and, in doing so, revealed Lewis’ disgust to thousands more Chattanooga voters. Berz said it “crossed the line as far as ethics” but most will disagree, saying Lewis is entitled to his opinion.
I am among those who say, “Welcome to the real world, Carol.” Today’s political climate is stormy and it’s like the old baseball player Satchel Paige said many years ago, “The political ramble ain’t restful.”
Never mind the Lewis serves as a Hamilton County election commissioner. That has nothing to do with his right to freedom of speech or the fact he created a website called www.stopthetaxincrease.org. When Berz ran for public office, climbing up on the pedestal of public service, she should have known somebody would try to knock her back down if she cast an unpopular vote.
The flier reads, “I just voted to increase your property taxes by 19-percent during a Recession. You will notice this when your escrow account increases on your mortgage – or in a much larger tax bill if your property is paid for.
“Recently, I also voted for increased city fees, increased storm-water fees, (and) annexation we can’t afford. And, in case you missed it, the assessed value of your property recently increased. It’s my way of looking out for you during tough economic times. Sincerely, Councilwoman Carol Berz.”
The notice had the disclaimer, “Paid for by Stop The Tax Increase, not sent (obviously) from Carol Berz.”
What is obvious is that Berz is madder than a hornet over the flier. Another Councilwoman, Pam Ladd, jumped into the fray, calling the card “one of the most mean-spirited projects I’ve seen in politics. Perhaps it’s not illegal but it’s unethical.”
Bo Watson, a Tennessee state senator, is among many who wonder what has Lewis done that is unethical. “If you can’t restrict him from free speech, I don’t see what he has violated. On what premise? He hasn’t violated any rules, any laws.”
No, what Lewis accomplished was more than he thought he would. Right now there is an attempt to recall Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield and a growing groundswell of resentment from those who see sewer fees, stormwater fees and other “fees” as just more taxes. The rise of movements such as the Tea Party are hardly limited to a national scope and Berz is being clobbered in the same way many of those now seeking re-election are facing.
The next Chattanooga City Council election is not until 2012, but already the sitting council has made some unpopular decisions. From the look of it, there will soon be other tough choices and Berz and her council colleagues might well be advised to seek an ample supply of “skin-toughener.”
Berz should also learn a schoolyard lesson; every time she yelps and whines her detractors will only cast more stones. She should cling instead to Dr. Seuss’ advice, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter won't mind.”
Carol, the beloved Dr. Seuss also wrote, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”