Saturday, December 2, 2006

Mitch and David: Personal Impressions

I haven't had anything to say here about the controversy surrounding former police Chief David Wray's resignation, and the actions of city manager Mitch Johnson that led to it, because I didn't think I had any pertinent knowledge about the whole thing -- at least not any knowledge that everyone else didn't have. (Ed Cone has many links to coverage of this case.)

But yet another attack on Mitch Johnson's integrity in this morning's News & Record moves me to say something.

I've known Mitch socially for several years as a swim parent at Friendly Park Pool. He is a soft-spoken person, a regular dad and husband who enjoys spending time with his family -- just like nearly all the swim parents I know.

I also know him from many interactions with Greensboro city staff about neighborhood and historic preservation issues. In all those interactions, he has never been anything but friendly, strictly professional, straightforward, and honest, both when we agreed and when we disagreed.

He has a rather self-deprecating sense of humor. He came along with a bunch of us on a trip to Greenville, SC when he was still an assistant city manager being considered for the manager's post. He was friendly and talkative, and when he got the city manager's job a bit later, I commented to him that he must have been so cheery on the Greenville trip because he knew he was getting the job. He laughed and said, "Oh no. At that point I was sure I wasn't getting it, so I just wasn't worrying about it."

So when I hear people describe Mitch as "power-hungry" or "dishonest," I would laugh if it weren't so unfair to Mitch. He's a good man, and I believe he's doing a good job.

I also find it rather ironic that some Greensboro conservatives seem to have lined up against Mitch. When he was being considered for the city manager's job, a friend of mine on city staff admitted that Mitch was not their favorite candidate, although they had respect for his professionalism. "Too Republican," they said about him.

But my support for Mitch does not mean that I don't have real regret about what has happened to David Wray.

My first impressions of Chief Wray were extremely positive. He came to meetings of the Greensboro Neighborhood Congress, where he struck me as a man extraordinarily gifted at making personal connections with people across racial and socioeconomic lines. His ideas about community policing were exciting, and when people asked him hard questions, he gave honest answers in a sympathetic way, even when he knew that what he was saying was not what the questioner wanted to hear.

When the story first broke that Wray may have been mismanaging the police department, I was skeptical.

My impression of his basic character was confirmed a couple of days ago in a conversation I had on the front porch of Coffee at the Summit while waiting for a meeting. I was reading a copy of the Rhino Times, and an African-American woman who was also waiting there asked if I was reading Jerry Bledsoe's late installment on Wray. She told me she had known Wray for 8 years, considered him a friend, and did not believe he had a racist bone in his body. We agreed that Wray perhaps did not trust Lt. Hinson, but that whatever was going on in the Greensboro Police Department that led to the allegations against Wray, race was not the base issue.

One of the more distressing features of this controversy has been the willingness of some commenters in public forums to attack the character of people they don't know, as if somehow it isn't possible for good and well-intentioned people to make serious mistakes. But that happens all the time.

If you want my opinion, I think the evidence indicates that the main mistakes were Wray's, and it makes me pretty sad.


meblogin said...

What do you believe (not Bledsoe...etc) were Wray's mistakes?


great post with alot of character!

David Wharton said...

At the least, I believe he was not forthright with his boss about how he was conducting department affars.

Glenwood said...

I have known Mitch for a long time as well. He is a liar.

Dr Mary Johnson said...

David, this is a thoughtful post.

I don't have a child on the swim team, but allow me to add my own "from David Wray's point-of-view" perspective: I've been in a situation very similar to his. I was brought home to clean up "a mess". When I tried to do just that (as Wray did with the GSO police department), I stepped on the wrong toes and was ultimately treated like nasty business on the bottom of a mill owner's shoe . . . and publicly humiliated by people in my own community who are widely regarded (in the social circles that matter) as "friendly", "straightforward", "strictly professional", and "honest". Yet the FACT is that these gentlemen lied under Oath in court to get what they wanted.

It's an eye of the beholder thing.

The News & Record viciously eviscerated Wray early on in this mess, and now it appears they may be turning their sights on Mitch Johnson (who does seem to have made some bad calls) in an attempt to compensate.

The editorial, as I read it, explained why a "powerless and humilitated Wray" resigned (giving a version different from Mitch Johnson's). The author's musings were not so much an "attack" as another point of view . . . no less valid than yours or mine . . . be that perspective be based on the fact that (1) you know Mitch Johnson or (2) I've been in a similar situation as the man Mitch fired.

It's just a thought.

David Wharton said...

Dr. Mary, I too have my doubts about whether the early reporting on this story by the N&R gave an accurate picture of what was going on -- please click my link above where I say I was skeptical (if you didn't already).

I also agree that David Wray stepped into a very tough managerial situation at the GDP when he took that job, and I think he was doing what he thought was right for Greensboro and the GDP.

But it also appears he crossed some lines of good police practice in pursuit of those ends, and he wasn't forthcoming about it to Mitch.

No responsible city manager can allow a situation like that to continue. I still think Mitch acted appropriately in locking him out. If Mitch feared legal action regarding what Wray had done, he simply had to secure the office for evidentiary purposes in order to protect the city from liability.

Also remember that Mitch was a strong supporter of Wray's bid for the cheif's position.

jw said...

