Kip Browne on January 12
The ongoing drama with the Jordan Area Community Council took yet another interesting twist on Saturday, as a press conference set up by the "New Majority" turned into an angry verbal free-for-all, with loud talk of a "coup" and "mutiny." There was also calmness amid the chaos in the personality of some neighborhood leaders, including Kip Browne and Ben Myers.
Though the event could be characterized as hostile and chaotic at times, it was also a vital, spirited democratic debate with no blows landed, nobody arrested, and some indications the two factions are at least having a discussion about their differences.
The press conference...
...took place at the JACC office on James Ave. N.
Drug Dealing And Boarded Up Houses On The JACC Doorstep
Pulling up to the address on James, I noticed a young man rather plainly engaged in drug solicitation in a parking lot within eyeshot of the JACC office. I took note of his description and went for my phone, but at that very moment he decided to move on.
Some dealers, I've noticed, are very good at knowing when somebody is calling 911. They don't need to actually SEE you calling. They can tell what you're about to do, simply from how long you look in their direction and other cues from your car, clothing and manner.
Three or four boarded up houses were very near the JACC office. This situation was very different from my visits to the office of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Association. Yes, we have drug dealing and boarded up houses in Hawthorne...but we're steadily changing that situation, and things at least look a little better near our neighborhood HEADQUARTERS.
But, I had to admit, their offices were much nicer.
The offices were almost...plush.
More Raucus Community Meeting Than Press Conference
The press turnout was disappointing. The Star Tribune was not there. No television stations were present, though at least one very involved resident brought a video camera. There were some individuals representing the press, including myself, a blogger named Anna Pratt, and a reporter from the Twin Cities Daily Planet. (Click here for article)
The feeble press turnout hardly mattered. It was difficult for media to get a question in edgewise, as assembled members of the community shouted questions--more like accusatory speeches, mostly--with an occasional question mark thrown in, from time to time, for form's sake. There were a few dozen members of the community there, and numerous public officials including City Council President Barbara Johnson and Councilmember Don Samuels.
Johnson sat silent the whole time, and it seemed to me she was trying to suppress a facial expression of disbelief and horror.
Don Samuels, on the other hand, ended up in a spirited argument with Al Flowers, a loud and notorious agitator. (One neighborhood official I spoke to said any meeting where Flowers attends ends up with Flowers shouting and creating a scene; this official has never witnessed a single instance of Flowers adding anything constructive to any gathering)
New Majority Is Greated With Flowers
Al Flowers--who is enormously tall and lanky--made quite an entrance, sweeping in and announcing he was indeed here; saying, "I'm in Jordan, now. I rented an apartment. I'll probably be on the board any minute!"
Kip Browne and some members of the New Majority were upstairs, eating some food from Burger King. I was offered some chow, and pocketed a chicken sandwich for later. With Board Member Daniel Rother pointing things out, I photographed the tangle of cords where a computer had been removed a few nights before, click here.
Noting some black file cabinets, I pulled a drawer open, expecting the cabinet to be empty. It was stuffed with records. I was informed a short while later the missing records didn't consist of all the JACC records; in fact, the records up to 2006 were still in the office. Only records after 2006 were missing.
Furthermore, not all the computers were gone; some old computers just kicking around the office were still there, but the new computers had been removed.
Downstairs, members of the "Old Majority" were distributing copies of their own press release, inexplicably printed on lime green and azure paper. (Click here for contents)
Perhaps, when the copier was liberated in the dead of night, somebody forgot they'd be needing some reams of white paper, too.
On the bright side...everybody was in the same room, members of both the "Old" and "New Majority." They weren't physically fighting. Dressed in a nice suit, with an American flag pin on his lapel, Kip Browne stepped before the throng to make a statement. He spoke of a need to "clarify recent events and introduce ourselves." He talked about the board elections of January 12, and how state statutes were followed, with the voting monitored by advisors, with a "goal of transparency."
