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Fox blasts state legislature
Apr 22, 2005 12:00 am
APRIL 21, 2005
In a live radio appearance Wednesday that reverberated all the way to Nashville, Lebanon Mayor Don Fox called the Tennessee General Assembly a "maggot ball" and singled out House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, State Rep. Stratton Bone and Rep. Randy Rinks for blame over a failed bill to extend Fox's and the Lebanon City Council's terms of office.
In a nearly 30-minute appearance on the "Coleman and Company" show on WANT-FM Wednesday morning, Fox repeatedly invoked Naifeh's or Rinks' names in a bombastic attack over the failed Lebanon legislation.
Fox also appeared to blame Bone publicly for killing the term extension bill, referencing a speech Bone made last week before the House Local Government Subcommittee where the longtime legislator chastised Fox for a combative appearance before the same body the week prior.
"Naifeh down there, speaker of the House, made a statement to a very prominent person in the city that I'll stand in anybody's face and tell them," Fox said on the air. "And the entire Council knows this. He (Naifeh) said 'this is in Stratton Bone's hands and I'm committed to him. We're going to go with the way he goes.' Then Stratton got up in that meeting the next day and made this comment and read his little speech about how we had mistreated the state legislature."
The Fox radio appearance is the latest in what began as a local political squabble and ultimately reached the highest echelons of state government.
City government originally passed a resolution for private act legislation to extend all city office holders' terms by as much as 13 months to realign city elections with presidential and gubernatorial election cycles.
The lone dissenting vote on the matter, Ward 3 Councilor William Farmer, then used his ties in state government to offer his own legislation through a lobbyist that would prohibit such term extensions without a referendum.
The Lebanon term extension bill then hit choppy waters in committee with House Local Government subcommittee members expressing concerns over what they said were hundreds of telephone calls from Lebanon residents opposing the term extensions.
Rinks also expressed concern in the subcommittee hearings litigation could stem from such a long-term extension, saying the private act may violate the federal Voter Rights Act.
Rinks' comments came in a meeting where Fox publicly questioned whether the city needed to hire its own lobbyist to get private acts through the legislature, a comment House members perceived as an attack on the performance of Bone and State Rep. Susan Lynn who were carrying the city's legislation.
The bill died last week after Bone asked the committee to take it off the calendar, citing a lawsuit that surfaced against the city and legislators over the bill. He also publicly chastised Fox for his comments in the previous week's committee.
'Talk about a maggot ball'
Fox spoke of Rinks frequently in the Wednesday radio appearance, maintaining Rinks had his own bill extending the terms of office of a city in his own district for 15 months.
"At the same time, that same Randy Rinks is sponsoring a bill for a city in his district to extend their terms for 15 months. Fifteen months, sponsored in the Senate by John Wilder, sponsored by him, while he is sitting there telling us that. You talk about a maggot ball. You talk about hypocrisy."
Fox even appeared to pull Naifeh's wife into his remarks as well as seemingly faulting Farmer's status as former chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party for the opposition in the legislature to the failed Lebanon bill.
"I have a speech, and if our bill gets kicked back to the subcommittee, I hope they recess so that I stand there and talk about mistreating, talk about the city being picked out because they have the ex-chairman of the Democratic Party comes down and gets a lobbyist to lobby against his own City Council," Fox said. "And then, to have these people falling in line for him (Farmer), with the speaker right involved in it, the House involved in it, whose wife is a lobbyist, to pick Lebanon out because of politics. That's why I say it is a maggot ball."
Fox's comments also suggested Bone opposed the bill because members of his family did not get a subdivision approved for development by Lebanon Planning Commission.
Fox also implied federal racketeering laws may have been broken by Wilson County Road Superintendent Steve Armistead, who apparently financially backed the term extension lawsuit against the city and allowed his employees to participate in the suit.
'Bizarre and unfortunate'
Bone issued a strongly worded statement from his legislative office in response to Fox's comments, saying the term extension bill generated a "great deal of controversy and opposition from the citizens of Lebanon."
Bone also noted the city has pending legislation to allow tax considerations for minor league hockey teams and a second election realignment bill that are jeopardized by Fox's remarks.
"His comments were personal, unprofessional and reflect negatively on not only himself, but the entire City of Lebanon and the citizens he is supposed to represent," Bone said. "I respect someone's right to disagree with me, but I cannot respect this kind of conduct.
"Unfortunately, this type of outburst could not come at a worse time as we have another bill for the City of Lebanon's efforts to get professional ice hockey," Bone said. "I am afraid the mayor's comments could have sabotaged any potential legislation. It has and it will continue to hurt the City of Lebanon's ability to work with the members of the General Assembly."
Lynn appeared to agree Fox's comments may hurt the city's ability to get legislation passed.
"I think our jobs would probably be a lot easier without the comments," Lynn said. "I can understand that he might be upset about some things that have happened. I don't take it personally."
Rinks reached late Wednesday night characterized Fox's comments as "bizarre and unfortunate."
Rinks added as a former mayor he understood local controversies, but said "I don't think you should get into name calling."
Rinks said Fox's comments were "unfortunate" for the Tennessee Municipal League, a statewide organization of city governments Fox is in line to be the president of in coming years.
"I think everybody up here thought he was out of line," Rinks said of House members' reactions to Fox's comments. "I think it is unfortunate he is going to be the incoming president of TML. The TML is going to need to get legislation through."
Neither Naifeh nor his Chief of Staff Bernie Durham could be reached for comment Wednesday for this story.