In "The Tempest,â€ť Billy Shakespeare famously wrote, "Whatâ€™s past is prologue,â€ť and itâ€™s something weâ€™ve all generally come to recognize as a cleverly worded truth.
Without a doubt the past is often the best indicator of what may happen in the future, particularly when discussing human behavior. Weâ€™re all creatures of habit to a degree, and people do have a maddening tendency to step in the same puddles over and over.
All that said, the future is not etched in stone either, and those who pay attention to the past may not, in fact, be doomed to repeat it. The question for our fair city as we enter 2013 is will we blithely take Shakespeareâ€™s words to heart and continue to be the same old place, doing the same old things, with the same old people in charge, or will we hold our history at armâ€™s length and give some actual thought to making this a better and different place?
As the much-debated federal "fiscal cliffâ€ť is debated inside the Beltway, Mobile stands on its own cliff right now. Our cliff is not only fiscal, but philosophical as well. We know Airbus coming here will change us, make us wealthier and give us more prestige as a community, but the real question is whether we will change ourselves to make the most of those opportunities.
Around the time the shovels are breaking ground at Brookley so construction can begin on our little slice of aerospace heaven, the cityâ€™s leaders will be engaged in a battle to determine who will serve as mayor and on the council for the next four years. The outcome will go a long way toward determining what we make of the opportunity Airbus will afford us.
When looking at the past seven-plus years of Sam Jonesâ€™ administration, I find it hard not to think past is indeed prologue. His re-election will no doubt mean four more years of behind-the-scenes operations, divisive, dismissive relations with the city council and a general disdain for communicating with the public or media in any meaningful way. It will no doubt mean four more years of having public information and records treated as state secrets to be hidden away from the public, media and even members of the City Council, leaving them to find their way in the dark.
But itâ€™s not just Jones who engages in a backward brand of politics that will continue to hold this city back no matter how much jet fuel we burn. Certainly there are some members of the City Council who too often let political expediency keep them from attempting to counter what should be unacceptable behavior by the administration.
We talk about becoming a world-class city at a time when some of our most basic organizations are being destroyed by inept and counterproductive leadership.
The cityâ€™s police department seems to have fallen into the same morass, as Chief Williams looks to be little more than an empty suit who plays the mayorâ€™s political games and blocks any public insight into his unit.
By way of example, this newspaper has sought for more than a month now to have Williamsâ€™ department supply simple information concerning money spent taking the Police Explorers on out-of-town trips and a list of people who went. Sounds simple right? Itâ€™s public money and clearly public record.
But not only will he not provide the information, his media relations department wonâ€™t even respond to a Freedom of Information Act request and routinely ignores communications about the requests.
Need another? Two weeks ago the Press-Register did a story about officers working second jobs and Williamsâ€™ department refused to even give them the departmentâ€™s policy on those positions. They wonâ€™t even supply the policy? Come on.
Hereâ€™s another. When a precinct commander was forced to retire last month after being accused of improperly using a credit card, the department conveniently put the onus of charging that office with a crime off on an unnamed "victimâ€ť who had supposedly created a special bank account for taking Police Explorers out for food and entertainment. Fortunately for the wayward ex-commander, it looks like this mystery victim isnâ€™t in the charge-pressing mood.
Our city government is infected with a secrecy and disdain for following laws pertaining to open records and public information, and as a result we have turned into a backwater where some in public life have zero fear of reprisal for almost anything they do. But the city isnâ€™t alone.
Another small example? A few months ago we reported that a backhoe owned by the Mobile County Water, Sewer and Fire Protection Authority had been driven off the property by employees, taken to a nearby school where it was used to work on a playground, then parked behind a shed where it rusted for five years. This is a large, expensive piece of equipment missing for five years.
This board has also been having illegal secret meetings at local restaurants, paid for with commission money, and nothing has been done about it. But instead of looking into these matters, the people running this board have simply tried to deny and hide, and no law enforcement officials have even bothered to step in.
So why does this matter as we move into 2013? Because we do have an amazing opportunity ahead of us, and we will have new people thinking about coming into the community â€” people who may not easily understand the backwater politics that dominate this area. Some businesses may choose to locate in places nearby that arenâ€™t run by group of would-be royalty who embrace openness and honesty like they would the plague.
So as we enter what could and should be a very transformative year for Mobile, letâ€™s all take a hard look off that cliff and think about where we want the city to be by the next time Fredâ€™s MoonPie slides down the side of the building downtown. Realize a leopard canâ€™t change his spots and open your minds to something bigger than the same old Mobile with the same old attitudes.
Past doesnâ€™t have to be prologue.