Browne said, "We acheived our goal of free and fair elections" but noted how "some candidates didn't get their verification in..." Browne didn't get very far before Al Flowers started heckling and shouting questions at the top of his lungs. At one point he yelled "IS YOUR WOMAN, BESSY HODGES, INVOLVED?!" Flowers yelled "You don't control this!"
"Al, go home!" Councilman Don Samuels said, loudly. Even "Old Majority" member Ben Myers was jumping in, but there was no calming down Flowers. At one point, Don Samuels stood directly in front of Flowers, seemingly trying to block Flowers' loud mouth by sacrificing the back of his own head. This action of standing in front of Flowers caused a confrontation between Flowers and Samuels.
I was directly behind this, trying to take a picture, but I realized it was best to get out of the way in case fists or elbows started flying.
"Go ahead with that garbage, Mike!" Al Flowers yelled. At another point, he began taking a cell phone call, with no attempt to be quiet, saying, "Yeah, I'm at the JACC Office--"
"Could you take your call outside, sir?" asked Lisa Mitchell, a Hawthorne board member and Vice Chair. Mitchell used to be a member of the Northside Marketing Task Force, but quit. Her husband, Anderson Mitchell, quit too.
"I'LL ANSWER MY CELL WHENEVER I WANT!" Al Flowers roared in response. "I AM THE COMMUNITY!!!"
Somewhere in the building, JACC Secretary Anne McCandless had had enough of this nonsense, and was dialing 911 to get Flowers removed. Kip Browne kept trying to read his statement, amid this madness.
Browne said there would be no comment on the investigation of the missing equipment at this time, but did say, "Even when we disagree, we need to have respect for each other." He mentioned the irony of such heated bickering with Martin Luther King, Jr. day right around the corner, as well as the inauguration of Barack Obama. He pointedly referenced the way Obama had put together and inclusive cabinet. Browne said he hoped everybody on the new board would stay with the board, and "continue to disagree."
I managed to get in the first question, which I had written out beforehand: Right now, who is in control of the JACC bank accounts? Browne said he could not answer that question but stated at the moment there was something of a "transition."
I then asked about how Browne could be certain records and equipment weren't removed while E.B. Browne was still chair, prior to the January 14 meeting or even during that meeting, rather than later that night or early the next morning? Browne said he had "info from other sources as to that" but would not elaborate.
I tried to get in a question about whether the persons who removed the equipment and records could be forgiven, charges might be dropped...when Al Flowers began shouting again, at the top of his lungs, and somebody (Megan Goodmundson, I believe) began chanting, "Shut him down. Shut him down." (Or, possibly, "shut him out.")
Suddenly police arrived at the JACC office and Al Flowers proceeded to pitch an even louder fit. At one point, while leaving or being removed from the office, Flowers shouted "Black power, man!" Somebody in the room--a female voice--yelled, "Oh, that's great, why not just drive out all the developers?"
One woman yelled, "Be careful, officers, he will sue you!" Outside, on the street, about a dozen people gathered around Flowers and the officers. Though Flowers had been agitated when he first saw the police, he suddenly seemed much calmer...like somebody had given him a shot of Haldol in the butt and pointedly mentioned the rubber room.
I didn't watch the whole incident with Flowers, once it seemed clear nobody would get arrested. At one point, Flowers was yelling (nonsensically, I thought) "This is illegal! There are city officials in a neighborhood meeting!" It seemed as though Ben Myers was playing a role in calming Flowers, possibly telling Flowers to leave because, after all, he'd made his splash.
Back inside, somebody told me Flowers styled himself as somebody involved in "gang mediation."
Ah, yes, blessed are the peacemakers like...Al Flowers.
"This Was A Coup!"
Kip Browne was questioned at length about bylaws by Dokar Dejvongsa, a former board member. At one point, Dejvongsa said "This was a coup!" There wasn't really a question-and-answer format; it was an argument about interpretation of the bylaws. There was often more than one conversation, more than one yelling match going on at the same time.
