OPINION: Downtown business owners missed an opportunity at Council meeting


During each election cycle, usually early in it when petitions are being pulled and filed, there’s usually a column here that expresses an appreciation for those willing to raise their hand and say they’re willing to lead or represent constituents in local government.

Think about that for a minute.

You’re willing to put yourself in position that your name is being mentioned for a position – mayor, commissioner, council member, trustee, clerk, board member, etc. Just putting your name out there, you’re willing to publicly lose an election or commit yourself for two to four years to being liable to voters for decisions you vote on or be called every time someone has an issue involving the municipality for which you bring oversight.

Then on top of that, depending on how competitive (nice word for “ugly”) the campaign gets, you could be subjecting yourself to public scrutiny for things you never thought about until they came up when mentioned by an opponent or opponent’s supporter.

Then if you win, you’re publicly putting your name on votes – for some things, against others and someone who thinks they know you based solely on those votes will develop a political profile of you on those votes. Then others will base their opinions of you on that profile that those people have developed – no matter how accurate it may be or otherwise.

One member of the Jackson City Council was put in another compromising position on Tuesday at the monthly meeting.

Candace Busby is one of five council members that just completed their first year on the Council. Her district is on the north end of town. She and the other present members of the Council voted unanimously to approve the guaranteed maximum price of the men’s homeless shelter set to be built on the western edge of Downtown.

After that vote, a few owners of businesses Downtown, who were told about this project and had been involved in – or at least invited to – multiple meetings discussing the project, began calling members of the Council voicing concerns about its location, plans and possible unplanned results like other cities bussing their homeless populations to Jackson and driving up the population here (which has been known to happen upon occasion in our country’s history in various areas).

The two main members talking in public meetings on behalf of these owners were Candace Busby and Larry Lowrance – two members whose districts do not include Downtown.

There was a meeting in late May between City leadership and these owners. A story in this paper indicated that the conversation then went great and the owners liked the information the City brought them.

But there were still questions – enough questions that Busby asked the shelter be put on the agenda again for this week’s meeting with the Council set to vote on delaying the project for another 30 days.

Busby apparently told everyone who’d talked to her about the meeting and the opportunity they had to make their voices heard.

No one spoke up. No one signed their name to the sheet at the door of the City Council room to be heard during public comments.

Busby even said during the meeting she expected some of them to be present to speak.

Councilman Richard Donnell said if they weren’t there to voice their reasoning for the delay, then they have no reason to delay. They then voted, and the delay was rejected by a vote of 5-3 with one abstaining.

One of the most useful quotes I’ve ever heard when it comes to voting and civic engagement comes from the television show “The West Wing,” and I thought it was a quote from someone in American politics in the past. According to Google, it wasn’t, so it’s attributed to the show’s writer, Aaron Sorkin. The quote is this: “Decisions are made by those who show up.”

I usually use that quote for elections, but it works here too.

There was talk that some of the Downtown business owners didn’t want to speak publicly because they didn’t want to look like jerks who are against helping the homeless.

I personally would doubt that because a lot of business owners in this town – including those that I know in Downtown – are fine benevolent people. But their benevolence comes because of the way their businesses are blessed, and there’s a legitimate concern about their businesses being affected by the shelter.

But no one showed up to have their say. For Busby, it was probably a learning experience to ensure someone will be present to discuss if she asks for something to be put on an agenda.

For the business owners, it was a missed opportunity.

Now you’ve got to trust Tennessee Homeless Solutions, the City of Jackson and Jackson Police to ensure the safety of the area, and all of them want to ensure Downtown’s safety.

But those business owners gave up their right to be a part of the process – for now at least – are will hope and pray for the center to work as well as it’s been touted.

Brandon Shields is the managing editor of The Jackson Post. Contact him at brandon@jacksonpost.news. Follow him on X.com @JSEditorBrandon or Instagram @Editorbrandon.