Disparity in the County: A case study

Bernal E. Smith, II | 4/7/2016, 1:50 p.m.
“My primary purpose is to detail a case study as a real-life example of “an unchecked system and ingrained culture ...

Recently – and with some measure of controversy – the results of the completed Shelby County disparity study were rolled out. I don’t think the findings came as a surprise to anyone. As the saying goes, men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.

This column is not a recap of the disparity study; nor is it designed to discuss its merits. I will, however, offer this: the recommendations for remedy must be made a high priority, fully implemented and fully funded.

I know the format of this column will be unsettling to some. My primary purpose is to detail a case study as a real-life example of “an unchecked system and ingrained culture of exclusion and discrimination.”

A chain of emails between me and an employee of the Shelby County Land Bank – a unit/division of Shelby County Government – chronicle this case. I commend the staffer for working diligently with me over the course of nearly two months last year to find a way for the Shelby County Land Bank to do business with The New Tri-State Defender (TSD). We thought long and hard and finally came up with an unprecedented solution to creatively carve out a portion of the legal notices that were previously 100 percent being run with The Daily News.

We worked out a process by which legal ads that are required to be published from bids made on Tuesdays and Wednesdays of each week would be placed with the TSD and published in print on Thursday of each week. The other three days of the week would continue to be placed with the existing publisher.

Over the course of the past year, with very few hiccups, we successfully advertised those legal notices. I learned that there was some push back to the arrangement and the relationship always seemed to be tenuous at best.

On March 17, 2016, I received an email that originated from the staffer’s boss, Bill Goss. Mr. Goss clearly took issue with the TSD receiving ad placements and began looking for a reason, an excuse to pull the plug on the relationship. Let me mention this again: except for a few minor hiccups, we have executed properly and in accordance with the standards set. There is no logical reason for us not to continue receiving the legal ads. I can only contend based upon his mandate and allegation that it is primarily, if not solely, an issue of race.

We have not received placements since the week of 3/17/2016. I also understand that Mr. Goss made an issue about the volume of ads that were being sent to us, alleging that somehow more ads were being sent to the TSD than to the Daily News. Based upon the arrangement established, I am not sure that would even be possible – three days of ads certainly equal more than two.

This action represents a culture of exclusion that if allowed to continue will ensure that no progress is ever made relative to the recent disparity study. The county will have spent $400,000 to fund insanity – continuing to do the same things while expressing the expectation of a different result. Taxpayers will simply have purchased a very expensive 200-page document to tell us what most of us already know.