At one point, Farheen Hakeem--a perennial Green Party "also ran"--was telling Don Samuels that he needed to "calm down." She appeared hysterical. Tears were rolling down her face. I have a picture of this.
"I JUST REALLY NEED YOU TO CALM DOWN!!!!" she screeched to Don Samuels, who appeared considerably calmer than her. Don Samuels backed away from Hakeem...slowly. It pains me as a member of the Green Party to relay, truthfully, what I observed. But, then again, the Green Party has a pattern, lately, of severely disappointing me with its candidates, click here.
At another point, Lafayette Butler yelled a number of questions-slash-accusations and, every time Michael Browne tried to open his mouth to answer, she yelled more. She asked, "If this is democratic, why are we having this conversation?"
(Think about that statement for a while...roll it around in your mind...do any contradictions become obvious?)
Somebody--maybe Butler, maybe somebody else--said, "This is scandalous!"
"WHAT IS YOUR AGENDA!?" somebody demanded.
Browne stated "boarded houses and foreclosures, that is the biggest problem--"
That was about as much as he managed to get out. Browne kept going back and forth with Lafayette Butler about how he got to be Chair in the first place. At one point, Board Member Daniel Rother tried to step in and answer the question. At that point Butler--who hadn't allowed Browne to answer much of anything--began demanding that BROWNE answer the question, not Rother. People kept demanding to know who Rother was, and not giving Rother much chance to actually answer. Rother managed to get out that he was on the board.
Browne, Rother, and other members of the "New Majority" kept appealing for calm. They never shouted back or lost their cool, not even ONCE. This was hardly true of the community members assembled, many of which could only be described as "livid." On the other hand, "Old Majority" members Ben Myers and Steve Jackson never lost their cool, either.
Steve Jackson--a member of the Old Majority, asserting himself as Sergeant At Arms--stepped forward and tried to calm one of the questioners.
"THIS IS NOT A MEETING, YOU ARE NOT THE SERGEANT AT ARMS!" one member of the community--possibly Kenya Muta--yelled at Jackson.
One community member was dismayed--actual dismay showing in his face--to find out the City Attorney was involved in this controversy. Why had somebody called the City Attorney, he wanted to know, in a tone distrustful of authority. Echoing what had been said by Dejvongsa, he called the ouster of executive officers "a coup." Michael Browne said he would not characterize it as a "coup" at all.
Megan Goodmundson took the floor to speak about the elections, trying to explain what happened on January 12. Interestingly, almost everybody calmed down and listened to Goodmundson's detailed accounting of election technicalities. I thought either very few of these folks knew Goodmundson--and therefore weren't instantly angry at her, having no history with her--or Goodmundson garners genuine and widespread respect. One or the other.
Community activist-at-large Kenya Muta (who I previously described as "a guy in a puffy blue jacket," click here) asked Michael Browne if he was going to postpone appointments until after mediation. Browne said the election had been recognized as legitimate by NRP. There was no need to put off board business. Muta argued "come on, that's a fair compromise!"
I was shocked by the political unsophistication of Muta's argument; as though Michael Browne, successful attorney and JACC Board Chairman, would just spontaneously jump at Muta's top-of-the-head suggestion, shouted out during a chaotic press conference. It wasn't even Browne's decision to make, not all by himself.
Sergeant At Arms Talks Of "Exclusion"
Steve Jackson, a member of the "Old Majority" and their "Sergeant At Arms," had taken more care with his wardrobe today than on January 12, when he showed up in a "Northside For Life" sweatshirt, click here. During the press conference, he was wearing a long leather coat and Bluetooth device in his ear. Secret Service meets "The Matrix," I thought.
Jackson got the floor and talked about "exclusion" during the election, saying "a black woman, a human being" had been excluded from running for the board.
