Article Comment 

Birney Imes: The Joe St. John Phenomenon


Birney Imes



If elections for mayor were held today and Police Chief Joe St. John was a candidate, I wouldn''t want to be in the race. The crazy upshot of the chief''s latest misstep seems to be a spike in his popularity. 


This is, after all, Possum Town. 


At the Sounds of Summer concert Thursday night at Riverside Park, some in the audience were wearing T-shirts and fluorescent yellow stickers that said "Keep Chief St. John." Meanwhile, the chief -- ever gregarious, ever the social butterfly -- was there working the crowd, Joe just being Joe. "Irrepressible" is the word that comes to mind. 


But despite his charisma, St. John''s in hot water after he was tested for alcohol -- and tested positive -- the same day he failed to show at a June 17 Civil Service Commission hearing for two officers who were appealing the 20-workday suspensions he had recommended. 


Rather than let attorneys know he was going to miss the hearing, he sent a text to a subordinate and asked her to notify the already assembled group that he was sick. 


In December 2008, St. John took a leave of absence to rein in a drinking problem. 


The council held a special-called meeting Monday to determine St. John''s fate. I happened to sit next to a councilman at lunch the day of the meeting. He didn''t know what was going to happen, but thought it possible the council would fire the chief that afternoon. The councilman said he''d been on the phone all morning with St. John supporters. 


Apparently, he wasn''t the only one. The council delayed action on St. John until its next regularly scheduled meeting on the 19th. 


Every time something like this comes up, our online commentators bring up the fisticuffs between the mayor and Kabir Karriem at City Hall last year. Why discipline anyone at all, if the mayor and a councilman can duke it out with impunity? What moral authority do they have? It''s a valid question. You can ask the same thing about St. John. How can he discipline if he''s not disciplined for his transgressions? 


And, I''m sorry, but, unless he was in a hospital bed, St. John should have been at that meeting. 


An interesting side note to the Smith/Kabir incident illustrates divergent cultural mores between the black and white communities. A black friend told me that among blacks the fight between the mayor and Kabir was no big deal. In fact, he said, the mayor acted with restraint. 


"Kabir was lucky he didn''t get worse," he said. "He had no business going up there at that time of night getting in the mayor''s face." 


The white community, on the other hand, shakes its head. 


But, back to Joe. He cares, he''s involved (He reads to kids at Mother Goose''s Story Hour.) and he''s approachable -- he''s given the public his cell phone number. He answers it when you call. He''s single-handedly changed public perceptions of the police department. With Joe there, you''ve got a friend down at CPD. There''s plenty to be said for that. 


Is the police department effective under St. John''s leadership? I''m not sure how you gauge that. Should he stay or go? The council terminated firefighter Mitchell Banks in 2009 for being too hung over attend a training session at a Jackson seminar. How is this different? 


The mayor and council owe it to the community to flesh out all the details, make a full disclosure to the public and then mete out the appropriate punishment. 


As we wrote in an editorial last week, the council should examine the evidence and make a decision consistent with city policy. 


Yes, a little consistency might be good for a change. 


Birney Imes is the publisher of The Commercial Dispatch. E-mail him at [email protected]


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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Reader Comments

Article Comment m.c. commented at 7/17/2011 12:42:00 AM:

There's a reason why Lady Justice holds a set of scales, commonly referred to as the "Scales of Justice", high above her head. It represents a balance between truth and fairness in our law enforcement systems. Columbus now has a very popular and a very effective Chief of Police who, I believe, loves this city and has the safety of its citizens foremost in his mind with every decision he makes, while at the same time, supporting every community event with security. There is no doubt in my mind that once the council hears this one single transgression on the ONE side of Lady Justice's scales and then hears ALL THE THINGS Chief St.John has done for OUR community and for the police department on the other side of Lady Justice's scales, then it should be obvious to each of the council members that the "Scales of Justice" held by Lady Justice will slam down definitely on the side of, and in favor of, Police Chief Joseph St.John. Supporters of Chief Joe St John are asked to come to the council meeting and be at the Columbus Municipal Complex, located at 1501 Main Street, at 4:30pm on Tuesday July 19 to show the council the community's support for the chief. I plan to be there because if my councilman votes against the chief, then I plan to vote against my councilman in the next election. And, I hope you can be there too for the very same reason... It's time the will of the people start making a difference in our state and local governments.


Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 7/17/2011 5:24:00 AM:

You want consistency Birney? You spent a week or more showing the girls of Caledonia who took a student prank too far, so how about showing a week or more of your brother eluding police and fence jumping?

You really should just stick to writing your purty-purties and stop trying to inject yourself into things. Hell, I dunno, why don't you try journalism instead for a change?

Oh right, you're wanting consistency, I forgot.


Article Comment i commented at 7/17/2011 7:50:00 AM:

I pray that all will go to the Lord in prayers before a decision is made. Life is not about being fair and if you foolishly think so, you are misguided. All things happen for reason!


Article Comment kj commented at 7/17/2011 11:59:00 AM:

The sliding scale of accountability works in the wrong direction in Columbus. As one of those commenters who has referenced the Smith/Karriem fight on multiple occasions, let me say that it would be easier to accept that minor transgressions on the part of elected officials in the city went unpunished and unremarked if those same officials were not so strict with unelected functionaries.


