No more Mr. Nice Guy!
— Alice Cooper
In the 1970 Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Judas — trying to justify his pending betrayal of Christ — sings, “This sordid kind of thing’s coming hard to me.”
The following comes hard as well. But it’s something that needs to be said.
Longtime Albany City Commissioner Tommie Postell is, through his frequent confrontational and boorish behavior at the commission table, on his way to becoming more a public detriment than a public servant.
I’m by no means the only one to notice.
A number of Postell’s colleagues on the commission and city officials who regularly attend the board’s meetings have used terms like “bullying,” “intimidation” and “unnecessary” to describe the Ward VI commissioner’s recent behavior. So much so, the old saw of “that’s just Postell being Postell” can no longer explain away his antics.
Since he was first elected to the commission in 2004, Postell has always been his own man. Never shy about expressing his opinions, he’s long been lauded for standing up for his constituents. Even as public cries of “racist” showered down on him when he infamously declared during commission meetings that people with the surname Patel should not be allowed to be used as alcohol-license applicant references for others named Patel because in America “you two are relatives if you’ve got the same last name” and “all white folks look alike,” the latter a blown-out-of-proportion attempt at humor, the retired educator never appeared to lose his focus on the issues that impacted city residents.
Lately, however, Postell has taken to inexplicably questioning residents, city staff and even other commissioners in a confrontational manner that has shocked a number of onlookers. One, a young lady who attended her first commission meeting as part of one of the many groups that make such attendance mandatory, asked me after a particularly harsh Postell tirade, “Is he always like this?” When I said, “Lately, pretty much,” she asked, “Well, how do they ever get anything done?”
I overheard another young visitor ask a colleague, “Is that the man who’s in charge of the commission?”
Many regular city observers — and, again, several city officials — have long whispered that Postell likes to “play to an audience,” especially, they’ve said, if TV cameras are rolling or high-profile guests are at the meetings. But Postell has never been accused of being intentionally mean. Until lately.
Just this year Postell has verbally challenged City Manager James Taylor to the point that Taylor, a consummate professional who plans to retire in the not too distant future, has contemplated walking away. During one such incident, Taylor muttered under his breath, “I don’t have to put up with this.”
Postell has also demanded that Albany Police Department officials report to the commission (“To me!” were his actual words) on ongoing activities that could, APD officials have tried to quietly point out, compromise operations; he’s openly challenged Mayor Dorothy Hubbard when she’s calmly chastised him for ignoring the Roberts Rules of Order “no discussion on a tabled matter” admonition, and he’s ridiculed fellow commissioners for making comments with which he doesn’t agree.
Postell has also challenged residents — many of them elderly — who’ve brought matters before the commission, last week demanding that Dougherty County Law Library Director Laureen Kelly reveal her salary even when Kelly clearly stated that the request she’d made (to increase fees that would be tacked onto court fines) would be used to update the law library’s periodical and book collection and would in no way impact her salary.
That act, which was basically a matter of “I’ll ask you this potentially embarrassing question because I can,” was a final straw for many. Consider me among them.
One of Postell’s colleagues pointed out to me after one of his particularly boorish performances that, “The Postell (at the commission table) is not the Postell you get anywhere else.”
I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve visited the Ward VI commissioner’s home on occasions and have always found him to be a congenial, considerate host. I’ve also always enjoyed talking to Postell one-on-one because he gives thoughtful, pointed answers to all questions.
That’s why the commission veteran’s recent behavior has been so disturbing. And it’s why I risk damaging our professional and generally mutually respectful relationship to, in essence, call this man that I’ve long respected out.
There comes a time when a duly elected official takes the authority granted by his or her position too far. Tommie Postell may not have quite reached that point. But he’s damned close.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.