A member of the community--a black woman--began to argue with Jackson about that statement. What exactly, she asked, did the color of the woman's skin have anything to do with the issues? The community had voted. The winners had taken office. So why was Jackson trying to bring race into things? Jackson kept saying a black woman had been excluded, the January 12 elections were unfair.
At some point, Jackson was confronted about the removal of records and office equipment--though it wasn't phrased that way, exactly, more like "it wasn't right, to come around here creeping in the night." Jackson answered something about "fiduciary" duties. He said others were not being fiduciary, saying, "You have not signed a lease but you had the landlord change the locks."
Personally, I found anger about "changing locks" rather odd. After all, somebody with a key had come along and taken computers and records. Why WOULDN'T you change the locks, in such a circumstance? The conversation seemed to be almost an admission that Jackson was either involved himself or knew very well where the records were.
At some point a young female minor--who had been blowing pink bubblegum while listening to the press conference, snapping her gum--got the floor and tried to ask "What about the youth programs?" Her line of questioning didn't get far. In this environment, only the strongest personalities, willing to shout at the top of their lungs, could grab and keep the floor.
At another point, Steve Jackson was saying--though rather calmly, and Jackson was actually pretty calm through most of the meeting, albeit calmly confrontational--anyway, Steve Jackson was saying, "You took four black women off the ballot!" Again, such assertions were met with words like: "RACE! Why talk about RACE when it is about the care of this community? We can't get the finances, we can't get open books..."
Conversations were swallowed up in a sea of OTHER conversations. There was no such thing anymore as anybody having the floor, rather there were a bunch of folks having loud, individual conversations, mostly angry.
But nobody came to blows. This is what democracy looks like. Well, once you manage to remove Al Flowers, that is to say.
Press Conference Within A Press Conference
Ann McCandless came up behind me and grabbed my the arm, hard. I thought, "What the heck did I just do wrong?" It turned out to be a "friendly grab." She told me Michael Browne was going to try to talk press in a small office nearby. I nodded and went inside the office. Later, I was told, "Anne McCandless is somebody you don't want to mess with." My response was: "I've seen how she grabs people when she's being friendly, so I'd hate to think what happens when she's being UNFRIENDLY."
One of the "New Majority" calmly closed the oversized white shutters to the office. He was a rather large male, and during the meeting I had seen him wearing a red shirt big enough to fit two, possibly three Johnny Northsides. I thought to myself he had the makings of a new Sergeant At Arms, if the "New Majority" felt a need for that particular title. I've talked to folks in Hawthorne who find the idea of a "Sergeant At Arms" at a neighborhood meeting...well, kinda scary.
Michael Browne, seated calmly, took questions from myself and Anna Pratt. The Twin Cities Daily Planet reporter was still out in the mixture of loud, angry conversations.
I asked Browne the question I'd tried to ask before Al Flowers was taken outside, shouting at the police.
"If the people who have the computers, records, etc. brought that stuff back, would it be a case of forgive and forget, or would you still want charges, an investigation?"
Browne answered it wasn't his decision to make. The stuff belongs to the JACC organization. Where was the authority to remove it? Besides, such a decision to "forgive and forget" would be a board decision, but there is also a city prosecutor to consider.
I asked "who has control of the bank accounts?" and was again given a "no comment," however, this was the point where McCandles informed me the checkbooks were missing along with records from 2006 to the present.
McCandless said she was the one to discover the stuff at the office missing when she arrived Thursday morning, after the Wednesday night board meeting. She said while she was there, "Mr. Moore showed up." She asked Moore where the stuff was and Moore answered, "I don't know." So McCandless called the police.
I asked Browne about his statement regarding livability issues. So liveability issues were his priority? Browne said the number one reason he got involved was to deal with livability issues. He said that as you drive, as you leave the Jordan neighborhood and go into other neighborhoods, you can see the dramatic transition.
