Posted December 31, 2020
“There’s no reason not to appoint me. I am highly educated. I have years of experience in community organizing. I have dedicated so much—and I’m in a privileged position with a spousal income so that I can work tirelessly for… an enormous amount till like midnight every night for a minimal income. It’s ridiculous.”
Acting Enfield Supervisor Stephanie Redmond to her Enfield Town Board. December 9th, 2020, urging the Board to elevate her, by appointment, to full Supervisor.
Radio marked my first career. I’ve known of young disk jockeys who’ve lost their first—and sometimes, their later—jobs based on an indiscrete sudden slip of the tongue. The red light is on. A nugget of news invades the brain and squeezes out unfermented creative juice. The joke quickly ripens. Your youthful mind can’t wait to share with the world your wit and creativity. You pause not; you speak first; you think only later, sometimes as you’re marched out the door (or dressed-down by the boss, if you’re lucky.)
Momentary lapses of maturity and departures of common decency have afflicted not just the lowly, but also the lofty leaders in our chattering profession. Rush Limbaugh, you may recall, lost affiliates and advertisers a few years back after a quickly-quipped unartful remark that disparaged an otherwise fine and principled private citizen. It nearly drove el-Rushbo from the airwaves.
Still, such moments serve a priceless purpose. They provide unvarnished glimpses into the speaker’s true person. What is his or her mental baseline? What interests him? What amuses her? Has our speaker blossomed into adulthood? Or is he or she still hopelessly living life in the Junior High lunchroom? What is his or her level of grace, compassion and leadership; attributes or oddities revealed only when the superficial body putty of pristine politeness is momentarily peeled away and the underlying rust of juvenility potentially revealed? Do you really want this person to invade your life, or to run your town?
Monday, December 28th, the Ithaca Voice, rewriting a Tompkins County Health Department news release, reported that an “individual” who worked at Enfield’s Kuma Charmer’s adult entertainment club had tested positive for COVID-19. The Health Department had requested that those who’d visited the Kuma on specific dates follow standard protocols for testing and possible quarantine. The Department’s release made no mention of the employee’s assigned task at the club.
Yes, we’re tempted to speculate. The amateur joke writers among us quickly try to outperform one another with cartwheels of inspiration. But I did not. In true Joe Friday fashion, I reported “just the facts, Mam” on this website. Yes, I, too, had thought of the one-liners. But I hesitated. Someone had become sick in my town, and the authorities had requested our collective help. The moment demanded restraint. After seven decades of life, I instinctively knew where to draw the line. I also have learned that first impressions can later embarrass.
Others think differently. Our Town’s current presiding officer, Stephanie Redmond, has crafted her own official Facebook Page, “Stephanie Redmond – Town of Enfield Acting Supervisor.” She, too, posted the Ithaca Voice’s Kuma story, the online daily awkwardly titling it, “Latest public exposure at Kuma Charmer’s strip club.” With her posting, the fun began among Stephanie and her friends.
Redmond’s introductory comment: “Oh, my.”
The post grew in popularity. It drew as many as 18 comments within its first 72 hours. Many came, in successive exchanges, from either Redmond herself or from her mentor, our former Supervisor, Beth McGee. (I’ll protect the anonymity of other commenters):
FB Friend #1: “The headline they couldn’t resist”
Stephanie Redmond reply: “[Friend #1], it kind of writes itself.”
FB Friend #2: “Sorry not sorry. Probably lots of fluids in that establishment.”
Beth McGee: “[Friend #2], only respiratory fluids will get ya the rona though.”
Stephanie Redmond: “Beth McGee, ‘All naked, All the time!!’”
Beth McGee: “Stephanie Aprile Redmond, I guess the heavy breathing could do you in.”
Stephanie Redmond: “Beth McGee, that motto doesn’t leave much room for a mask.”
FB Friend #3: “Although embarrassing, someone took contact tracing seriously.”
Stephanie Redmond: “[FB Friend #3], now let’s see if all the patrons who were there will fess up. If I come down with Corona in the next two weeks, my husband is in a whole heap of trouble (laughing emoji posted).”
FB Friend #3: “There will be more spread from the relaxation of protocol during the holidays than from Kuma’s.”
Stephanie Redmond: “[FB Friend #3], likely excuse.”
Beth McGee: “Why is a strip club an establishment that is allowed to stay open? WTH?
Stephanie Redmond: “Beth McGee, well libraries are closed sooo we are all safe!! Lol.”
Beth McGee: “Stephanie Aprile Redmond, ridiculous.”
[FB Friend #4]: “In your district, right?
Stephanie Redmond: “[FB Friend #4], yes, our #1 business.”
When those of us who ask to serve step from private citizen into the role of public official, we answer to a higher calling. Our every word, our every deed, elevates itself to a level that invites (and deserves) public scrutiny. We speak—and write—not just for ourselves and for our friends, but also for our constituents in our role as their public trustee. Facebook is not some private “Slam-book” passed one student to another behind the teacher’s back in History class. It’s public record; an open journal for all to see; a revealing peek into the writer’s mind and heart. It tells of class, or else, of a lack thereof.
As I wrote earlier, initial restraint can prove wise; later facts can embarrass. Based on what others have now publicly shared, the person employed at the Kuma who contracted COVID-19 was not a dancer. Moreover, the person in isolation may have been an Enfield resident and is very ill. He or she deserves our support and our prayers, not our self-serving derision for the sake of a quickly-fleeting laugh.
True, former Supervisor McGee’s pointed question remains well-taken. Why was the Kuma allowed to stay open until Midnight and beyond, while Governor Cuomo’s executive orders force restaurants and bars statewide to close at 10 PM? Good question. It deserves an answer, but not in a slapstick context.
On January 13th, I fully expect Stephanie Redmond to ask us four who now vote on the Enfield Town Board to elevate her to Town Supervisor, an interim appointment that would circumvent the voters and place her in full charge of our Town’s administration for the balance of 2021.
Yes, Stephanie, you may be “highly educated,” as you boast. For all I know, you may shine as the brightest bulb in Enfield. Your experience in community organizing may outdistance us all. You may know how to navigate all of the Williamson Software twists and turns better than Williamson him- (or her-) self. You may have memorized the Budget Book cover to cover. Yet sadly, from that impulse-driven Facebook snowball of one-liners I’ve read, you still have very much to learn—about government, and about people.
Training one to master office software is not training one to lead. And to quote Rush Limbaugh, “Words mean things.” He ought to know. His words once almost cost him his career. Remember that, Stephanie. Good luck this January.