“What are you reading?”
As opening lines go, this is a fairly innocuous one. Most of us regard it in the same manner as other common greetings, like “how are you?” and “what’s up?”
How is it, then, that a seemingly harmless supposition with respect to one’s view of the act of reading is transformed into an offense, a provocation, a seeming challenge to one’s masculinity?
Mention the words “NA Confidential” to New Albany Councilman Dan Coffey, and you’ll find out what those of us who grew up on a farm have known since childhood.
Wild skunks spray as a defense mechanism when they perceive a threat.
At least one beleaguered local politician has now been observed to display similar characteristics.
At last evening’s City Council meeting, I took advantage of the time allowed for public comment to speak briefly on three matters:
(1) To restate NA Confidential’s opposition to the further expenditure of public monies to fight a losing battle against the 1st Amendment in the New Albany DVD case,
(2) To encourage the mayor (who was absent) and the council to consider setting up public forums for discussion of matters not reserved to the weekly Board of Public Works and Safety meetings, and
(3) To support the March 2 Public Affairs Symposium, "New Visions for Downtown New Albany."
NA Confidential regards these statements as general in nature, fully in keeping with the “respect” factor and time limitations enforced by President Jeff Gahan, and certainly not directed toward any single individual on the City Council.
But Dan Coffey’s immediate, visceral and jarringly defensive reaction was as indicative of an ill-tempered, anti-progressive mindset as one is apt to find without running to the library for transcripts of Senator McCarthy’s 1950’s-era witch hunt hearings in the US Senate.
These hearings might be available on video for the benefit of those who feel threatened by the act of reading.
Coincidentally, Dan Coffey does not read Blogs because “anyone can hide behind the keyboard,” but by means of osmosis or the Vulcan mind meld, he purports to know exactly what is written in NA Confidential.
Dan Coffey, who sits as part of an elected body known as the “city” council, which is charged with matters pertaining to the city as a whole, sees no need to speak with anyone outside his own district, where he holds public meetings six times a year ... and ... hey, you ... outsider … you don’t live here, do you? … well, congratulations, you’ve just been invited not to attend!
Dan Coffey emphatically and abrasively possesses not the slightest intention to attend any town hall, public forum or revival meeting that is not organized by himself in the safety of his own fiefdom, especially if he’s invited only to listen to the taxpayers throughout the city who pay his salary (and whose money he spends) rather than speak himself.
That’s because Dan Coffey, red-faced and sermonizing, is in fact gravely insulted at not being consulted.
By his own admission, he doesn’t read, but also by his own admission, he is one of the select group able to understand the money, who controls the purse strings of the city, who knows how things get done, who certainly doesn’t need the advice of mere "complainers" who should know their place in the back of the cosmos bus or else get up off their laggard butts and run for office – as if there were no other way to participate in the political process in this city.
The meeting room was quiet as the Wizard of Westside self-destructed.
Then, having encapsulated the most virulent form of New Albany’s native disease in far more eloquent fashion than has been attempted in NA Confidential or any other repository of the written word, Dan Coffey ceased his diatribe.
Ten minutes later, Dan Coffey nodded in assent as fellow Councilman Bill Schmidt produced the results of personal research indicating that neither he nor Coffey, or for that matter, anyone else on the City Council really knows how much money the city has borrowed or if it has been paid back.
NA Confidential earnestly hopes that Dan Coffey’s outburst last evening was the result of the stress and strain that doubtless accompany the task of sifting through New Albany’s current budgetary woes. The Courier-Journal’s and Tribune’s coverage of the meeting make clear the extent of the crisis.
But extenuating circumstances aside, Dan Coffey’s performance cannot be allowed to pass without comment.
His narrow parochialism with respect to the responsibilities of elected public representatives is sadly indicative of the discredited “ward-heeler” school of political “thought,” once the norm but now utterly incapable of providing the unifying vision critical in a world increasingly reliant on the very qualities of communication and inter-dependence that Coffey regards with open contempt.
And, for the record, I’m reading “The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History,” by John Barry.
Volunteer Hoosier's essay "Contrapunction" analyzes the February 7 City Council meeting
New Albany budget questions put vehicle requests on hold, by Ben Zion Hershberg of the Louisville Courier-Journal
Outstanding loans force delay in possible purchase of city vehicles, by Amany Ali, Tribune City Editor