"Why do we (the Jordan neighborhood) look this way?" Browne asked. Anne McCandless gestured out the window, pointing out the boarded up homes visible from the windows of the JACC office. This, she emphasized, is what the neighborhood needs to deal with. There were NRP dollars available to deal with vacant, boarded house issues but, McCandless said, "Nothing has been spent on housing from Phrase 2 NRP!"
Browne alluded to the editorial comments on this blog about an emphasis on "livability" versus "social justice" issues and the role of a neighborhood association. Browne said that, as an attorney, he deals all the time with social justice issues and cases involving various forms of discrimination. However, Browne said, boarded up homes in the Jordan neighborhood have an impact on ALL the residents, not just one group or class. Boarded up homes are the main problem JACC should be dealing with, demanding "city services" and "inspections."
"It doesn't matter about a protected class in the sense of not getting things we need," Browne said.
"Old Majority" Blew Money On Themselves?
McCandless said that, somehow, the JACC organization had managed to burn through "a quarter of a million dollars a year" on block parties, and gifts and "volunteer appreciations trips." There had been "conferences" in New Orleans, Chicago, Iowa.
Also, cell phone bills had gone through the roof. First, it was $90 a month for Moore's cell phone. Then $200. Then $500! In the past, McCandless said, a few people had made decisions for the entire board. Meanwhile, the neighborhood was going steadily downward, as anybody could see from just LOOKING at the neighborhood.
"We Don't Wear The Chaos Jacket"
Again, even during these passionate statements, I noticed the calmness of the new board. I said something like, "I noticed how calm you were, dealing with angry people." McCandless responded that people had been invited to this press confernce who have a history of causing chaos" but, McCandless said, "We don't wear the chaos jacket."
The point of inviting these loud agitators, McCandless said, was to point to the chaos and say, "See? See? Look how crazy they've made everything."
McCandless addressed the issue of anybody being "excluded" from the board elections. There had been a notable instance of a woman who wanted to run for the board, but she never confirmed her employment at a local church. Yes, a lot of folks knew she worked at the church, but to treat everybody fair and the same, some actual documentation was needed: a pay stub, a letter, even an email from the employer would have been sufficient.
The woman never got her confirmation in. Therefore, she wasn't on the ballot.
Just Watching The Show
One thing I should emphasize: not everybody at the press conference was shouting, yelling, arguing. Some folks were just watching, taking everything in. Jeff Skrenes, the Housing Director for Hawthorne, was present. He went to a quiet corner and had a conversation with a woman in (it appeared to me) a mink coat, who said "I do the funerals for families whose loved ones are killed." She had done the funeral for (Jordan resident) Annshalike Hamilton, she said. She assured me, and anybody else who asked, that it was a lovely funeral but did not elaborate beyond that.
State Rep Bobby Joe Champion also showed up, though he arrived after the main fireworks. He was walking around, trying to find out different viewpoints. Of course, Barbara Johnson had been seated in the middle of everything, watching, not saying anything.
In my labeling of the "New Majority" and "Old Majority," I should not make it appear there are only two groups. In fact, there is a very large third group: residents and other interested parties who simply want the JACC organization to move forward and deal with pressing issues, many of whom are apalled and embarassed by the current "Jordan soap opera."
This Is What Democracy Looks Like...In Jordan
I would even go so far as to say there is a fourth group, and I include myself in it. Some of us see the Jordan soap opera as dramatic and exciting democracy, evidence of vital neighborhood politics playing out, a kind of "re-alignment." People are yelling loud, playing hard, making bold political moves (seizing records, removing all the executive officers, firing Jerry Moore) because they believe passionately in their point of view. This point of view is all wrapped up in their passion for making life better in their neighborhood.
Do not judge Jordan so harshly. Do not be dismayed by the colorful, pungent stew of civic discourse in a neighborhood dealing with a heaping plateful of issues. Furthermore, some of the most exciting real estate bargains in decades are to be found in this neighborhood.
This is what democracy looks like...in Jordan.