Article Comment orphanbully commented at 7/17/2011 6:46:00 PM:

If the chief was doing a bad job and this transgression happened, then I'd say kick him to the curb. But he seems to be doing an adequate job and the public seems to like him. I've talked to him on numerous occasions and he seems like a stand-up guy. You can't blame Columbus' crime problems solely on him. Columbus had crime problems long before he took over. If you want to deal with the crime issue, talk with all these young, dumb single mothers out there who are raising kids to be just as out-of-control and irresponsible as they are, whether black or white. They are the real problem in this town and in many other towns across the country. When this thug-life mindset becomes the norm, you know you have problems. Unfortunately, St. John is trying to keep control of a town where that mindset is widely accepted.


Article Comment ckirby commented at 7/17/2011 9:02:00 PM:

Good grief bully. I always thought photography took some kind of emotional depth to be decent work. Still you come across like a 13 year old repressed *head. what's the difference between your internet sniping at people you don't know and this thug mindset you talk about? You sound like you think you have a reason for it when you do it. Maybe they think they have a reason too. Reading through your messages shows a thug mentality if ever there was one. How many kids younger than you do you infect with your own flavor of it? Or do you think because you do it on the internet that it makes it different somehow? Maybe if you could figure out why you act like you do maybe you'd have a clue as to why they act like they do. If you think a thug mentality's a problem what's the chance you don't think you add to it in any way? If it's a problem at all maybe it's as bad as you say because kids watch and act like the older people around them.


Article Comment tech1 commented at 7/17/2011 9:06:00 PM:

2 words.....Civil Service.


Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 7/18/2011 8:13:00 AM:

"If it's a problem at all maybe it's as bad as you say because kids watch and act like the older people around them."

Uh huh, and what older people are those faces in the crime news and mugshots acting like, and where are those people found?

Ya gotta watch where you step ckirby, meadow-muffins abound. Do you need to borrow a hose to get that off your shoe?


Article Comment onetoughcookie commented at 7/18/2011 9:23:00 AM:

orphan bully, how about targeting the dumb "fathers" who actually make the babies and don't support them (officers included here)--that's where the thug mentality begins! Columbus has had issues with it's force for years; the chief isn't the issue.


Article Comment sheatherly commented at 7/18/2011 11:05:00 AM:

2 Words ..(actually a comparison of two things) ~ MARKET STREET FESTIVAL/THUGS...One of the most successful commercial, cultural, social events in Columbus History..putting us on the modern day national map..blighted by large groups of troublemakers who have shown up at near the same time every year. Man-in-charge of recent successful solution(at least until it rears its ugly head again)....
...Joseph St. John.


Article Comment zenreaper commented at 7/18/2011 1:55:00 PM:

Why is it a PLUS that the Chief of Police uses CITY officers to do security at PRIVATE events? All that succeeds in doing is making sure that $2 you pay for a can of soda goes into the organizers POCKETS, instead of to the COSTS of such events, like SECURITY.

And SO WHAT if people LIKE the chief, he broke the RULES...repeatedly.

And to those who would vote out a city council person because they followed the RULES, people like you shouldn't be allowed to VOTE!


Article Comment sheatherly commented at 7/18/2011 2:44:00 PM:

@ "1 person doesn't" (like this) and others who may not like my prior post ... WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE??? ..."successful Columbus event"? ..."putting us on the national map"? ..."blight caused by regularly appearing troublemakers"? (Do you disagree that this was happening?) ..."successful solution"? ...or is it that you don't like Joseph St. John getting credit for a potentially explosive situation artfully defused?

..Or perhaps it is the word "thug" that you don't like? Then what better word? Something more politically correct? ..Whitewash it? (.."Unfortunate Misguided Youths"?)..Pretend the problems are not close to crisis level in this community? I, for one, am sick of the pretense. Those of us who care about Columbus need to speak up, regardless of race, and support what is best for everyone who wants to see this community thrive...and not just for one group or another.

Joe St. John has made some mistakes... so have many others whose jobs were barely even threatened by theirs. But, the type of contributions St. John has made and his ability to nurture cohesiveness is what is most needed in this community. And for this reason, I truly believe Chief St. John should be given at least a third strike. Those who disagree should readily be able to offer the name of a ready replacement who could step in and do as well. I doubt that anyone could.


Article Comment readaboutit commented at 7/18/2011 6:32:00 PM:

ok, lets put this in some kind of perspective. Have other council members been punished for their tempers, their problems....over and over again???Do we have faith in them????But by the looks of public opinion we do have faith in Joe St. John....let's let the man do his job!!!Show up tomorrow and lets support him! He will remember it.


Article Comment tuttie commented at 7/19/2011 1:01:00 PM:

the chief is a good person. bottom line. can we say the same about the others of the council and supervisor boards. we need to cut out this old good boy mentality and come to grip with the new world.


Article Comment timberdawg98 commented at 7/19/2011 10:22:00 PM:

Congrats to the "Less Than Honorable" Mayor Smith and is Posse of Idiots on the City Council. You have proven to the Citizens of this Great City that you are an Absolute Joke! I hope that the People remember your Sorry Tails come election time. You are an Embarrassment to the City of Columbus. What a Pathetic Bunch of Buffoons!


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