Archived Story

At the end of their rope

Published 11:11am Saturday, March 16, 2013

There’s an old adage that if you give someone enough rope to play with, they’ll typically wind up hanging themselves with it. For someone who desperately craves publicity and will stir any pot they can, it’s usually only a matter of time before that happens. Not in the literal sense, of course, but in such a way that their constant attempts to create controversy causes their opinion to become marginalized to the point that no one pays attention to them anymore.

I’m reminded of this as the saga over rising utility bills in Franklin continues to unfold.

I’m neither an electrician nor a heating and air specialist, so I’m not really qualified to render an official opinion on why someone’s heating bill would go up during the winter months. But common sense tells me that if it’s colder in the winter, it’s probably going to cost me more to keep my house warm. I’m also pretty sure that if I felt my bill had gone up more than it normally should just because it’s cold outside, I’d have someone check out my heating system to make sure it was working properly. If that checked out, I’d then investigate to make sure my insulation was up to par. After that, I’d get in touch with the utility company that provides my electricity to see if there was some sort of irregularity with the meter reading. I feel confident that, after taking those steps, I’d have been able to determine the cause of the problem.

But if not, it’s unlikely I would ever assume that the electric company was arbitrarily charging me a higher rate just because of the part of town I live in or the color of my skin.

Yet that is the charge that has been levied by Thomas Councill, a frequent contributor to this newspaper and someone who fancies himself a spokesman for the residents of Franklin’s south side.

In fairness, Mr. Councill is not the only one who has suggested foul play. Among those who live on the south side that have been vocal in their concern over rising utility bills, others have made the same suggestion that the city is intentionally charging south side residents a higher rate for their electricity.

But Mr. Councill, who speaks out on almost every issue that riles him, has managed to inject race into almost every discussion. From him, it has become an expected, and unfortunate, response on almost every issue. Mr. Councill’s two most recent columns submitted to The Tidewater News (“Something needs done to help Franklin’s poor,” Feb. 15, 2013, and “So little spent on youth in Franklin,” Jan. 23, 2013) have attacked Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn and Councilwoman Mary Hilliard not for their actions as elected officials, but for their actions as elected black women. Mr. Councill has also stated recently, specifically as it relates to the utility bill issue, that blacks on the south side feel they are being charged higher rates than their white neighbors on the north side.

It’s a charge that is not only ridiculous, but also completely unproductive.

Should residents be concerned if their utility bills are rising at an alarming rate? Absolutely. But a strong community leader would first help lead his neighbors through a thorough investigative process, before either accusing the city of discriminating based on race or questioning elected leaders’ efforts because of their race.

Continuing to perpetuate what could be a narrower racial divide does nothing to move the community forward. And it certainly does not advance the cause of the city’s residents he claims to represent. In a city working hard to move forward, this type of attitude only serves to hold it back.

Back to that old adage, it’s unclear at this point how much rope Mr. Councill has left. But for those in Franklin tired of the racial politics of the past, many have reached the end of theirs.

TONY CLARK is the associate publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at

  • yankeefan

    “In a city working hard to move forward, this type of attitude only serves to hold it back.” Spot-on, Mr. Clark!

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  • mdks26

    Amen!!! Thank you!!! They are just looking for something FREE! AND are stupid enough to think they can get it. I truly believe “they” think if they make enough noise they will get their electric bill reduced……guess what….ain’t gonna happen. They used it…they will have to pay for it….OR be disconnected. It works that way with Dominion, Community Electric and all the rest…Franklin should be no different

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  • SandMan

    Right on, Tony. One section of the community “Doubting Thomas” Councill has failed to consider are the residents of Berkley Court and the “Brickyard”. For those recently moving to Franklin, Berkley Court is a Public Housing Complex on Cameron St (behind the Armory). The “Brickyard” is the area which includes Norfleet, Fontaine, & Orchard Streets (or parts thereof). What about the black people who reside in these areas? If Mr. Councill’s “plan” to one day see a different rate for the Southside comes true……how about those Northside residents just mentioned? Will he then ask for a different rate based on skin tone? Will those of us who tan @ the local tanning salons qualify?

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  • simplifyingit

    Great points by Mr. Clarke, employee2 and chilimac72 but Thomas Council nor his followers want any of this to be made public or true! They know what they are doing, they’ve been taught by their elders to cry racism, it will get them their way. They are entitled to it because of slavery in america back before 1865. Its the white man that lives on the north side of town that owned slaves! If they drop the racism screams now they will eventually all have to get jobs and get off welfare and other government assistance. No more sleeping til 3 in the afternoon then hanging out on the corner of Washington st, Hall st, Thomas st, or Delk st til 3 or 4 in the morning.

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  • chilimac72

    Beyond the utility issue is a simple case of “the boy who cried wolf” to add another cliché to the list. The constant use of race as the underlying issue de-sensitizes the population as a whole to actual issues. If everything is only about race, what happens if there is a racial issue? The person that cries “racist” every time will be ignored. Here is what a true community leader would do rather than look for instant handouts…

    1. Organize a gathering of knowledgeable citizens to provide recommendations and assistance to those with questions. (employees of Heating and Air Companies, electric company, local assistance coordinators)
    2. Do a community outreach to provide the informed citizens a platform to educate. (If you want the help, here are the people to provide the help)
    3. Recommend changes and assistance to lower their costs. (evaluate the homes)
    4. Extra step… reach out to other organizations to implement structural needs (insulation, windows…).
    5. Consolidate the information with the knowledgeable people and find common issues to ensure everyone knows this information.

    THEN, if there seems to be some inconsistencies, address them.

    The discrimination is definitely still out there but not in our local government. Seriously, the minority in this community is white and that is reflected in our local government which is 4 blacks to 3 whites on the city council.

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  • employee2

    Thank you and amen. One only has to read the “columns” that he has written in the Tidewater News to see this fact. Everything in this town does not revolve around a black/white, northside/southside issue. In the most recent case it is about personal choices residents make every day. The amount of electric usage seen by some customers can be directly correlated to choices and situations not controlled by the electric department. I do not believe that the electric department has the right to tell customers how much electricity they may use in a month. I wonder what would happen if they started complaining about the local gas station making their gas bills too high? It would be laughable. Maybe what some hear about the northside/southside discrepancy can be attributed to the northside customers using heating oil to heat their home. There have been some customers that have found out by a high bill that their heat pump has failed and they are heating their home using the heat strips that are coupled with the heat system. The easy way to stir up anger is to claim it as a war on low-income, minority customers. It is time for people to wake up and realize that this is not an issue of race nor income.

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