Thanks David for a thoughtful post in the midst of much speculation, gossip, and rumor.

I am looking forward to the day when we have a greater understanding about all the aspects of these issues. My work with city staff has generally been very positive and I regret the name calling and finger pointing at some really good people. I'm more familiar with Mitch and do not know him to be less than honest and certainly one of the hardest working people in Greensboro.

I look forward to an airing of the FACTS, hopefully soon.

Dr Mary Johnson said...

David, I read your comments.

Sometimes it is very hard to clean up a mess. And when you do, the very "honest", "straightforward", "professional" and "friendly" people do not act that way. They start backtracking themselves . . . they call you names . . . they don't take your back. The manager in my situation (who now works for a big cardiology practice in GSO) once wanted to have an impromptu conversation outside of my office door. This was after he threatened me (in an attempt to keep my mouth shut about bad things that were going on), and after I was ignored his threats to do my duty (by all accounts saving a life in the process).

The trouble with wanting to have that conversation right then and there was that it was NOT "professional" . . . I looked down the hall to see that I had three patients/parents in rooms waiting to see me . . . and they/I were on a schedule . . . and real a "professional" would respect that. I was not going to stop everything to have what I knew was going to be a contentious conversation with a guy who was flexing his muscles and (at that point) just trying to cover his ass. I told him, NO, I was not going to talk to him right that second.

After I was fired, the powers-that-be spun the incident as I would not talk to the manager. And that was just a lie. I would have talked to him if he had acted respectfully and scheduled a time that did not interfere with the care of my patients.

It has all the shades of locking someone out of their office. The liability question is almost a joke in terms of the widespread leaks after the locking was done.

I think both men made some mistakes. But I also think that David Wray probably did not deserve what the city and the newspaper (the people with the real power) dished out. The fact is that Mitch has gotten all the good press. No one has really scrutinized his actions (as no one has every scrutinized the actions of those who threw me to the wolves - even eight years later when I can now PROVE . . . in black and white . . . that my "honest" employers were quite capable of lying).

To air the FACTS you have to hear and scrutinize both sides.

meblogin said...

Just from blogging I have developed respect for "Troublemaker". Most of us are simply being mouthy about this and that and expressing opinions that in reality probably do not have much impact. Ben is out there living and making a difference. (thanks Ben)

What if...similar to Ben, Wray did not trust Johnson to maintain confidentiality with the investigations? Wray would be backed into a corner trying to do his job and clean up the GPD of problems he inherited.

Equally, other than Ben's opinion of Johnson, I have heard only great things about Johnson. Wray of course has a sterling record until now.

It has become an exhausted topic for me as there is further truthful information needed.

Bob Grenier said...

"I look forward to an airing of the FACTS, hopefully soon."

Was that also your opinion earler this year when the N&R conducted it's Trial By Media of David Wray?

jw said...

It was my opinion earlier in the year as well as now, in the midst of the "Trial By Media" conducted by The Rhino (All the Rumors Fit To Print) Times.

Anonymous said...

from Troublemaker:
I have known Mitch for a long time as well. He is a liar.

usually he is spot on. I'll have to go with him on this one.

David Wharton said...

Much as I respect the many good things that Ben does, I sometimes find his judgements about people a bit harsh.

So unless Ben has some specific and credible information that Mitch has lied in this matter, I'll take a pass on that one.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your thoughtful response as well. It is so refreshing to find someone actually giving a perspective that does not villify Mitch Johnson or Chief Wray. Do I believe Chief Wray was a closet racist. (NO) Do I believe he made some serious errors in judgement (YES) If I lied to my boss or employer I would be fired. If we remove all of the lies, gossip and innuendo what we have is a Chief that lied to his bosses, the council and us. Jerry Bledsoe can write chapter 50 of his ongoing saga but it still does not change the fundamental fact that an employee lied to his boss.(P.S. If anyone from the Rhino is reading this please know that a significant portion of the community has lost interest in Jerry's musings. I personally stopped reading the story in the Rhino because I was disgusted with the reporting of events while using gossip and innuendo as fact. But when did the truth ever matter in tabloid journalism) Do I think Mitch Johnson is a saint and handled everything properly? (NO) However, given the fact that he was on the team that selected Wray, I think it was an even bigger kick in the gut when he discovered he had been lied to about the black book and various other things when questions were asked. I don't there is a book on "How to properly fire your Police Chief, during the middle of an investigation on a possible rogue Lt., while the police union, and half of GPD both Black & White hate your guts because of schedule decisions, while alientating the other half with a holier than though management style", in the mythological City Manager school. On this point, give Mitch a break!

Glenwood said...

So unless Ben has some specific and credible information that Mitch has lied in this matter, I'll take a pass on that one.


Go read my blog post called less than truthful. Then see if you can tell me how great and honest Mitch is.

Anonymous said...

EAT YOUR WORDS You Dumbshit! Mitch has always been a manipulative "under the table" deal maker with racial/political strings attached. Little does he know that Federal handcuffs are headed his way and bank accts in nondescript names will be seized as the paper trails lead.

David Wharton said...

Nice meeting you, too, Anonymous.

Think you can work up the guts to actually sign your own name when you insult me?

I may indeed be a dumbshit, but I'm not a coward.