Brian Hicks is a gifted journalist, a local treasure. I am always attentive to his observations. However, his column on the recent public meeting sponsored by the Charleston Area Justice Ministry surely “threw the baby out with the bathwater.”
As Hicks well noted, aspects of the event seemed to go awry. I am reliably informed that no one is more distressed about this than CAJM leadership. A process of self-analysis has already begun and Hicks’ column may well contribute to this.
I would like to address three circumstances Hicks’ piece fails to adequately acknowledge.
1) The very existence of such a diverse organization of religious communities (30 and growing — thousands of volunteer hours) is an invaluable resource for Charleston. If they were doing nothing other than meeting together and getting to know each, it would be a very positive activity. As a matter of fact they are attacking difficult problems of social justice and have already fostered significant progress in issues of pre-school education, reform of criminal justice and most recently wage theft.
2) The final public meeting with local officials is primarily a listening/commitment event and not a debate. Consultation and debate are built into a series of more private meetings prior to the final public meeting. Furthermore, public officials have “bully pulpits” implicit in their positions that are not readily available to the rest of us.
Officials have ample advance notice of the positions to which they will be asked to respond. A lot can be said in even 30 seconds if one is prepared. As Hicks noted, Mayor John Tecklenburg gave an excellent illustration of this. Contrary to Hicks, I believe the mayor’s dignified, plausible responses created more admiration than disapproval among the immediate audience.
3) The more substantial disappointment of the evening was somewhat addressed in the editorial of the same newspaper issue featuring Hicks’ commentary. This was the nonappearance of the majority of public leaders invited.
Public officials should not be fearful or dismissive of a body of citizens so committed to community betterment. These absentees would appear not to understand the courtesy, humility and courage embodied in ideals of public service.
John H. Dawson, Jr.