By Michael Covington, Guest columnist
One of the worst things an advocate can do is go after a righteous dude. Former State Rep., former City Council member, former mayoral aide, former Beck Cultural Center director and Knoxville’s foremost African American historian Robert Booker is just such a righteous dude.
When Mr. Booker devoted his Knoxville News Sentinel (KNS) Op-Ed column to the city government’s conflict over the proposed use of Caswell Park lands for Volunteer Ministries Center’s (VMC) permanent supportive housing, a war of words and fight for city council votes was sure to follow.
Only a few days passed before VMC CEO Dr. Bruce Spangler managed to get a guest column published in KNS that, among other allegations, labeled Mr. Booker as a bias spewing bigot. That was a huge mistake which will likely contribute to VMC missing out on the coveted acreage for permanent supportive housing. The city’s development director made the situation worse days later when her guest column characterized Booker as just some guy who writes benign articles. They were both as wrong as two left shoes, but who prompted the rebuttal?
Though VMC is a nonprofit chartered to serve the needs of the ‘almost homeless’ they are a big bank 501(c)(3) as evidenced by their ability to attract high-dollar grants, acquire free and clear property from the city and allocate cash to retain the services of a high priced local public relations firm. It is likely the high priced PR firm that orchestrated the placement of and possibly the authoring of the Spangler and Wade pieces but high priced PR or not, those columns have compromised VMC’s expansion plans as a result of their efforts to belittle Booker.
Sure there’s a new Mayor that’ll take the issue up in January but she’s already asserted that she favors green space, open space, Parkridge and East Knoxville. When Mayor-elect Kincannon calls for a vote, the 6th District Councilwoman’s established alliance with constituents fighting to save the park delivers at least three votes with hers – and that’s four. Bob Booker spent election night with a fifth vote at a winning council candidate’s watch party and with that, a final vote of 5-4 is likely all that’s needed to save the park land from the development of additional supportive housing in East Knoxville. VMC would then be forced to accept an alternate city property from among the many in East Knoxville, or all other sectors of the city.
The expression ‘even a dog distinguishes between being stumbled over or kicked’ and is what likely led to Former Ambassador to Poland and former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe devoting his most recent column to the Spangler and Wade columns that were not outright kicks to his friend Bob Booker but certainly not stumbles either. In this instance, VMC would have been better served by reaching out to someone who could have given them better advice. Attacking Mr. Booker in Knoxville is bad form and bad business. I could have told them that for free!
Michael Covington is an Industrial Consultant and moderator of the East Knoxville Community Meeting. You can find him on Facebook.
(DISCLAIMER: Editorial comments are the views of the writer and may not reflect the views or position of the East Tennessee Enlightener.)