Juvenile delinquents? Savannah Council members more interested in name calling than governing

This is a commentary written by opinion columnist Adam Van Brimmer.

What’s next, Savannah City Council members?

Hoarding toys in the sandbox?

Wiping boogers on each other?

Whoopee cushions?



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With the latest trading of vulgar slurs and homophobic innuendo between Alderman Kurtis Purtee and Alderwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter, council behavior is now beyond juvenile. Adults do not repeatedly interrupt meetings with calls to “shut up.” Adults do not crinkle candy wrappers and breathe heavily into open microphones to disrupt business. Adults do not make unsubstantiated and highly personal accusations about colleagues.

Adults do not call each other “pedophiles”, “ghetto b******” or any other names.

District 2 Alderman Detric Leggett hold his head in his hands during a recent Savannah City Council discussion.
District 2 Alderman Detric Leggett hold his head in his hands during a recent Savannah City Council discussion.

Going forward, any or all instances of such boorishness must be met with Savannah Ethics Board hearings — even if doing so requires the panel to set up in the hallway outside council chambers every other Thursday. Reprimands should be swift and meaningful. Censure. Gag order. Suspension.

This is not politics as usual. Even in this era of grievance, the majority of constituents expect their elected officials to govern, not to generate video footage for TMZ.

This council has more than a year left in its term, and the public’s patience is exhausted. Any credibility this mayor and alderpersons have left is in peril, and the only folks in town who don’t recognize that fact are the council members themselves and their toadies.

If every council meeting between now and November 2023 is to be a “look at me” campaign event, let’s just suspend the proceedings. Do the basic business via email vote, and put off everything else.

Mayor must wield the gavel

By virtue of the mayor's gavel, Van Johnson has the responsibility lead when it comes to curbing council dysfunction. He is both the mayor and the most influential voice for the council majority, and he can impress upon his allies, particularly Purtee, the importance of acting their age, not their shoe size.

Johnson must demand accountability for all. That he hasn’t publicly addressed the recent tiff between Purtee and Gibson-Carter signals permissiveness. That he hasn’t called out churlish behavior as it happens during council meetings only encourages more foolishness.

The public knows Johnson is the real target of Gibson-Carter’s vitriol. She’s announced her candidacy for mayor. Anybody with access to social media has seen or heard her many dubious allegations against him.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson speaks to members of the media at his weekly press conference on July 5.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson speaks to members of the media at his weekly press conference on July 5.

Johnson’s strategy of avoiding the acrimony isn’t tempering the ill will; by ignoring it, he’s fueling the toxicity. Purtee and Alderman Nick Palumbo are particularly hostile toward Gibson-Carter during meetings, both verbally and in their body language. Calling them out for their interruptions, heavy sighs and eyerolls is appropriate.

Johnson making such a stand would also show respect for the others on council who refrain from the pettiness.

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A firm-but-fair approach is needed. Gibson-Carter is more marginalized now than at any point since she took office. She's faced several ethics complaints already, and has been found in violation once.

Her near constant mud-slinging and antagonistic attitude have resulted in one-time allies, such as Alderwomen Estella Shabazz and Bernetta Lanier, distancing themselves from her in certain instances.

Opinion Editor Adam Van Brimmer
Opinion Editor Adam Van Brimmer

Her relevance now is largely a byproduct of the friction she encounters from other members. When Purtee or Palumbo act out, she gets the attention she wants.

Johnson can suppress the juvenile behavior by refusing to stand for it. Call out members, both allies and adversaries. Leverage the ethics ordinance for accountability. Wield that gavel, before the schoolyard culture gets any worse.

Contact Van Brimmer at avanbrimmer@savannahnow.com or via Twitter @SavannahOpinion.   .

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Savannah City Council marred by juvenile behavior from aldermen