We as the elected officials of Savannah are gathered here today to express our outrage over the Saturday night shooting at the Coastal Empire Fairground as well as other recent acts of violence in our community... Folks, we are sick and tired of this story.
— Mayor Edna Jackson, November 2012
LAST WEEK in this space, I wrote about the City's response to what at the time was a series of eight shootings within a week.
That response was a press conference almost identical in tone and content to the one Mayor Jackson held in 2012 with now-former police chief Willie Lovett by her side, bemoaning the epidemic of out-of-control gun violence.
Within 24 hours of last week’s column going to the printer, two more people were shot. And some more after that.
As I write this today, 15 people have been shot in two weeks, three of them in one incident several blocks from my house.
But life went on, as it does, displaying its usual grimly ironic sense of humor.
For example, while all this gunplay was going on, the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police held its annual convention in Savannah all last week.
Just in time for the shooting sprees.
Just in time for a contentious debate between the City and County over the nine-year-old merger of city and county police.
Life goes on, trickster that it is. After voters were assured that a vote to renew the SPLOST sales tax in 2013 would keep property taxes from being raised, there was a public meeting last week to discuss... a raise in property taxes.
Specifically, a so-called “back door tax hike,” in which the tax rate itself stays the same while assessed values go up.
“I figure all these projects need to be done, and why raise our property taxes for us to have to pay for them,” a woman was quoted in the Savannah Morning News after voting in favor of SPLOST in November 2013.
(To be fair, the City’s property tax rate is the lowest since the late ‘80s and far lower than it was throughout the ‘90s.)
By the way, that vote followed a renewal of the ESPLOST school sales tax in 2011, also sold to voters as a way to avoid raising property taxes. And also followed by an immediate raise in property taxes.
Same as it ever was. After a 22-year career as a professional politician, last week Jack Kingston finally found himself facing life out of public office after losing the Republican U.S. Senate runoff to David Perdue.
The changing of the guard was hailed as “a fresh start” with “new blood.” Perdue being the multi-millionaire cousin of a former Georgia governor.
Fresh start? New blood? Pretty funny.
Same as it ever was. On the same day as Kingston’s defeat last week, Jolene Byrne triumphed in her bid to be the new Savannah/Chatham school board president.
One of her early opponents, Dave Simons, withdrew from the race in part over a controversy over his characterization of the local minority/women contracting system as “unscrupulous.”
Lo and behold, virtually simultaneously with the school board election, a large construction firm with large public school contracts paid mostly through those ESPLOST tax dollars was sued last week by several minority/women contractors for... fraud.
Yep, life will keep telling us these ironic little jokes, these same round-and-round shaggy-dog stories, until we finally get a clue.
In this issue you’ll find a remarkable Letter to the Editor from a local resident, detailing his efforts to analyze precisely what keeps going wrong over and over again in Savannah, stubbornly keeping the city from realizing its full potential.
When I received the letter I had a brief moment of deja vu, since much of it consists of things I’ve also written about over the years seemingly ad nauseum, with a similar level of frustration.
Sick and tired of this story.
At the same time, you have to be impressed with what’s going right:
Jolene Byrne’s hopeful, positive campaign ... Savannah’s robust weathering of the recession... A chance to start over with a new police chief... A remarkable resurgence in grassroots arts and culture which seems to have real staying power.
The list of things to be grateful for goes on and on. It would be irresponsible to ignore or trivialize the many good things that are happening all around this city.
But still.... 15 shot in two weeks?
Blowing up the police merger because the city and county still can’t agree?
A city government and a public school system both awash in cash but lacking accountability for it?
Are you, too, sick and tired of this story? Because the real punchline is: You have the power to write the ending, and begin a story of your own.