Friday, October 5, 2007

Stith Stiffs Durham

Excuse me for a minute as I vent regarding local politics. I am disgusted, disappoint, baffled and totally pissed off at Thomas Stith. It is rare that I would be so consumed with indignation related to the campaign antics of a local politician, but this joker is jeopardizing the stability of local affairs.

For those not living in Durham, and for those who refuse to read the local news rags, Stith is accusing incumbent Bill Bell of pressuring the Durham Police Department into charging those guys on the Duke Lacrosse team. The city is being coerced into settling out of court for falsely accusing David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligman. Reports have lawyers for the players asking for $30 million dollars.

The city halted and internal investigation of the proceeding leading up to and after the arrest after being warned that the findings could be used against the city. The city of Durham is under attack, and most citizens agree, according to numerous polls on the matters, that the city should not settle the case.

In jumps Stith, who has been critical of Bell for failing to exert strong leadership to curtail crime in the city. The release of a timeline documenting early meetings between Bell, City Manager Patrick Baker, the lead detective of the case, Durham Police Department Investigator Ben Himan, is being used to fuel the flame.

On Thursday, Stith pushed Bell to say whether he asked police to expedite the case. Stith has implied the rush to judgment was the result of the Mayors intrusion in the investigation. That’s what has me pissed off.

By using this case to advance his political career, Stith has put the city at risk of having to fork out money to compensate the damages done. In taking this position he has become a spokesperson for the lawyers seeking a judgment against the city. The problem with that position is he, as a current member of the city council, has an obligation to protect the interest of the city, and by attacking the mayor, he places his desire for political gain above his desire to serve the people of the city.

In doing that Stith has used the case in a way reminiscent of another politician- Mike Nifong. By aligning himself with the agenda of the lacrosse players, he has allowed his selfish need for power to overshadow his need to function as a person of integrity. There’s more.

This is also a case of speaking out of both sides of ones mouth at the same time. In one breath Stith claims the Mayor lacks leadership when it comes to crime. In the next exhale he attacks the Mayor for exerting leadership in this particular case. I’m not sure how to read that contradiction. Is the expectation to take leadership in some case but not in others, or is it left up to people like Stith to jump down a persons throat after they have the benefit of all the facts?

To his credit, Bell has reminded us of the context of that meeting. The city of Durham was on a national stage. The city as divided in a way that outsiders may not have understood. Part of that was a consequence of a number of local matters that reporters from the outside hadn’t covered. They didn’t know about t he long history of hostility with the school board. They didn’t know about the scandals within city government that led to the termination of a city manager, and how many in the city blamed black leadership for a lack of accountability.

They didn’t know about all the news related to students at Duke University and how the residents of Trinity Park had berated school leaders for failing to control those problems. They hadn’t reported on the hostility between students who attend North Carolina Central University and those at Duke University. No one bothered to deal with the great divide that existed in a city with two universities that rarely found occasion to deal with the presence of the other.

Bill Bell was facing a city ready to explode. The outside agitators threatened to destroy any sense of unity that had been built up over the years. Some didn’t know it was Bill Bell who put his job on the line as Chair of the Board of County Commissioners to fight for the merging of the city and county school systems. They didn’t know that this is a man who has fought for unity for a long time, and that all that makes Durham special was under serious attack by the national media and outsiders who labeled Durham as a city in need of some help.

Hindsight is 20.20. It is certain that mistakes were made along the way. Many assumptions were made. As a reporter on the case, I made my share. It’s hard not to when emotions get in the way of sound judgment. What’s the price we should pay for that mistake? It certainly isn’t $30 million.

The city of Durham needs strong leadership. The type that doesn’t put us out to dry. Not even when it will help you win an election.


  1. That is chilling. Coupled with the President's blatant misrepresentations for vetoing the child healthcare bill yesterday, it signals that politicians increasingly feel they can say the most absurd things possible without being called out by the public and the the ends justify the means no matter how low they stoop in elections...and people may walk away believing it.

    Before people like you, Carl, began to step up regarding Durham's image issue, this same type of things was fueling it. Bashers in other communities could say anything no matter how outrageous and knew listeners wouldn't go check it out and that Durham wouldn't react.

    People need to react to this type of campaigning and just as furiously as you are. It is the only way politicians will return to facts rather than grandstanding.

  2. Say it like it tis! Also, isn't there history with Durham and Duke because what Duke has taken from Durham is so much more than what they've given back to a city they're a part of. The Duke leaders still don't get it, they now think in the future they should be more supportive of their students. They don't understand that sparing the rod isn't support. For instance, if my child is wrong, I'm still going to support him and also tell him that he's wrong. I will encourage him to take corrective actions just for his peace alone. Then, again taking responsibility starts with the leaders so if they haven't even dealt with home in addressing the concerns so many of their faculty voiced during this scandal, how can it be assumed they would correctly address this and other concerns.

    I am one that doesn't think we should pay out anything. If we give anything, it will be after a fight. Even if they win the court battle who's to say when they'll actually see the money can't draw blood from a turnip.

    That was a good point you brought out about Stith's responsibility to Durham as a City Council member! By the way, how much of a cut are the players paying him to cause chaos?