Local voices: A letter from the mayor

August 16, 2013 10:42:23 AM

  -

 

Dear Slim:  

 

This letter is written in answer to Spencer Smith's letter to the editor from page 4A of your Aug. 12, Dispatch, and your tongue-in-cheek "Slimantics" column about my inquiry as to your birth name. When I first read Spencer Smith's letter to the editor, I had not bothered to learn your birth name. So, I have to confess I suspected a possibility existed that you were the person that authored the letter to the editor wherein the writer suggested that I should be investigated for ethical and criminal misconduct.  

 

However, upon further reflection I concluded that you probably would not have accused me of a violation of the ethics in government law or of committing a crime. I say that because I assume in your college journalism courses you probably studied about defamation sufficiently to know better than to accuse even a public figure of breaking the law without any factual evidence to back up such a charge. 

 

What I find most disappointing about the paper's recent reporting is that there appears to be a total lack of regard for the making of accurate factual reports. Rather, it appears that, more often than not, The Dispatch writers intentionally skew stories so as to cause the readers to reach conclusions that are not factually true. Your Aug. 8 paper is an excellent example of this. In that paper, on page 1A, Nathan Gregory titled an article "J5/Broaddus owner stands behind Smith." Then he reported that my son, Orlando Smith, worked for J5. However, my son works for a company by the name of J5 GBL, LLC.  

 

He does not work for the company that has a contract with the city of Columbus. Jabari Edwards told Nathan Gregory this significant fact before Nathan wrote the article that you ran on that date. And Nathan omitted from his article the important fact that Orlando Smith was never employed by J5/Broaddus. 

 

Then, a presumably innocent reader, Spencer Smith (who has the same first initial and the same last name as you), who had probably never done any fact-checking of the paper's reporting, read Nathan's article and assumed it to be accurate. From that, he then erroneously concluded that I am guilty of an ethics violation and perhaps am guilty of a crime and should be removed from office. From my perspective, and those of many of my friends and family, it seems The Dispatch spent an awful lot of energy attacking me for what happened with my adult sons and even went overboard when the actual facts would not give rise to a conclusion of impropriety on my part. 

 

Slim, I would wager that when you were arrested for your second DUI out in Arizona, the Tupelo Daily Journal did not run a story identifying your parents and telling their readers that their son was going to have to spend 30 days in the county jail. Further, I would imagine that when you got arrested for your third DUI the Tupelo Daily Journal did not run an article telling the world that Timothy Lane Smith, son of John Smith and Jane Smith was arrested and convicted for his third DUI. Nor did they probably report that the court sentenced you to serve time in prison out in Arizona and that upon release, you were not re-hired by your former employer, The East Valley Tribune, because of the liability risks associated with rehiring you. Had such coverage run in the home of your parents, I would imagine it would have caused them significant pain and embarrassment. I know that you have not hidden your criminal past from your readers. But your confession of what was publicly available is the consequence of your own actions. 

 

In stark contrast to your felonious past, I have never been convicted of anything. I was born in this county and made my way up through my youth by my own hard work. I have owned a number of businesses, coached football, taught school, served as a middle school principal, elective and appointed office. During all those years, I have never been sanctioned by any court or administrative body for any wrong-doing. Though I came from an impoverished childhood, I paid my way through college and earned a master's degree from Mississippi State. 

 

And yet, your paper suggests that, as mayor, I preside over a meeting where a company that employed my son was hired by the city. Had that been the case, perhaps I would have been guilty of an ethics violation. But those were not the facts. Spencer Smith's opinion is therefore wrong as well. And not to put too fine a point on it, but The Dispatch is to blame for Spencer's accusations against me. 

 

So what? Who cares if your paper reported facts that would reasonably lead one to conclude I committed an ethics violation when those facts are wrong? Who cares that your paper ran a letter to the editor accusing me of a crime when no crime had been committed? 

 

I know you don't care. But you should. A lot more people care about The Dispatch's sloppy reporting than you might think. 

 

So what if my name is dragged through the mud? I would suggest that even a public figure doesn't deserve such accusations in the absence of evidence to support them. Thus, from my perspective only, the editors and the owners of The Commercial Dispatch ought to be ashamed. What's in a name? See below for some examples. 

 

 

 

Proverbs 22: 

 

A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold. 

 

 

 

Othello Act 3, scene 3, 155-161: 

 

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls.  

 

Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; ' 

 

Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;  

 

But he that filches from me my good name  

 

Robs me of that which not enriches him,  

 

And makes me poor indeed. 

 

 

 

It would be nice to think that somehow this letter would un-ring the damage your paper has sought to inflict upon my reputation and my name. But I know it probably won't. After all folks love to believe the negative stuff and disbelieve those who are victims of false reporting. And it is evident to me that nobody at The Commercial Dispatch cares. The lesson I hope is learned by a few more of your readers is that nobody should EVER accept what is reported in The Commercial Dispatch as factually correct or intellectually honest. 

 

Thank you for running this letter in its entirety, which I would assume you will not, even though you ran four pages of coverage about the arrests of my adult children and didn't think that was too much ink. 

 

Mayor Robert Earl Smith, Sr. 

 

Columbus 

 

P.S. And to Spencer Smith, I would caution you about writing letters to a newspaper accusing someone of a crime. It could wind you up in court one day along with the newspaper that printed it. 

 

 

 

Editor's note: The Mayor is splitting hairs. His son, Orlando Smith, works for J5 GBL, LLC, a company owned by Jabari Edwards, the Mayor's former campaign manager. Edwards' $90,000-plus contract with the city is through J5/Broaddus. The Mayor's characterization of Spencer Smith's letter is incorrect. Spencer Smith did not accuse the Mayor of a crime, rather he suggested that the Mayor's role in this episode should be investigated.