Have another little piece of my heart now baby.
— Janis Joplin
I had an opportunity — the first since just before he sent his letter of resignation to the Albany City Commission — to talk with James Taylor late last week. It was a social call, an opportunity to check up on a man I’d grown to admire a great deal.
As soon as Taylor answered the phone, I knew something was different. His words confirmed my suspicion.
“I’m doing great,” Taylor said, and he sounded like it. So many times over the past several years, he’d answered my calls with a voice that was equal parts annoyance and wariness. Such is the life of a city official in a medium-sized community where the media report your every action.
As we exchanged pleasantries, Taylor surprised me with the revelation that he’d lost 23 pounds since leaving Albany a month ago for his retirement home in Florida. I asked him if he’d burned the weight off on the golf course, where he’s always spent a large amount of his free time.
“Not really,” he said. “My wife and I are walking three or four miles every morning and we’re working to fix up our house.”
Out of a sense of obligation, I mentioned that when we’d talked last, Taylor had told me he might want to address the matter of the $20,000 bonus he’d signed off on for city employee Veronica Wright. I told him that that was by no means the reason for my call — it truly wasn’t — but I did want to give him the opportunity.
“I really don’t think anything I’d say would make any difference,” he said. “I think it’s best for the city and for all concerned that we just move on.”
As we talked a bit longer, one thing became clearer and clearer: Taylor sounded like a man who’d had a huge burden lifted from his shoulders. Always a pleasure to talk with one-on-one, the former city manager’s public persona was usually guarded, even a bit defensive. He told me privately on a number of occasions that he felt he had to stay on guard because of the local media’s propensity for getting news stories not-quite-right and how that often negatively impacted the community’s perception of the local government.
“Just like I have to do my job, (media representatives) have to do theirs,” Taylor once said. “What bothers me most, though, is when they don’t take the time to do their job the way it should be done. They tend to make some of the stories fit what they want them to be.”
As our conversation wound down, I thanked Taylor for his years of service to the community. It probably wasn’t my place to do so, but I thought it was important for him to know that, despite the speculation — some of it warranted, some of it just the puerile imagination of small minds — that swirled around the bonus issue, there are plenty of people in Albany who understood and appreciated the battle he waged to try and return the city to its former prominence.
I’d like to think he appreciated the gesture.
For any who doubt Taylor’s sincerity, for those who spend their days looking for something — anything! — that they can gripe about, I share the retired Marine’s parting words. As he offered his best wishes, Taylor said, “Y’all take care of my city for me.”
Those, folks, are the words of a man who cares.