Many studies over the years have determined that the No. 1 fear for most people is public speaking. No argument here. But in 25 years of covering events for community newspapers, I’ve wished that even more people would fear it.

My ex-wife’s family often played gospel-bluegrass music at church gatherings and community centers. Everywhere they went, there were a handful of groups and/or “singers” who got up on stage and sounded like amorous alleycats with their tails caught in a ceiling fan. Her grandfather would see these folks at their “singings” and mutter, “Oh, my, look who it is … you can’t choke them off the mic.”

Same goes at open forums or meetings. The ones who are least equipped to deliver a message too often grab a mic. That said, the fact that so many people came to the first Citizens Against Corruption meeting and had a story to tell lets us know this group is on to something. There are a lot of people dissatisfied with leaders in this county, and they’re trying to do something about it.

That’s democracy at work. Our government is designed for the people to have the power, not the politicians. It’s time that politicians get that memo.

At Thursday’s meeting, rants ranged from what happened to post-Katrina funds to what’s happening with public school curriculums. A lot of people had a lot of legitimate gripes. Many of them were personal. Some were wide-ranging indictments of virtually every entity in the county.

But all are of public interest.

Leader-Call Publisher Jim Cegielski and former prosecutor J. Ronald Parrish made powerful, organized addresses to the audience, but only after a handful of other unscheduled speakers came up and aired their grievances. 

But like Parrish warned at the end of his speech, it’s important that they speak in one voice and don’t let all of the little side issues distract from the primary mission. It’s real easy for a group of upset people to come across as a band of nincompoops. If you can’t identify who in the group is perceived as a loon … well, maybe it’s you. And if you really want to make a difference, then be content to be supportive — but quietly. A group whose purpose is to fight corruption will attract every conspiracy theorist in a four-county area. 

This group of well-meaning, civic-minded patriots needs to be focused to take on the Establishment … 

Which brings up my next point. I was disappointed — but not surprised — to see my friend Chris McDaniel lose his second bid for the U.S. Senate. It was inevitable that his fighting, competitive spirit would be spun into labeling him as a “crybaby” after he challenged the results of the 2014 runoff with then-Sen. Thad Cochran. 

Nothing could be further from the truth, and we know that he was only doing it to expose the system and try to fight corruption … but that’s a tall order in a state that was recently deemed “Most Corrupt.” Think about that. Even with Illinois, and all of the political shenanigans in Chicago, and Louisiana, where locals often say, “They don’t trust you if you ain’t crooked,” Mississippi is worst. Wow.

People who are part of the Haley Barbour Machine showed that they were willing to get in bed with Democrats to keep their power and prevent McDaniel from getting in office in 2014. McDaniel took one for the team to expose it. We, the people, didn’t do our part to rectify it. 

The rallying cry from Republicans since the defeat has been to get behind Cindy Hyde-Smith. But, like McDaniel and many of his followers, I’m an independent thinker. I’m not sure I can “hold my nose” and vote for her. 

Say what you will about Democrat Mike Espy, but he’s not a puppet like Hyde-Smith, and he was never a radical Delta Democrat like Rep. Bennie Thompson. Even if he’s a complete commie, what harm can he do in two years? The Senate has its Republican majority. Be open-minded to the possibility that he might do a good job and, in the process, help erase some of the stereotypes that work against our state on the national stage.

Anyway, I’m tired of politics, and I sure don’t want to argue with anyone about it. That’s why writing a column is so much better than grabbing a microphone in a forum … 

 Here, there and yonder about this and that … 

• I have written plenty about the impotence of the law when it comes to embezzlement charges. We know first-hand how devastating and frustrating it can be. If you trusted someone and got screwed over, you really have no legal remedies. The lesson from numerous cases is: If you’re going to steal money from your employer, get a boatload. If it’s an amount that you can’t reasonably be expected to pay back, you don’t have to. Even if you get set up on a payment plan, they’re so ridiculously low that you’ll have to live longer than Lazarus to make the victim whole again. 

The $50,000 that Lacey Dickerson paid back — for the $750,000 that former employer Scott Williams claims she took — is more than most victims get returned. It’s a shame. It’s easy to say “lock ’em up and throw away the key,” but then they’re costing us money instead of the victim getting his or her money back. And when they get out of prison, there’s little to no chance the victim will ever be made whole. Then again, if a few of them would get thrown in prison for maximum sentences, it could serve as a deterrent for future thieves. Right now, shame and embarrassment on the front page is about the most serious punishment they get. And we’re happy to oblige.

• A Northeast Jones class was in circuit court this week to observe procedures. I was glad to see that. More students need to see real-world issues and how things really operate. There’s a real ignorance when it comes to courts and government procedures. When reporting on the Greg Burroughs manslaughter case, people on Facebook would post outlandish comments that showed a complete lack of understanding in how the system works. Basic principles that should have been learned in high school civics and/or government classes. DA Tony Buckley had a great line about that: “The assistant coaches of America have let us down.”

Mark Thornton is chief of the Leader-Call. Email him at editor@leader-call.com.

 

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