Government agencies prove that just because they can doesn’t mean they shouldn’t – Tennessee Lookout

Until two weeks ago I had not heard of Mason, Tennessee or Joshua Lipscomb, but thanks to a few government agencies I now know them very well and I bet many other people in Tennesse have heard of it.

Mason is the small town in West Tennessee just a few miles from the massive, soon-to-open Ford Blue Oval manufacturing campus. The predominantly black town is home to descendants of former slaves who worked on nearby farms and now most of the elected officials are black.

Less than two weeks ago, Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower sent a letter to Mason residents urging them to relinquish the city’s charter. Mason’s elected officials voted against it, but the comptroller put in place a plan to take control of the city’s finances, requiring state approval for all spending of taxpayers’ or taxpayers’ money .

Mason, Tenn. has had financial difficulties in the past and Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower has the right to exercise financial control. But given that the malfeasance happened under white leadership and the current, mostly black administration has taken steps to clean up the mess, the look is bad on Mumpower.

Things probably didn’t go as Mumpower might have expected.

Mason’s elected officials, led by fiery Vice Mayor Virginia Rivers, pushed back, and the case captured national attention. Rivers and most of the city’s current leadership are black, a change from most of Mason’s past when the city was run by white mayors and aldermen and when white city employees embezzled money and subsequently resigned.

It is true that Mason has had a number of financial difficulties in the past, which Mumpower uses to justify the takeover. It wouldn’t be the first time Tennessee has taken over the finances of a county or municipality, but even so, it’s rare: The comptroller’s office can name only two occasions, and in neither case the city or county was asked to renounce its charter.

Let’s move on to the case of Lipscomb.

Lipscomb, 30, is a firefighter with the Metro Nashville Fire Department. His grandfather, Thomas Lipscomb, was deputy head of the department.

On Friday, the fire department suspended Joshua Lipscomb for 16 days for violating several of Metro Nashville’s rules. civil service disciplinary rules, includingviolation of any written rules, policies or procedures of the department for which the employee is employed; any breach of good conduct which brings discredit upon himself, the Department and/or the Metropolitan Government and conduct unbecoming an employee of the Metropolitan Government.

Lipscomb was notified of the disciplinary charges on February 22 after a tweet deemed inappropriate by firefighters.

Here’s the catch: Lipscomb’s Twitter account is under a pseudonym, Mr Joshua Black. Lipscomb performs as a stand-up comedian and painter under his alter ego and over the past two years has gained popularity through short comedy videos on his Twitter account and in affiliation with the Nashville Scene, the Alternative Weekly from the city.

“Sir Josh Black” touched on topics as varied as Memphis – “No one on earth loves anything more than a Memphis man loves Memphis; there are more dreadlocks in Memphis than in Jamaica and Miami combined” – Nashville bachelorette parties, hot chicken and former mayor Megan Barry.

Joshua Lipscomb, aka “Sir Josh Black”. (Picture: Twitter)

Lipscomb is a black man, and as “Sir Josh Black” he regularly addresses race and politics in his comedy, which isn’t unusual. Dave Chappelle, anyone? Richard Prior?

He’s a funny guy but his tweets aren’t always funny. Under his pseudonym, he sometimes tweets on serious topics. On February 2, the morning after Nashville’s Metro Council voted in favor of a controversial pilot program to install license plate readersI was not shocked to see her Tweeter saying, “The majority of the Nashville City Council is made up of white supremacists.” Although he did not explicitly mention the LPR vote, to dial Nashville politicians, its significance seemed clear.

I never met Lipscomb and had no idea he worked for the Nashville Fire Department until news of the disciplinary charges broke, as that information does not appear on his Twitter profile. In his comedy, he makes no reference to his daily work or his first name.

I asked for advice on the First Amendment, because it seemed to me that Lipscomb’s suspension came close to violating his rights, and a local expert referred me to the Pickering test. Pickering is based on the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Pickering v. Board of Education, in which the nation’s highest court gave a framework for First Amendment reprisal claims.

A close analysis of Pickering by the law firm Haynes Boon pointed out that to substantiate claims of protected speech, an employee must have spoken as a citizen and not in an official capacity or in the exercise of governmental responsibilities. Second, the subject matter must relate to a public concern and not a personal grievance. If, in the court’s view, these two requirements are met, the court considers a third factor: whether the speech had an impact on the effectiveness of government, indicating whether the speech had a detrimental effect on relations with colleagues, impaired discipline or created additional work for the government agency? via receiving calls from members of the public or damage to the perception of the office.

Based on Pickering’s first two principles, Lipscomb appears to be on solid ground. Based on the third, the Metro Fire Department’s decision to discipline Lipscomb may legally stand.

But in the Mason and Lipscomb cases, Tennessee stands to suffer in the court of public opinion. Although it is pure coincidence, both of these cases involve black Tennessians, our state’s appearance is not good. We may not think we’re racist, but that’s not enough when the nation sees incidents like this.

Our public officials have the right to take many actions; Mumpower has the right to oversee Mason’s finances. The Nashville Fire Department may have the right to suspend Lipscomb.

Ford Motor Co. has now begun to weigh in on the controller issue with Mason, and 11 Metro Nashville board members have written to the fire department in support of Lipscomb.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you always have to do it. And given the setback Mumpower and firefighters are experiencing, I suspect they will be the losers here.

Ashley C. Reynolds